“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks but how it thinks” – Christopher Hitchen
The World Economic Forum (WEF) in their recently published “The Future of Jobs” report identified critical thinking as one of the top 10 skills needed to stay relevant in 2020. Further studies also identify critical thinking as one of the key skills that contributes to 60-70% of workplace success in addition to EQ, problem-solving, people management, teamwork and collaboration, communication among other key skills.
In a country like India where our education system is focused largely on the development of technical competencies and premised on the accomplishment of grades or marks and rot learning over knowledge enhancement, this poses a particular challenge. With institutes not focused on inculcating key workplace skills, where do young graduates and professionals go to hone these pertinent skillsets?
For me the realization of the importance of developing my own critical thinking skills came in my first semester of undergraduate college in the US. I remember clearly being given a homework book reading assignment and called out in class to give my views on the book. When I explained my understanding of the book the professor made her displeasure clear saying they could all read page no.128, what she wanted to know was my ability to analyze, reason, reflect, offer perspective and effectively evaluate.
Critical thinking can be defined as the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned decision. It involves the process of evaluation, research and drawing reasonable conclusions from information and honing in on useful details to solve a particular problem or form a reasoned decision. It is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.
According to The Foundation of Critical Thinking, “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”
As a leadership coach and workplace behaviour facilitator who works with millennials on developing critical thinking skills, as well as someone who has actively developed my own skills in this realm my recommendations on how you can broaden your own critical thinking abilities are as follows:
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions: One of the starting points of developing critical thinking abilities is to ask basic “what” or “how” questions. Don’t accept assumptions and statements as is and make sure you develop the mental ability to question. However, it is also important to manage the fine line between asking effective questions and too many questions or posing too many challenges!
2. Change Your Lens: Broaden your outlook by overcoming your inherent biases and assumptions to look at issues or situations through other perspectives. Be aware of your own mental processes and heuristics (mental shortcuts).
3. Gather Information: Use facts, data, theories and do your research thoroughly to ensure that you understand the different viewpoints and compare arguments on the subject matter. Don’t fall prey to unsourced claims and develop the ability to identify them!
4. Don’t Make It Personal: It is important to self-check to ensure that you take an objective view of the topic at hand. Strong critical thinkers do their best to evaluate information objectively andrecognize their own biases.
5. Draw Conclusions: The ability to make inferences and draw conclusions from the information presented to you is another key skill to mastering the art of critical thinking. Remember, an inference is an educated guess and your ability to make an inference will depend on your ability to gather as much information, understand different perspectives and assess before jumping to any conclusions.
6. Read Smart: In the Forbes August 2018 report, they identified the ability to learn how to learn and read intelligently as key skills to stay relevant. With the volume of information available to us today, it is important to master the art of “reading smart” to hone in on the relevant information.
7. Be Open Minded: Curiosity, humility and the ability to receive feedback and critique on our viewpoints is equally important. When presenting our analyses,it is also important to give equal weightage to alternative opinions or recommendations. They could help in making our argument stronger!
Remember, you don’t have to think critically all the time but instead use it as an effective tool for you to deploy when solving important problems or making key decisions!
(Shubika Bilkha is Partner, EdpowerU)