Many of us have come across the term ‘critical thinking’ and even been reminded time and time again that it is important to display the ability to think critically – what exactly does critical thinking mean and how do employers measure such a skill?
According to American career-search site Indeed.com, since 2009 more than 21,000 healthcare and 6700 management-related job ads contained some reference to the skill.
Just like the buzz word ‘big data’ which includes a broad range of definitions, critical thinking also has varied definitions. Some people tend to think that their words get ‘criticized’ in an argument. To put it in simple terms, critical thinking is systematically processing information to understand things better and make better decisions. Critical thinking requires the application of different intellectual tools to diverse information.
The intellectual tools that may be employed to think critically are as follows:
So, why does critical thinking matter?
Taking a moment to reflect and think deliberately avoids pointless and unnecessary arguments and increases productivity.
Even as a student, critical thinking is crucial because it helps you to form opinions and engage in a discussion on a deeper level. Merely regurgitating facts, won’t get you far – not in college or university and certainly not at the workplace. At the end of the day, critical thinking also helps you to evaluate your own work and find ways of improving your own habits.
Employers place great emphasis on critical thinking because it helps in the decision-making process. In fact, the best employees are those who are not only able to solve problems but ones who are able to foresee a potential problem and provide solutions. Skills-related to critical thinking namely, problem solving, effective communication, EQ and creativity will make you stand out as a young graduate and get you the job you desire.
This begs the next crucial question, how does one get better at thinking critically?
5 ways to develop critical thinking
1. Ask basic questions
Not every complicated problem demands a complicated solution. In fact, seeking simple solutions can reduce stress and achieve wonders.
Some basic questions to bear in mind when facing any problem:
- What are you seeking to prove or disprove?
- What do you already know?
- Can you back up what you already know?
- What are you overlooking?
2. Avoid relying on assumptions instead question them
Throughout history, great innovators from Newton to Einstein, have shown us that questioning assumptions is where innovation happens.
The truth is, you don’t need to have Einstein-like aspirations to benefit from questioning basic assumptions. That internship or job that you desire? It can become a reality if you question your assumptions, critically evaluate your understanding and beliefs or even biases to determine what’s prudent and feasible.
3. Evaluate existing evidence
It always helps to look at other precedents/solutions in a related area when you’re attempting to solve a problem. Analysing how others have done it before provides the groundwork for you to improvise and arrive at your own solution without having to start from scratch.
Some basic questions to consider in evaluating evidence before you:
- Who gathered the evidence?
- How did they gather it?
- What is the purpose of gathering such evidence?
For example, a study showing the health benefits of a particular product such as cereal. Although it may appear convincing on paper, you may tend to think otherwise if the study was actually funded by a cereal company. No doubt, you should not assume that this invalidates the results of the report, you should still question any assumptions given the apparent conflict of interest.
4. Always think for yourself
Too much research and reading may at times bog you down that you forget to reflect and think for yourself. Don’t be overconfident but recognize the importance of taking a step back and thinking for yourself and not get lost in another person’s opinion or work.
Thinking for yourself is a powerful tool to answer tough questions and solve complicated problems.
5. IT’S OK, no one thinks critically 100% of the time
Understand that you don’t need to think critically all the time. Critical thinking is an intellectual tool used only when you need to make important decisions or solve difficult problems. Every now and then, you will experience a lapse in reasoning when you are faced with tough questions or difficult problems at the workplace.
Recognising these lapses and making a conscious effort to avoid them in the future is what matters.
Developing your critical thinking skills is a lifelong journey, and there is always more to learn!