Thomas H. Davenport, who teaches analytics and big data in executive programs at Babson College, Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School and Boston University, explains analytical thinking this way: “It’s critical thinking using data and analysis to inform and hopefully support better decisions.”
That is, when you approach a challenge from the framework of analytical thinking, you collect data related to the issue so you can assess it and formulate a plan of action based on fact.
Davenport, who is the author of Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics, says, “Analytical decisions are more likely to be accurate and precise” when compared with those based on experience and intuition alone.
Analytical skills are valued in the business world where information is coming in a mile a minute. Analytical thinking skills enable employees to process critical information, organize it and then draw conclusions in order to make better decisions efficiently and quickly. Not everyone is going to be a data-crunching expert, but it’s important to have a basic understanding of the process.
“I think making analytical decisions, when you can, is increasingly going to be a criterion for being hired in a lot of different types of jobs,” says Davenport.
Get yourself in the habit of approaching business decisions analytically. Here’s how:
- Frame the problem. This involves identifying the problem, asking questions, assessing the available information and determining additional information you need. This is also a good time for a history lesson. “See how other people have solved this problem in the past,” advises Davenport. “Most problems are not unique.”
- Solve the problem. This is where data comes in. Collect it and then create a model in order to analyze it and understand the issues. Then use that analysis to develop a solution. If you work in a larger organization, there’s a good chance one of your colleagues can crunch the numbers. “You can find experts to help you do that,” assures Davenport. “That’s what hardcore quantitative analysts do.
- Communicate the results and their implications. Don’t be dry about it, though. You have to be able to engage leaders and help them understand the data in a meaningful way. “Most people are not very good telling stories with data,” says Davenport, “but it’s an important skill, as well.” It’s worth taking the time to learn how to do it right.
Continue to sharpen your analytical thinking skills with the following resources:
- Read: Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics by Thomas H. Davenport
- Watch: "Analytical Thinking" by GRASP the Solution
- Attend: The American Management Association's range of analytical thinking workshops