Executive Education Series : Critical Thinking Masterclass


Critical thinking is an active form of reflection that is deliberate, persistent, and careful. It challenges preconceptions, perceptions, and received wisdom. And it is, most important of all, focused on deciding what to believe and what to do. It is, therefore, inherently practical and generates a set of guidelines for the practitioner. It involves what some have called metacognition or the act of thinking about how we think.

Critical thinking aims to better understand the meaning and implications of information, conclusions, options, and decisions and to identify and evaluate the assumptions upon which thinking (our own and others’) is based. It can bring a powerful rigor to crisis management if it is applied with perseverance, determination, and self-awareness.

Critical thinking in business literature is often confused with skills like “problem-solving.” In reality, “problem-solving” is quite different from “critical thinking.” Sometimes problem-solving requires thinking skills, like how best to balance profit and loss statements, but not critical thinking skills—rational, reflective thinking. Some business-related problems, for example, require emotional intelligence, which is thinking that is neither rational nor reflective. In other words, while critical thinking often refers to “problem-solving,” not all problem-solving is an example of critical thinking. Critical thinking consists more of “habits of mind” providing a framework in which problem-solving can occur. Often, these distinctions aren’t clear in business education literature.

Pearson has developed the following RED model—Recognize assumptions, Evaluate arguments, and Draw conclusions as a way to view and apply critical thinking principles when faced with a decision (Chartrand, Ishikawa, and Flander 2018).

The RED model of critical thinking (See Figure 1) includes the following elements:

Recognize assumptions: This is all about comprehension. Understanding what is being stated and considering whether the information presented is true, and whether any evidence has been provided to back it up. Correctly identifying when assumptions have been made is an essential part of this, and being able to critically consider the validity of these assumptions – ideally from several different perspectives – can help identify missing information or logical inconsistencies.

Evaluate arguments: This skill is about the systematic analysis of the evidence and arguments provided. Being able to remain objective, while logically working through arguments and information. Critical evaluation of arguments requires an individual to suspend their judgement, which can be challenging when an argument has an emotional impact. It is all too easy to unconsciously seek information which confirms a preferred perspective, rather than critically analyze all the information.

Draw conclusions: This is the ability to pull together a range of information and arrive at a logical conclusion based on the evidence. An individual with strong critical thinking skills will be able to adjust their conclusion should further evidence emerge which leads to a different conclusion.
Critical thinking is important because individuals who engage in quality thinking make better decisions. They arrive at conclusions which are impartial, well informed and objective. Furthermore, such people can make decisions with limited supervision, enabling them to independently make judgements: in a military environment where agility can mean lethality, in a world where time can be money, waiting for someone else to validate decisions can be costly and result in missed opportunities.

Further details can be found here.

Figure 1: The RED Model of Critical Thinking

How and why is critical thinking applied in the workplace?

Critical thinking in the workplace comes in many forms. We see critical thinking being used in teams to help effectively resolve problems. We even see critical thinking being used in the workplace to help teams ‑figure out what issues exist, and then we see teams come up with possible answers for those issues. Critical thinking is applied to leadership approaches because leaders need to have critical thinking skills, be able to understand logical relationships between ideas, recognize the importance and the relationship of an argument, as well as recognize mistakes in reasoning, and then be able to make the right decisions.

Importance of Mental Agility and Critical Thinking

In today’s highly disruptive and digital-driven world, leaders and managers need to be able to think quickly, adapt to new situations, and make decisions under pressure. Mental agility is the ability to do all these things. It encompasses critical thinking, cognitive readiness, creativity, resilience, and a growth mindset. Leaders with mental agility can analyze complex problems, make swift decisions, and adjust their strategies as needed.

Mental agility requires an open, inquisitive mind and this would require a critical analysis of all relevant information to discern how to leverage opportunities in the short and long term. Mental agility and critical thinking require a dedicated willingness to test existing assumptions that may have changed based on dynamic environments and check for potential distortions in the form of cognitive or confirmation bias.

The suite of cognitive readiness skills can be viewed as part of the advanced thinking skills that make leaders ready to confront whatever new and complex problems they might face. Cognitive readiness is the mental preparation that leaders develop so that they, and their teams, are prepared to face the ongoing dynamic, ill-defined, and unpredictable challenges in the highly disruptive and VUCA-driven business environment. The cognitive readiness skills will develop, enhance, or sustain a leader’s ability to navigate successfully in this new normal.

