Thinking Styles and Decision-Making Process

Amongst the various key activities for running a successful business, taking decisions occupies a central position. Taking a decision in the modern competitive world is a complex affair which requires the decision maker to have a wide range of qualities, knowledge and attributes to deliver a successful decision. On the strength or weakness of a particular decision, the fate of a company or the success of an enterprise may rest. Decisions are made by application of thought. Since humans have a myriad of ways of thinking, there are numerous styles of thinking that can be applied to the larger ambit of making a decision. Since most decisions are a deliberate assessment of pros and cons, it therefore becomes necessary to foster a critical way of thinking which can harness the outputs of the differing styles of thinking. Since styles of thinking are numerous, this essay aims to focus on comparing and contrasting the analytical, pragmatic and the idealistic styles of thinking. The essay will examine the linkages to the critical thinking process of these three styles and its effect on corporate decision making process.

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The Characteristics of the Three Thinking Styles

In any workplace, thinking styles differ but some thinking styles are more common than the others. The analytical style of thinking finds greater prevalence in a large number of workplaces. Analytical approach prefers to look at problems in a logical sequential manner. Analysts believe that every problem has one best solution and that such a problem can be solved by set formulas and prescriptive action. An analyst will prefer a ‘rule based’ system and will strive to reduce the problem by applying tenets of rationality and predictability. The analytical style of thinking concerns itself with ‘facts’ and actionable data and the need to organize such facts and data to arrive at a solution. Analytical style of thinking is usually linear and sequential but can adopt a ‘radial’ or non-linear approach if it passes the tests of rationality and scientifically arrived results. Analysts have enormous amounts of patience and can work endless hours to find the ‘right’ solution. For analysts, arriving at a decision is not as time-critical as the structural infallibility of their process, formulations and method. Typically, analysts tend to be introverted with lesser need for social skills and integration.

Pragmatists are the ‘go-getters’ of any workplace. Pragmatists are not too concerned with the elegance of the solution but with the results. Thus for a pragmatist ‘anything that works’ is good enough. Pragmatic style of thinking emphasizes the ‘need to get things done’. Pragmatists therefore, are by nature, flexible in their approach towards getting the work done, are usually in a hurry and have a bias for action. Pragmatic style of thinking is good for a workplace where quick results are desired within a relatively short time. Pragmatists have better social skills than the analysts as they look at social interaction as a means of getting things done. At times, their approach can seem to be abrasive to the other members of the workforce.

The Idealistic style of thinking encompasses a holistic vision and a tendency at viewing problems and issues through a larger lens. Idealists are typically concerned with the ‘big picture’. An idealist favors taking a long term view and is interested in social values and integration. Idealistic thinking style produces ‘Grand Strategies’ in state affairs and ‘Long Term Strategies’ in corporate affairs. Idealists have the ability to connects patterns and understand the broad canvas of corporate activity. Consequently, idealists have greater social skills; have a grasp of the ‘big picture’ and a tendency to ignore the finer details.

Comparing and Contrasting Analytical, Pragmatic and Idealistic Styles of Thinking

In terms of time factor, the analytical style of thinking takes the longest as the emphasis is on the method and the process. The pragmatists would take the shortest time to complete a job or arrive at a decision as their emphasis is on job completion. The idealist falls in between the two extremes where while avoiding intricate details, the idealist nonetheless would take longer time to examine a problem holistically. The end result of an analyst’s labor would probably be an elegant solution; that of a pragmatist would most probably be less elegant. An idealist on the other hand would favor a compromise to achieve the big picture. In terms of viability of a solution, the pragmatic style of thinking may well produce an excellent short term solution but may prove to have serious weaknesses in the long term. The analysts’ formulation may provide a foolproof rule-based solution which would work as long as the rules by which the solution was arrived at hold good. An idealistic style of thinking with its emphasis on the long term would therefore require short term support from the pragmatists to get along the near-term goals of the corporate.

Effects of Analytical, Pragmatic and Idealistic Styles on Critical Thinking Process

According to Browne and Keeley (2007), critical thinking involves having awareness of a set of interrelated critical questions; ability to ask and answer critical questions at appropriate times; and the desire to actively use the critical questions (p. 2). Straddling these ingredients, is the critical thinking process, which have been comprehensively summarized by Starkey as; recognizing the problem, defining it, organizing your thoughts through brainstorming, goal setting, troubleshooting, using deductive and inductive reasoning as well as recognizing the limitations of logic, and lastly taking a judgment call in conditions of uncertainty (2004). In each of these steps of critical thinking, the three different styles of thinking have varying effects. Recognizing the problem through deductive, inductive or logical reasoning as well as defining it may well be served by analytical thinking style. This would be mostly true when the problem is quantifiable in mechanistic terms. However, should the problem have social variables attached to it, an idealistic approach with synthesis at its heart may well be the better option. Brainstorming a problem is definitely a vital step in the critical thinking process. Brainstorming can be achieved by a variety of methods such as using a white board technique, with decision matrix and other decision support tools being used. In such brainstorming sessions, the three thinking styles complement each other to arrive at options. The analytical style helps coming up with logical, quantifiable options, the pragmatic style with short term ‘do-able’ options while the Idealistic style with the ‘big picture’ options. This process of critical thinking is closely related with the overall decision making process.

