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Fundamental Thought Processes

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Fundamental Thought Processes

Emmanuel Tarfa
Thought processes

There is a difference between critical, analytical and strategic thinking in the context of solving a problem. Take this article as Part One in a series. We will try to unbundle and define popularly used terms yet largely misunderstood in the business world. Fundamental understanding of a subject is critical to succeeding at it. The article will examine the above topic.


– By Emmanuel Tarfa

Critical Thinking is the ability to generate an exhaustive potential LIST of the most relevant and possible assumptions or options – to explaining or solving a given problem. This LIST is usually arranged from the most relevant to the least relevant assumptions/options.

A concept called Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE), popularly used by strategy consultants,can be used to arrange/organise the list. Success is measured here by the length and quality/variety of ideas on the list.

Here is an illustration and application: Why is the quality of education poor in Nigeria and how can it be improved? Critical thinking will require the subject involved to generate a list of points to answer the first part of the question and will include points such as:

  • Lack of a clear education strategy and policy framework,
  • Poor quality of teacher training and compensation
  • Low level of investment in infrastructure, etc.

The length of the list (number of ideas/points generated) and quality of each answer (i.e. coming up with the most likely accurate points) will require critical thinking.

Analytical Thinking is the use of quantitative and qualitative parameters/tools (size, average, cost, comparison etc.) to determine or measure which of the assumption/points are most accurate and relevant to solving the problem/validating the solution. Success here is measured when there is a logic or outright evidence to confirm the above points outlined through “critical thinking”are TRUE and relevant to answering the question or solving the problem. This has moved from a “guess” i.e. assumptions, to confirmed points.

Here is the application using the example above – Why the quality of education in Nigeria is poor. Analytical thinking will take each answer above and test if true and required to answer the key question or solve the problem. Let us take one of the answers –poor quality of teacher training and compensation. Analytical thinking will strive to ask and answer several questions and sometimes compare Nigeria with other countries in its development league and other advanced economies – to confirm the points/assumptions generated with critical thinking.

Here are some questions that could be used to conduct the analysis:

  • What is the average student to teacher ratio in Nigeria?
  • What is the average pay per teacher in a public school?
  • What is the minimum qualification of a teacher and frequency of training?

All these will be compared with best practices to confirm Nigeria’s position and hence answer the question – why the quality of education is poor. Analytical thinking will subsequently show the link between the answers (the situation in Nigeria) – indicating that Nigerian teachers are not very qualified and poorly compensated. Do note that these are simply basic examples. Much deeper analysis is actually used in strategy.

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Strategic Thinking is the ability to DECIDE and prioritize (due to limited resources) which validated/true options above should be considered, presented or pursued – with the aim of achieving a pre-determined objective or goal. Success here is measured when there is a conversion of the knowledge/data of the truth “analyzed” above into profit/benefit/competitive advantage through good decision making.The above example will be applicable if there is an objective to solve the challenge of quality education, for instance.

Strategic thinking will recommend how to improve Nigeria’s current state (which was determined using critical and analytical thinking). It will outline a set of ideas, using the benchmarks of other countries with higher educational standards, and recommend how to close the gap in Nigeria.

To improve in all three, read more Newspapers, which are usually filled with analysis and listen to commentary from experts. Take note of their approach and thinking.A good knowledge of Mathematics is also helpful in becoming more analytical.We will look at the difference between Vision, Mission and Core Values in our next article.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.

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