Updated: May 6, 2019
Video Length: 5:20 min
“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” This was Winston Churchill’s comment after being criticized for praising Joseph Stalin’s leadership after Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Churchill was a devote anti-communist and had spoken on the evils of communism since the Russian Revolution. His comments about Stalin were primarily about the need to build alliances, as Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. This scene from 2017’s Academy Award Nominated, “The Darkest Hour,” puts Churchill in his most defensive posture after the possibility of negotiating with German leader Adolph Hitler is presented by his War Cabinet to end the war at almost any cost.
In the book, “Bargaining With The Devil” by Robert Mnookin, chapter five deals with Churchill and his War Cabinet considering the possibility of negotiating with Hitler. France was falling, and the British Army was backed up to the sea at Dunkirk. In short, Churchill already planned to fight it out, but the two dominant members of the War Cabinet, the Foreign Secretary (Lord Edward Halifax) and former Prime Minster (Neville Chamberlin) were pushing for options to get Britain out of the war. Even if it meant giving up territory and promises of neutrality in future German conflicts, they were seeking an end. The author relates from the declassified Cabinet minutes that the three-day debate made Churchill consider several options as the military prepared for the evacuation of over 200,000 British troops from France.
Most importantly, Churchill’s decision--making cycle is noted. Instead of following his immediate gut feeling to fight, he looked at his own history, his values, personal preferences, and prejudices as he listened to other positions. Churchill had mastered the art of critical thinking is looking at a variety of options and selecting those that will produce the best possible outcome. Churchill gathered as much information as possible and evaluated it. He knew that to understand the problems and issues completely, it would require clear and often uncomfortable, assessment of the facts and his own personal strengths and weaknesses. He understood the grave situation and the nature of the conflict, and most importantly he understood Hitler.
Churchill listened carefully to those who had personally met the various Nazi leaders and analyzed their estimates of Germany’s political and military leadership abilities. He revaluated why certain “appeasement steps” were made by the previous government. Unlike the previous British government, Churchill knew this was not the Germany of 1914, it was a different German Army and a different German government. To beat this new Germany, it would require a different type of approach, far more crafty intelligence and a different type of analysis. He and his military leaders needed to know the German leaders, their history, their values, their aspirations and this new German culture created by Nazism. Most importantly, what was their definition of victory and defeat?
I am often asked about the term “Critical Thinking”, which I use when describing my problem-solving methodology. A recent Wardroom contribution entitled “I Know Only The Fact Of My Ignorance!” touched on “critical thinking” as I had applied it to business. At almost every event I speak at I mention the value I find in the critical thinking process and afterwards attendees will come up and ask me to elaborate on the formula.
Recently I worked with a group of police officers regarding intelligence operations and the value of analysis throughout the investigation process. I stressed to them that they needed to ensure that information not relevant to the prosecution of the crime in question was not lost. While not pertaining to the ongoing investigation, that didn’t mean that the information had no value. If we use the formula of “Information + Evaluation = Data” & “Data + Analysis = Intelligence”, we may find that that information is indeed valuable. More importantly, it may be a very important piece to a completely different puzzle someone else is trying to solve.
Critical thinking is not something you learn and replicate in same format like your multiplication tables. Critical thinking is best described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. It can also be described as thinking in a clear and rational way, while understanding the logical connection between ideas. It's a model that works in police operations, the intelligence arena or global war. It has serious applications in the business world as well.
To understand the critical thinking process, let us try a simple exercise to get you thinking from that perspective. Think of something that someone has recently told you that can affect your business or your position within an organization (church, club, team). Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who said it? Is it someone, you know? Is it someone in a position of authority? Does it matter who told you this?
2. What did they say? Did they give facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Did they leave anything out?
3. Where did they say it? Was it in public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond or provide an alternative account?
4. When did they say it? Was it before, during or after an important event? Is the timing important?
5. Why did they say it? Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?
6. How did they say it? Were they happy, sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it? Did you understand what was said?
7. What is your goal? What are the goals of those who said it? One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to decide what you are aiming to achieve, decide based on a range of possibilities and understand others may have other objectives.
Once you have clarified the aim, use that as the starting point in all future situations requiring good decision making. You must maintain discipline to keep yourself on track unless changing circumstances require you to revisit your decision.
Perhaps the most important element of thinking critically is foresight. Not every decision we make will be a resounding success. It’s not a disaster if in mid-course we have reasons to change our mind and move in a different direction. Be aware of personal pitfalls, and know your own biases on the subject because critical thinking requires gathering and evaluating information from multiple sources. Critical thinking is aimed at achieving the best possible outcomes in any situation. To quote Albert Einstein, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with the problems longer”.