The Executive Development Associates (EDA) has identified the following seven key cognitive readiness skills, collectively known as Paragon7 (See Figure 2) which will develop, enhance, or sustain a leader’s ability to navigate successfully in this new normal. The details on the Paragon7 cognitive readiness suite of competencies can be found here.

Figure 2: The Paragon7 Cognitive Readiness Framework

Case Study on Developing an Innovative Driven Culture @ Google with Cognitive Readiness

Reference: Sattar Bawany (2023), Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating the New Balance. Business Expert Press (BEP) LLC, New York, NY. Abstract available at: https://www.disruptiveleadership.institute/second-edition-book/

Making this shift is only the beginning. You must then shift the culture to be empowered and mentally prepared. Using a simple definition, if culture is “the way we do things around here,” then the idea of “thinking employees”—where each person from the CEO to the janitor is expected to exhibit superior decision-making skills—becomes a part of the culture. The importance of culture cannot be emphasized enough.

According to the National Association of Corporate Directors, “the oversight of culture must be a key board responsibility, as it is inextricably linked with strategy, CEO selection, and risk oversight.” (Hagemann & Schatz 2019)

Given that, what does a mentally prepared culture look like? Google is a great example of a company with a mentally prepared culture, and the results speak for themselves. In Fast Company‘s 2014 list of the Most Innovative Companies, Google earned the top spot. Since then, it was number 4 in 2015 and number 2 in 2017.

Google’s culture fosters cognitive readiness in that it insists on every employee taking time to think and act on ideas. The company gives employees a voice—encourages them to share it with others, try it on, collaborate, and potentially bring new things to the marketplace. Does it work? Some of the company’s game-changing innovations include Google Fiber, the driverless automobile, wearable computers, autocomplete, Google translate, and universal search.

“L.E.A.P.” Through The Fog Of A Disruptive & VUCA World

To lead successfully in today’s highly disruptive, VUCA and digital-driven workplace, leaders need to develop the relevant capabilities to “LEAP” (see Figure 3) through the fog and demonstrate the relevant suite of cognitive readiness competencies and also possesses the following leadership traits (Bawany 2020):

Figure 3: The L.E.A.P. Framework For Managing Leadership Challenges Of A Disruptive & VUCA World

Liberal: A leader needs to exhibit liberal thinking (disruptive mental agility) with a breakthrough mindset that requires openness to developing new behaviours, skills, or opinions and the willingness to adapt or discard existing values if necessary to survive in the new normal. Leading in a disruptive environment means getting used to incredible levels of uncertainty. A leader will never know how something will work until they try it. Modifying their assumptions and adapting or revising their plans in accordance with the desired results is the standard practice of the most highly effective disruptive leaders.

Exuberant: Leaders that thrive in a disruptive environment are energized and demonstrate a sense of passion and optimism while being grounded in reality and in engaging the team and other stakeholders. They are optimistic and consistently look for the good in all successes, failures, and challenges. Passion is a sense of energy for something. A leader’s passion and purpose are their internal energy source, the fire or determination they have to reach their destination.

Agility: Leaders need to be change agents by demonstrating resilience with mental and learning agility. Learning agility is the ability and willingness to learn from every situation a leader goes through in life—including the ones where they have no idea what to do—and to find solutions by leveraging on cognitive readiness and critical thinking skills. The inability to adapt proficiently has often been cited as the reason for leadership derailers.

Partnership: Building and sustaining a trust-based partnership with employees, team members, and external stakeholders, including customers and suppliers, is crucial, especially during disruptive times. When people trust a leader, they have confidence in that leader’s decisions. Even in times of uncertainty, they will be influenced and supportive of the leaders. That is because they expect their leaders to do what the leaders say they will do.


We are operating in a hypercompetitive, disruptive, digital, and VUCA-driven business environment. The world moves faster today than it did 20 to 30 years ago. Businesses feel the pressure to decrease time to market and improve the quality of products while delivering on ever-changing customer expectations to maintain a competitive posture—that is, being adaptive and agile. Driving and achieving sustainable results in this new normal is incredibly challenging even for organizations that have the benefit of leveraging dedicated and knowledgeable employees and business leaders.

