3 Keys to Developing Critical Thinking for Malaysians – From Local to Global

Let us imagine that you work as a senior finance personnel in the Kuala Lumpur branch of a multinational pharmaceutical organization. Recently, a decision was made to standardize your finance processes across all regions so as to create a One Finance Team rather than individual silos that operate with varying reporting systems. A change management team was formed to discuss what changes would be involved in rolling out the new system in Malaysia. One of the criteria for selecting members of this team is to have critical thinking abilities. Would you be easily handpicked by your managers to be a part of this team?

The words ‘critical thinking’ are so often used in today’s business conversations. This is often one of the criteria required by employers when looking for candidates to fill a leadership position. During interviews, candidates are often asked to display examples of critical thinking in their past experiences. It seems to be an important quality that instantly elevates your worth as an employee. But what exactly is critical thinking? And what do most Malaysians culturally value that could present a challenge to displaying critical thinking at the workplace?

Edward Glaser’s definition of critical thinking involves 3 things: “(1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods.” Let us break this down further by evaluating how a critical thinker versus how a non-critical thinker would react using the initial example given earlier.

  1. Examine your attitude. When a situation is presented to you, do you have a natural habit of immediately evaluating the information available and forming initial ideas to possible solutions? As a hierarchical culture, this can be a challenge to Malaysians as there is a tendency to leave problem-solving only to leaders or managers in the organization. Therefore, you can start by cultivating a desire to be part of the decision-making process and through consistent practice, this can slowly develop into a way of thinking that comes naturally when you’re faced with any situation.

Critical Thinker: Start thinking about the 5Ws (what, where, who, why, when) and 1H (how) to form an initial overview of the task ahead. What are the current finance processes from the different regions? When would the change be rolled out? How would it affect personnel and morale of the teams involved?

Non-Critical Thinker: Expect major decisions to be made during the team meeting and look to the most senior in the team to get the ball rolling. Be prepared to take good notes for follow-up action.

  1. Develop your analytical and creative abilities. As a culture that prioritizes caution over risk, Malaysians are good information gatherers. Having more information usually means there’s a lesser chance of making the wrong decisions due to ambiguity. Critical thinkers take it a step further by having the ability to not just examine information but to connect all the dots together. They question the evidence when necessary, recognize similarities and differences and look for patterns in the information that will enable them to develop effective solutions. Understandably though, at times this involves breaking away from the collective team spirit (which is a priority for Malaysians) to politely and respectfully challenge the views of others.

Critical Thinker: Analyse the information gathered with a view of projecting how a One Finance Team structure would look like, what it would take to get there and what possible responses or reactions would be encountered. Be creative with different methods of achieving the objectives. Prepare well in advance if bold actions are needed so that the staff are comfortable with the changes ahead.

Non-Critical Thinker: Gather the data that you have been asked to prepare before the next meeting. Have a PowerPoint presentation ready with an emphasis on getting all the numbers and details correct. Present your part and wait for feedback on what to do next.

  1. Communicate to problem-solve. Critical thinkers are good communicators – they share or exchange information by asking important questions and expressing their ideas clearly and logically, be it in written or oral form. More importantly, they speak with a view to solving a problem – contributing ideas that can be turned into decisions. As a face-saving culture, saying the wrong thing can cause unwanted embarrassment. The key to avoiding this is to prepare well so that you can have the confidence to convey your message to anyone.

Critical Thinker: Before the next team meeting, think about possible questions and prepare the appropriate responses to these questions. When invited to speak, put emphasis on sharing opinions that give value to the discussion at hand, and that can be implemented as solutions. Be prepared to also give feedback on other people’s ideas, especially on why they would or wouldn’t work.

Non-Critical Thinker: Listen carefully as others share their opinions and ideas. When invited to speak, choose the solution that is the most agreed upon by all team members. Disagreement may or may not be displayed depending on who is in the room.

Without a doubt, critical thinking is an ability that needs to be developed over time. The fact is, we can apply critical thinking in every aspect of our daily life. Whenever we take the time to gather data, think about it thoroughly and act with a view to resolving the issue or getting things done, we are putting critical thinking into action. With constant practise, we can develop a way of thinking that translates into the working environment and that can help set us apart as a global thinker and communicator. To learn more, find out about our ‘Culturally Considerate Critical Thinking Workshop’ where we explore strategies that are uniquely applicable to a Malaysian cultural context.

By: Boleh Blogger