Thinking About Thinking

  |  November 11, 2010   |  Comments

Marketing analytics managers must understand the difference between interesting information and insightful analysis. Here's where to begin.

When was the last time you thought about thinking?

I went to the doctor with a sore throat and a hoarse voice and he told me I needed speech therapy. I assured him I knew how to speak, and he gave me one of those withering, doctorial looks that assured me I didn't know what I was talking about. After three visits to my friendly, neighborhood speech pathologist, I was stunned. Turns out speaking is not as easy as it looks. Same goes for thinking.

A series of exercises tuned me into how I was speaking. Teachers do the same with their students. There are stages of development in critical thinking. It's not about age or knowledge, but a growth in the process of cerebral performance.

Why is this important to marketing analytics managers? It takes technical skills to capture data. It takes tool manipulation skills to generate reports. But it takes critical thinking skills to glean actionable insights from information, and that takes practice.

The Center for Critical Thinking has been thinking about thinking for more than 20 years, and it believes there are predictable stages through which every person must progress. These stages are not automatic or happen subconsciously. You have to want to think better. Like physical exercise, you have to maintain your skills or slide back into the role of an intellectual couch potato.

According to "With Implications for Instruction" by Linda Elder with Richard Paul, the six stages are:

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker

Largely unaware of the many ways that problems in thinking are causing problems in their lives. Fail to recognize thinking as involving concepts, assumptions, inferences, implications, points of view, etc. Unaware of the appropriate standards for the assessment of thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, logicalness, etc.

Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker

Aware, at some level, that high quality thinking requires deliberate reflective thinking about thinking (in order to improve thinking). Develop some reflective awareness of how thinking operates for good or ill.

Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker

Actively take explicit command of their thinking. Recognize that they have basic problems in their thinking but their efforts are hit and miss. Able to appreciate a critique of their powers of thought. Have some degree of intellectual confidence in reason.

Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker

Have a sense of the habits they need to develop to take charge of their thinking. Regularly monitor their own thoughts and can articulate the strengths and weaknesses in their thinking.

Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker

Continually strive to be fair-minded. Ability to identify areas of significant ignorance and prejudice. Have keen insight into the role of egocentrism and sociocentrism in thinking, as well as the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Stage Six: The Accomplished Thinker

Have systematically taken charge of their thinking and are continually monitoring, revising, and rethinking strategies for continual improvement of their thinking. Have a high degree of intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual responsibility, and fair-mindedness.

Elder and Paul propound that, "Thinking is inevitably driven by the questions we seek to answer, and those questions we seek to answer for some purpose." They warn that striving to derive insight for a given purpose, "we are well advised to take command of...purpose, question, information, inferences, assumptions, concepts, point of view, and implications."

Elder and Paul suggest that teachers regularly require students to do the following list of things that you must make sure your analysts do when trying to optimize your marketing through data sifting:

  1. State and explain goals and purposes
  2. Clarify the questions they need to answer and the problems they need to solve
  3. Gather and organize information and data
  4. Explicitly assess the meaning and significance of information you give them
  5. Demonstrate that they understand concepts
  6. Identify assumptions
  7. Consider implications and consequences
  8. Examine things from more than one point of view
  9. State what they say clearly
  10. Test and check for accuracy
  11. Stick to questions, issues, or problems; and not wander in their thinking
  12. Express themselves precisely and exactly
  13. Deal with complexities in problems and issues
  14. Consider the point of view of others
  15. Express their thinking logically
  16. Distinguish significant matters from insignificant ones

That is what will make the difference between information that is interesting and analysis that is insightful - and therefore - useful.


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Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.

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