What Is Critical Thinking and How Can SMB Owners Leverage It?

Posted on December 31, 2023 | Updated on January 4, 2024

Small business owners have infinite decisions to make during their tenure. They may start with a central service or product, but how will that evolve? SMB owners, freelancers, and solopreneurs must analyze every aspect of the voyage from as many perspectives as possible with as much research as possible. What is critical thinking, and what does it do with the SMB journey?

What Is Critical Thinking?

You may have heard of critical thinking in school — consider writing literary analyses or finding inventive solutions to solve a word problem. Critical thinking is a skill you can learn with practice. It is the process of considering, researching, and combining information to guide decisions. Many can read the pros and cons of a situation, but sometimes, this is not enough to make a choice. So, critical thinking considers countless other factors in a decision, such as:

  • Bias
  • External influences outside of your control
  • Unknowns
  • Assumptions
  • Emotional factors
  • Opinions from mentors

Holistic critical thinking may have SMB owners land on a seemingly antithetical choice, but it is the best option for the specific scenario. What is critical thinking for SMB owners shifts the focus from how you may have used it in college. You will synthesize information like you did in school to find metaphors in novels, but now you must apply the findings you uncover from your productive thoughts.

It is one of the most essential skills today, as owning a small business gets more complicated with new technologies and the proliferation of social media. 

What Are the Different Types of Critical Thinking Skills?

Understanding the subject more profoundly requires knowing the differences between critical thinking skills. They include but are not limited to:


  • Problem-solving: When you can tackle concerns proactively because you consider each side of the situation.
  • Analytical thinking: How you parse the numerous variables, biases, and circumstances against the facts.
  • Emotional intelligence: Understanding the reactions and responses of others and how they impact productivity, perception, and performance.
  • Active listening: When you consider information from others open-mindedly without assumptions and how that information could benefit you.
  • Analysis: Where you observe and identify problems or opportunities for improvement.
  • Communication: How you convey information despite the potential reception of employees, stakeholders, and customers, convincing them it is the best choice.

These add up to a capable SMB owner and leader. You do not have to be proficient in all of them. However, it is always the goal of critical thinkers to continually expand on tangentially related thought processes for more comprehensive analyses. The willingness to continually learn is, in and of itself, a mastery of critical thinking.

How Can You Practice Critical Thinking?

Let’s dig deeper so you can cultivate an environment and mindset for critical thinking to flourish. You must focus on yourself before focusing on others in your company. Perform thought exercises by imagining yourself in the worst and strangest happenings that could occur in a small business. Problem areas are ideal places to brainstorm because they are the most challenging. 

Take out paper and map the problems as you consider them. Draw paths and potential outcomes for every solution. Evaluate alternatives and options you would not gravitate toward. Ask how people you admire, or companies you strive to be like would take on these challenges. 

Start small and practice rationale while giving yourself ample time to consider everything comprehensively. Here are a few situations where you will lean on critical thinking to navigate problems:

  • How to placate an angry customer so as not to damage the company’s reputation
  • Whether to invest a lot in specific materials or get the cheaper option
  • What to say that will entice investors the most
  • Where you will guide the business in the new year to keep profits rising

How Can SMBs Foster a Critical Thinking Culture?

The SMB owner needs to hone their critical thinking skills, which must translate to any staff if that applies. So, how can an SMB manager make their environment conducive for critical thinkers to develop?

First, you must clarify that critical thinking comes in various contexts. Some situations are simple yes-or-no cases, while others are more ambiguous with imprecise outcomes. For example, you need it to determine how to phrase a post to a negative review on social media. Give practical examples and workshops for staff to work through, allowing them agency over their decisions and analysis. 

The most important thing you can do is to make it practical. Ensure the workshops have them encounter situations they would face in their workplace. If they are not in charge of being customer-facing at the register or having discussions with investors, do not run them through practice situations with those mentalities. It will not be tangible. 

Start them somewhere familiar, and if staff become proficient at the skill by now, then they may venture into hypotheticals for more complex visualization exercises. Giving them independence to think outside the box without supervision also empowers staff to think critically. They want to feel trusted, and hovering is not conducive for that environment.

Some of your staff may be visual learners. Show them data and case studies on how critical thinking translates into a business scenario. It is sometimes hard to make thinking concrete, but it is one of the best ways to make staff understand how it matters, from improving customer service, sorting money, or asking for feedback.

How Has Critical Thinking Helped Create Success?

Critical thinking is a springboard for everything from innovating products to communicating a scaling strategy to a growing employee base. Nothing is more inspirational than seeing critical thinking excel. What are some case studies that show results from critical thinkers?

The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, used critical thinking to develop the idea for the website. He evaluated the concept of another website engineered by Harvard and considered its flaws and how to improve it for a centralized format. Instead of a rating website, Zuckerberg wanted to transform it into the future of connecting with other students. You know how the story evolved from there.

Another notable critical thinker is Bill Gates, who claims curiosity is the future of work. Curiosity is integral to critical thinking, making the analysis and synthesis process easier. Additionally, it will assist in the idea engineering side of critical thinking. The higher the “curiosity quotient,” the more ideas you can produce. 

Gates asserts establishments often prohibit and discourage people from asking too many questions about how things work, especially in the business and marketing worlds. However, thinking critically and being curious about how to change frameworks and have forward-thinking cultures is essential.

Considering the Full Picture 

Critical thinking may be the thing that keeps a business afloat, even in the most challenging first couple of years. Mastering critical thinking means only some decisions will come quickly. However, if you practice enough, you can have comfort throughout those tricky processes. You will typically land with the best outcome —all because you thought it through. 

Considering every nook and cranny of a scenario takes time, alongside emotional and, sometimes, physical effort. However, SMB managers must have critical thinking as their go-to problem-solving and risk assessment tactic to become the ideal leader.


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