By Richard F. Hougesen
When leading and working within any organization I believe it is very important to be able to critically think and also to be creative in the process. Robert Ennis stated, “Critical thinking is a process, the goal of which is to make reasonable decisions about what to believe and what to do.”
As a leader, if one doesn’t know how to make reasonable decisions about what one believes and what one does, then the organization’s mission is at risk. A critical thinker needs to think beneath the surface, systematically cultivating the art of analyzing and evaluating the views of others to improve their position. The results are to raise vital questions and problems for the team to consider alternatives along with multiple contingencies. If one is not posing critical questions and assessing relevant information with an open mind then negative attitudes may arise, blocking creativity. Essentially, creative thinking can go hand in hand with critical thinking, as it allows one to explore ideas and generate possibilities to imagine something new and amazing. In order to be open and creative, one needs to fairly address new ideas, think with an open mind, put one’s self in the place of another human being and also uphold oneself to a higher standard to cultivate a sensitivity to people’s feelings and emotions to any and all situations. A positive attitude will go a long way in seeing the good in the bad, persevering in the midst of criticism and constructively being able to make improvements.
In 2005 when asked to be the personal medic for the former president of Iraq it was important that we began this mission with clarity and accuracy making certain that our team on the ground and in the air had thought through with precision and relevance all of the possibilities that could arise and were mitigated to bring all parties safely to an undisclosed location. There were pre-combat checks done on our vehicles, aircrafts and radios to ensure communication and physical operations were functioning. Briefings were held prior to start times of the mission to allow and better understand the current conditions on the ground and any contingency plans for any unseen circumstances. Once arriving at the location to regroup and discuss what went right and what went wrong and what we could do better, we used every bit of critical and creative thinking on this mission to look beyond and make it a success.
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Critical thinking is wading through the masses of data and information to sort out what is important for your mission or task to reach its end state. L103 Doctrinal Excepts states that critical thinking is an active process in situational assessment that seek to obtain the most through and accurate understanding possible.
Critical thinking is therefore an ongoing process that can be refined to meet mission or task. With new information, input critical thinking can change your planned scenario’s altogether. Critical thinking calls for a fresh perspective to some of the same problems that may be hindering a unit’s performance to maximum effort.
Elements of thought (reasoning) and Intellectual standards, the quality of the reasoning the process and your thinking and thinking of others around you, play into critical thinking. Critical thinking helps leaders and commanders counter their cognitive biases and avoid logic errors. With elements of thought and intellectual standards, leaders should be able to avoid pitfalls but also never be embarrassed to ask for insight from their peers or peer group.
Creative thinking is largely attitude and imagination with a flair for different to solve a problem. Thinking creatively is doing the unsuspected, out of routine for units that use the same formula and format for training. Creative thinking sees problems from a fresh perceptive that may not be your own ideas. Will you bias let you receive input for other sources? Some of the best ideas may not be in your own unit or peer group.
Cognitive biases, mental models, elementals of thought, and intellectual standards will affect the sergeant major ability to solve problems, if not careful cause problems also. They all play a part in decision-making and should be balanced equally.
Department of the Army. (30 June 2015) Leader Development (FM 6-22). Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/fm6_22.pdf
Department of the Army. (25 November 2019) Army Leadership and the Profession (ADP6-22). Retrieved from
Department of the Army. (30 July 2019) The Operation Process (ADP5-0). Retrieved