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The MBA and Critical Thought

One may ask about the importance of critical thought. When I was pursuing my MBA (some years ago) I was challenged to provide critical thinking when completing my assignments. Simple as that may sound; critical thought must be practiced many times before it is perfected. Critical thought is a process. The importance of critical thought is to use observation, reasoning or experience to formulate and draw conclusions about a specific business problem.

Why is critical thought so important? In my opinion, critical thought if executed well provides the recipient “out of box” thought. If we ask the second “why” question to the importance of out of box thinking, the answer is that through this thinking we provide new solutions to problems. The purpose of learning is to not only learn facts related to a topic but also to use these facts and draw conclusions. I truly believe all of use some level of critical thinking in our professional and everyday lives. But as any tool, critical thinking must be practiced and perfected. Critical thinking is not “instant pudding”, rather it requires the learner to experience various stimuli and share their thoughts. If one were telling a story it would be the “next step”.

So you may ask, “How does one practice critical thinking?” This is an easy question with a very difficult answer. One method to practice this tool is the use of case studies that may be used in an MBA curriculum. In such an environment the student may analyze the current state of an enterprise and provide an analysis. Before we move on my definition of analysis includes background, current state, those bloody financials, a SWOT or Porter model and then finally a piece on next steps. This last piece provides the learner the opportunity to further analyze and comment. This is where critical thought lives. It requires the learner to take the information given and formulate the next steps. Many times this is in response to a problem. However, in business cases critical thought can be used to answer “what if” types of questions. One may ask why this is important. The drivers to business solutions require one to use the facts in the problem statement and formulate a solution.

There are perils to this process. Individuals driven by experience and pre-conceived notions limit themselves to their paradigm of belief. The individual must not limit their thinking and instead extend beyond the obvious. I would like to share a broad example. When looking at a process for improvement the team can sit around a boardroom table and review processes using experience and expert opinion as a key ingredient to critical thought. However, this serves as a limitation. Better the team go to where the action/process resides (the scene, location, application), referred to by the Japanese as “gemba”. This gives the team a real time appreciation and experience of the system in action and may provide a different and better solution. So to prefect the critical thought, process requires stimuli from multiple sources.

Pursuit of an MBA is a great training ground to practice and perfect this trait. Under the tutelage of an experienced instructor the use of critical thought to answer “what’s next” enables the learner to simulate real world conditions. After all, better to practice this important tool in a school setting than in the real world. And what better place than an MBA case study!

Related Benedictine Programs

Benedictine’s online MBA provides an environment to apply critical thought against real world situations. To learn more about how Benedictine’s online MBA can expose you to lessons on critical through and advance your career click here or speak to one of our Program Advisors who can share more with you about the program and curriculum.

About the Author

Pete Papantos is an operations director at a Fortune 500 company. He is responsible for the global execution of their strategic plan and driving operational excellence using lean methods. In addition, Pete is a graduate instructor with emphasis in operations and strategic management — both in traditional and online settings.