Analytical thinking is one of those terms that gets used by different people in different ways. In one conversation you might find it used to describe examining a problem in detail, while in another to describe prowess with data. To make matters even more confusing, it's often used interchangeably with terms like critical thinking or evaluation. So, let's talk about it: what is analytical thinking?
Defining Analytical Thinking
In Starling's course on thinking skills—Thinking Differently—we use "analytical thinking" to describe the process of breaking things down into their component pieces in order to make sense of them. The goal of breaking things down is to gain clarity on and a deeper understanding of your issue—whether that's a problem you are trying to solve, a decision you are trying to make, a task you need to tackle, or something else.
Analytical thinking is one part of critical thinking, which Dear Old Google (with the help of Oxford Languages) defines as "the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment." We're talking about the first part of that—the part where we make sense of things before we brainstorm solutions or weigh and measure options.
Many a solution has failed because we didn't understand the problem in the first place. As such, analytical thinking is an essential part of not only problem-solving and decision-making, but also resilience and leading equitably.
Our unit on analytical thinking is the third in a series of six in the course. It follows an initial unit that provides a 10,000-foot view of the aforementioned complex thought processes and their importance in the workplace, as well as a second unit on metacognition and how to become more aware of our thoughts in order to evaluate and regulate them.
We tackle analytical thinking next because a detailed analysis lays the groundwork for identifying and implementing a good solution. Problem-solving without first getting clarity on the problem itself is like building a house on an incomplete foundation—shaky at best.
We teach all of these thinking skills explicitly and deliberately because we think they are important enough to stand alone in the spotlight and not just as co-stars to other topics. When we teach these invisible skills only implicitly and indirectly, the lessons are much more likely to get lost. Which is a shame, because they benefit us in a wide spectrum of situations from ones as small as deciding what to wear in the morning to those as big as figuring out how to run a team or a company.
With Thinking Differently, our goal is to teach our learners to fish, rather than simply handing them a fish taco. Our philosophy is that professional development can't tell you exactly what to do in all the situations you'll encounter at work, but it can give you tools like analytical thinking that will be relevant and helpful in almost every single one of them.
Take Control of Your Professional Development
Check out one of the introductory videos from the course below to hear more of my thoughts on analytical thinking. If you're interested in the rest of the unit—which includes our Analytical Thinking Workbook containing 10+ analytical thinking activities—consider signing up for Starling today. As part of membership, you get access to all units in Thinking Differently, in addition to all available courses in The Starling Way, a library of micro lessons, near-weekly events, and more.
All of which is purpose-built to make you happier and healthier at work.