Linkages of the Critical Thinking Process with the Decision Making Process

Most textbooks on decision making models talk about “rational, bounded rationality and political models” (Hellriegel, Slocum, & Woodman, 2001, p. 424) as the standard ways for taking a managerial level decision. The US Department of Energy (DOE) Guidebook to decision making states that “Good decisions can best be reached when everyone involved uses a clearly defined and acknowledged decision-making process” (Baker, et al., 2001, p. 1). The guidebook further amplifies the eight steps to arriving at a decision namely defining the problem, determining the requirements, establishing goals, identifying alternatives, defining criteria, selecting a decision making tool, evaluating the alternatives against the criteria and lastly validating solutions against the problems. The steps for decision making enumerated above align very closely with the steps for critical thinking which have been outlined in the previous paragraph. Thus, the process of critical thinking is a sub set of the decision making approach. Preponderance of rule-based decision making models do not reduce the importance of making a ’judgment call’ when the formal modes of arriving at a decision fail. This step of critical thinking process is more closely aligned to the concept of taking a decision based on intuition. In fact “Intuition is viewed as a potential means of helping managers make both fast and accurate decisions in organizations” (Dane & Pratt, 2007, p. 50). The realms of ‘judgment call’ or intuitive decision making can more easily be fathomed and correctly taken with the help of the idealistic style of thinking as it is more attuned to looking at synthesis of facts, events and discerned patterns which defy mechanistic calculations.

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Work Place Examples of Utilization of Different Styles of Thinking

A typical example of the IT industry best illustrates the mechanics of the three styles of thinking that combine with the critical thinking process and decision making. A fictitious software giant needs to produce an innovative product aimed at capturing the imagination of the people and have a cross generational appeal. For generating such a product obviously requires a breadth of vision and a long term strategy, the domain of the idealistic thinking style. To work out the mechanics and the formulations so that the vision can be translated into action requires the help of analytical thinking style which would provide the much needed method and the necessary software to ensure the basic formulation of the product. The requirement to build an actionable plan to capture the market and incremental success in advertising the product would need the practical approach of the pragmatic style of thinking. All these three would require to get together and use the processes of critical thinking process dovetailed into the decision making process to arrive at an actionable plan. Finally, should the decision require certain impetus in conditions of uncertainty, the syncretistic approach of the idealistic style of thinking would then be required to take the ‘judgment call’. Thus in the above IT company, analytical thinking would be required at the lower and middle levels of management, the pragmatic style in the middle levels of management and the idealistic style at the top level of management. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group of industries is another example. It required Sir Richard’s idealistic thinking to dream up the ‘big picture’ that revolutionized cheap international air travel. Analytical thinking helped put together a sound business model and a methodology to make Virgin Atlantic a profitable venture. Pragmatic style helped consolidate Virgin Atlantic by seizing business opportunities wherever possible even when the margins were slim. Sir Richard carries on with his ‘big picture’ vision by expanding his business to telecommunications and deep space tourism through Virgin Mobile and Virgin Galactic.

In the conclusion it can be reiterated that a variety of thinking styles are necessary for arriving at an optimum decision through the medium of critical thinking. The process has a formal methodology but in times of uncertainty,’ judgment calls’ or recourse to intuition can also be utilized to arrive at the decision.

Works Cited

  1. Baker, D., Bridges, D., Hunter, R., Johnson, G., Krupa, J., Murphy, J., et al. (2001). GuideBook to Decision Making Methods.
  2. Browne, N. M., & Keeley, S. M. (2007). Asking the Right Questions; A Guide to Critical Thinking 8th edn. New Jersey: Pearsons Education Inc.
  3. Dane, E., & Pratt, M. G. (2007). Exploring Intuition and Its Role in Managerial Decision Making. Academy of Management Review , Vol. 32, No. 1, 33–54.
  4. Hellriegel, D., Slocum, J. W., & Woodman, R. W. (2001). Organizational Behaviour 9th edn. Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing.
  5. Starkey, L. (2004). Critical Thinking Skill Success; In Twenty Minutes a Day. New York: Learning Express.
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