Research by the Centre for Executive Education (CEE), Executive Development Associates (EDA), and other strategic partners have shown that today disruptive leaders need to demonstrate a suite of leadership competencies, including cognitive readiness (critical and strategic thinking skills), emotional and social intelligence, resilience, managerial coaching and leading team for performance, in order to drive results and achieve success in a high-performance organization.

Programs On Developing Cognitive Readiness And Critical Thinking Skills For Leaders At All Levels

Critical Thinking is the combination of creative thinking, strategic thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. Critical Thinking can be learned. Applying critical thinking skills will help one better recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments, and draw conclusions throughout the course of everyday interactions and business dealings.

We may not be able to increase IQ, but leaders can learn skills to enhance their overall critical thinking capabilities. Much like an athlete, critical thinkers can improve and be developed, but it requires effort, practise, and dedication.

CEE along with our global strategic partners, Executive Development Associates (EDA) and Action Management Associates Inc. (AMAI)  has collaborated with industry-leading researchers and thought partners to develop a suite of programs that strategically build critical thinking competency. Starting with the top-of-the-house and cascading throughout the organization, we have comprehensive solutions to suit a variety of workgroups and business needs.

Overview Of Critical Thinking Programs

Paragon7: Critical Thinking Transcended

The Paragon7 Program has never before been available to the corporate sector, but now business leaders can hone their decision-making skills, learn to take more rapid action, anticipate, adapt and be ready to expertly address whatever novel challenges they may face in the future. This training goes beyond traditional critical thinking training—it exponentially multiplies elite leaders’ mental potential so they can successfully confront ill-defined, high-intensity challenges in the complex, dynamic, and often-ambiguous modern business world.

Acuity follows readiness. Once leaders are ready for any challenge or situation, then they are open to new insights that will propel them forward by leveraging innovation, intuition, and creativity to shape reality.

Impact occurs when leaders cascade learning throughout their organizations. Paragon7 teaches leaders how to foster their teams’ cognitive capital, as well as implement processes for long-term sustainment.

Critical Thinking Boot Camp (CTBC)

The Critical Thinking Boot Camp (CTBC) is an intensive, 3-phase development process focused on learning practical skills that will have an IMMEDIATE impact on your bottom line. While there won’t be any push-ups or sprints, each attendee will be immersed in masters level, vigorous training on critical thinking. They will be assessed, will work on their real work-related issues and be kept accountable by a coach as well as your management team. Seventy-four per cent of participants say they applied new skills on the job!

Think RED Workshop

The Think RED Program introduces participants to critical thinking skills development through the presentation and application of the Pearson TalentLens RED Model: recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments, and draw conclusions based on an objective, clear-eyed appraisal of the available evidence. Multiple real-world examples and activities will be interwoven with content, enabling participants to immediately apply RED Model thinking skills to actual business challenges in problem-solving and decision making. This one day program is designed to serve as a stand-alone critical thinking tool, or as the foundation for further skills development through follow-up participation in our advanced critical thinking workshops.

Critical Thinking for Business Growth (CTBG)

The Critical Thinking for Business Growth (CTBG) is an interactive, results-focused program that teaches how to think logically and comprehensively about a situation and identify an appropriate course of action while preventing additional problems. Over fifty per cent of this workshop involves participants in experiential activities and on-the-job applications. The course utilizes a dynamic blend of instructor presentation and individual skill practice in each of the concepts presented, using personal work concerns brought by participants.

Applied Critical Thinking

Time is a valuable asset in today’s business world. The Applied Critical Thinking (ACT) workshop delivers powerful short-cut thinking tools in less time. The conceptual framework of this one-day workshop is built around critical thinking skills which provide more effective solutions to important business concerns.

The ACT processes give participants increased confidence to create and/or seize opportunities for improvement. Whether they are solving problems, creating new opportunities, making decisions with limited time and information or implementing plans, this action orientation will result in more profitable business results as participants confidently demonstrate a bias for action.

Problem Solving & Decision Making (PDSM)

Problem Solving & Decision Making (PSDM) is an interactive, outcome-focused workshop that blends team development with rational and creative critical thinking processes to create a comprehensive approach to problem-solving, decision making, and planning. Over sixty per cent of this program involves participants in learner-driven activities and on-the-job applications. The course offers a dynamic blend of instructor presentation, on-the-job application, and skill practice in each of the PSDM processes using work-related concerns brought by participants. Principles of teamwork and effective meeting management are practised by participants throughout the workshop.

For more information about these programs, please contact us today.


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