Analytical thinking is a kind of ‘middle step,’ linking the rigor of strategic thinking with the imagination of creative thinking. My favourite definition of analytical thinking was developed by David Stephenson, a professor in the Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK:
- Standing back from the information given
- Examining it in detail from many angles
- Checking closely whether it is accurate
- Checking whether each statement follows logically
- Looking for possible flaws in the reasoning, evidence, or the way conclusions are drawn
- Comparing the issue from other points of view
- Checking all the assumptions
- Searching for any contradictions
To enable analytical thinking, information is sorted and organised after gathering to help decipher its insights – usually in a chart or graph. The two most common tools are the SWOT Analysis and the Force Field Analysis.
The SWOT Analysis is one of the first tools created to compartmentalise information into key sections, and remains popular. Personally, I find it limiting. As a tool, I fill in the four well-known boxes – and then what? There’s no step toward insight. I prefer the Force Field Analysis. The analysis is an integral part of its structure.
Whichever system you use, you might also finish your analytical thinking by asking yourself these questions to spur the next phases of creativity:
- What’s the key point you learnt?
- What’s the seminal piece of information?
- What is now so blindingly obvious that it took all this research to determine?
- What surprised you most?
- What would surprise someone else the most?
- What must the idea demonstrate or ‘do’ above all else?
- What must happen to engage the audience?
- What’s the one action step that needs to happen above all else?
- What style, tone or characteristic must the idea reflect to make the idea compelling, believable and relevant?
Finally, I see analytical thinking being different than critical thinking. If you’re curious, you can read: Analytical Thinking vs. Critical Thinking.
How else might you define or apply Analytical Thinking in your work? Please, add your comments below.