Now and then, every individual comes face to face with some challenge or a problem, which requires them to make a decision. For an entrepreneur, it could be something as simple as deciding a name for their venture or something as crucial as choosing a location for the office. If you’re an employee working for an organization, you could be tasked with something as uncomplicated as picking out your workspace or something as critical as hiring recruits or choosing your team. For a student, some decisive tasks at hand would be, picking the correct career path, which subjects to study, which college to go to, and so on.
Life is full of such severities. Some problems may be complicated, and some may not be so difficult. Some issues may arise on the professional front, some on a personal front. Whatever it is, every decision you make, will have a crucial impact on your life. Hence, you must possess the skills to think critically to tackle any situation better. Not only would it help you narrow down upon the best suitable option, but also facilitate its effective implementation.
A real-life situation where the skills of critical thinking would come in handy is in filtering out information. We live in a world of the internet and social media, where a truckload of information is available in a single click. Some of this information could be correct and accurate, whilst the majority of it is found to be untrue, commonly referred to as “fake news”.
To give you a very recent instance, some conspiracy theories had arisen that related the supposed harmful health effects of the 5G cellular network technology, including a link to the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of such misinformation have been seen almost immediately, like arson attacks on cell phone towers across Europe and the USA. Though there may be less immediate effects, some long term effects could perhaps be slowing down or preventing economic growth.
So, how do you find the truth amongst all this noise? In such a scenario, critical thinking can help you analyze and evaluate the data available to you. It will not only help look at data objectively; it will also help filter out unnecessary, irrelevant information.
Elon Musk employs an ancient mental strategy called ‘first principles’ when dealing with a novel problem. It is a 2000-year-old concept coined by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who believed that we learn more by understanding a subject’s fundamental principles. In an interview in 2012, Musk said that if he hadn’t used the first principles thinking to advance the technology used by Tesla, he probably still would’ve been stuck in the horse and carriage stage of transportation. For him, the strategy of first principles means boiling down to the most fundamental truths and then reasoning up from there.
Now, what exactly are these concepts of critical thinking and problem solving, and why are they so important?
Most commonly, critical thinking refers to the cognitive process of analyzing, conceptualizing, and evaluating a given situation and applying the presented set of information to guide one’s actions. The said information can be obtained via observation, experience, reasoning, reflection, and communication and is meant to guide an individual’s beliefs and actions.
How do you think critical thinking is different from ordinary thinking?
Theoretically speaking, critical thinking involves a more holistic approach while looking at an issue. While normal thinking is intuitive, critical thinking is one in which you actively make an effort to think about your decisions and opinions. It points towards a very objective and empirical point of view, as opposed to theoretical thinking. It includes the ability to understand your biases and think in terms of multiple causes and the magnitude of things.
Problem solving, on the other hand, is a by-product of critical thinking. It is the process of defining a problem, analyzing the situation, developing or finding a set of possible solutions, choosing the best one, and applying it to solve the given issue.
To help understand the concepts of critical thinking and problem-solving 4 core constructs of critical thinking have been identified:
- Effective Reasoning: The ability to make claims and support them with logical evidence is known as reasoning.
- Objective Evaluating: The systematic evaluation of the merit of available alternatives using criteria governed by a set of standards while solving a problem.
- Decision Making: The process of making a choice by gathering information and assessing the available solutions is called decision making. A step by step decision making process can help take well-informed and thoughtful decisions by going through every alternative one by one.
- Problem Solving: The act of defining a problem, identifying its key questions, developing possible plans to solve it, evaluating the available options, and selecting and implementing the most favorable solution effectively, is the key to solving any problem. It involves a series of steps that help make the right decisions.
We will discuss these skills in detail in the upcoming modules. The upcoming modules will also talk about some strategies to help develop and improve upon some key critical thinking skills.
In case you’re wondering where you lie on the scale of critical thinking skills, you can take a free self-assessment test here.
Critical thinking is said to be the cornerstone for constant self-improvement. When one thinks critically, he/she challenges what seems given. It works as a drive to help try and identify newer and better solutions to everyday problems. Whether the problems are big or small, they require to be dealt with in a fair and composite manner. Hence, the ability to understand a problem and identify its most effective solution is said to be an extremely crucial skill in today’s job market.
