Commentary: Critical thinking is the way of the future

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --

Many people in leadership positions, be it military or civilian, say education is the way of the future and believe through education problems can be solved, efficiency improved and the mission completed. I came from that world, graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. I found my analytical and critical thinking skills incredibly important to Luke’s mission. I don't just see “problems” that need to be fixed, I see the final product and how I can make it better. You don’t need education to “create” these skills, it starts with passion for the job, and passion to make things better.

 

Critical thinking is simply a deliberative thought process during which you look at every detail of the process, task or idea and determine what can be done better. These are a few questions you can ask yourself when attempting this method. What is the problem? Why is it being done this way? Who does this affect? What can go wrong?

 

Once you’ve asked these questions, develop a plan that can be implemented. If this isn’t something you can do on your own, pitch the idea to your supervision. If it makes things more effective, efficient and there’s nothing blocking the path, they should be willing to work with you. You should also have a plan in case it doesn’t work out. Critical thinking is neither magical nor foolproof. It’s also not a substitute for specialized knowledge, but your on-the-job training and experience can be molded with critical thinking and help you see things in a different light.

 

One example involves the 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs and their database management program used to track manning hours for the entire team. The program was not user friendly, and Airmen could spend hours logging everything that was done during the week. Difficulty to input, retrieve, and store data, combined with the fact that the server was down for days often making it impossible to even open the program, left users frustrated. I knew there was a way to make this better. I had experience with creating and developing database programs from previous job experience. Through on-the-job training and Air Force experience, I was able to create a database that met the needs of the public affairs team, and it was able to do this at all levels, from leadership to Airmen. On top of that, it saved us more than $13,000 a year and users could complete tasks within minutes. I identified the problem, the relevant job information needed and how my product could be better than the current one. Then I refined it and molded it to meet the Air Force’s and public affair’s needs. This is critical thinking in a nutshell. It can be a simple change or a big one.

 

Critical thinking doesn’t start with education. Education refines the experiences you have and takes it to the next level. It starts with taking the initiative, identifying a problem and trying to make things better, not just for yourself, but for your team, the mission, and the Air Force.