Employers are constantly on the lookout for employees who are more open to feedback and are ready to mold themselves according to changing market demands. According to the Critical Skills Survey of 2010 by the American Management Association, employers mention that they look for a workforce that is fully equipped with skills beyond basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, in order to grow their businesses. They look for specialized skills that include critical thinking and problem-solving. Employees possessing such skills have been found to have contributed effectively to help businesses grow and for organizations to prosper.
Benefits of critical thinking
Here are a few ways in which the ability to think critically helps individuals in the real world:
- Possessing the skills of critical thinking and problem solving not only makes you more employable, but it also increases your chances of getting paid better.
- When you encounter a new issue, the ability to think critically helps compare the pros and cons of the problem and facilitates making difficult decisions.
- It helps develop an individual intellectually and lets them grow.
- The chances of error drastically reduce if an employee is equipped with efficient critical thinking and problem solving skills.
- It helps avoid individuals fall victim to common decision making errors.
Here are a few ways in which organizations can benefit from employees that are skilled in critical thinking and problem solving:
- It helps bring a fresh perspective into the organization.
- Critical thinking helps identify unique, out of the box solutions to everyday problems that an organization may encounter.
- It helps organizations employ strategies that enhance an organization’s problem-solving capabilities.
- It may help in developing management competencies that might help in minimizing organizational mistakes.
How can one develop critical thinking?
As a business owner, you must know how to develop critical thinking skills in yourself, as well as your team members. It not only helps improve problem-solving skills, it is also said to give an edge in the business world. The good news is that critical thinking skills aren’t necessarily something you need to be born with. They can very well be acquired with practice and by applying the right set of methodologies.
The best way to foster critical thinking is to teach those skills to individuals. The two most effective ways that can help develop critical thinking skills include:
- Teaching the concepts of critical thinking and problem solving to individuals. This can be done through targeted courses that include theoretical concepts, along with real-life examples, which would help understand them better.
- Doing mock trials, or developing “what would you do” scenarios for people. This can be done by presenting case studies or questions to individuals/employees, about problems that they are likely to face in the future. Their goal would be to determine all the possible courses of action that they can take, evaluate each option on their effectiveness and employability, and finally determine the most suitable course of action.
We will discuss in-depth, some of the most effective tactics that you can adopt to develop critical thinking skills in your team members in the upcoming modules. You will also learn about a multitude of processes that will not only make you a good critical thinker but also enable you to apply them in day to day business operations. So stay tuned!
How critical thinking can help problem solving?
Now, what is the link between critical thinking and problem solving? As mentioned earlier, problem solving is the result of critical thinking. It involves analyzing a situation in depth, discovering its sources, narrowing down upon the best possible solution, and implementing it effectively. Its main goal is to overcome an obstacle by finding the most suitable solution to a problem. Critical thinking facilitates this process, and thus facilitates problem solving, leading to better, more efficient solutions. We will talk about problem solving in depth when we discuss advanced critical thinking in the upcoming modules. We will also cover the process of problem-solving step by step, and discuss a few effective methodologies to develop those skills.
Developing critical thinking skills helps make better decisions and rationally apply the available information to achieve the best possible results in a situation. It relates to our thought processes, affects how we make decisions and use our judgment, and enables us to take action to solve problems.
Think about a challenging workplace situation that you faced, which required you to think out of the box in order to get through it successfully. In hindsight, do you think you could have handled it better if you were better equipped with critical thinking and problem solving skills?
If your answer is in the affirmative then this is the right place for you!
Learning the skill of critical thinking does not only benefit an individual professionally. It helps on an organizational level, as well as beyond. This article throws light on the benefits of thinking critically and how it helps in problem solving. Also, a few ideas have been listed above, and many more will be talked about in the upcoming modules which could aid an individual to learn critical thinking skills and polish those skills. Organizations as a whole can also participate actively in helping employees develop these skills by encouraging team activities, organizing seminars, etc. Not only will it help in the personal growth of the employees, but it will also help the organization prosper.
It is crucial to remember that the path to critical thinking is a lifelong journey of learning and unlearning. In order to succeed in life, we as individuals must always be open to any such learning opportunities that life throws our way.