What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is the process of deliberately reflecting on reasoning to a conclusion while considering the quality of the reasoning being applied. This means getting out of common autopilot modes of drawing conclusions and making decisions such as:
Deciding based on knee jerk reactions
Operating on assumptions only
Taking the path of least resistance
Looking at things from only one perspective
Deciding based on current emotional or bodily states
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other modes that don’t consider important relevant factors before drawing conclusions.
Why is Critical Thinking Important?
It is a core skill that impacts outcomes in every area of personal and professional life.
It encourages & increases curiosity and enhances creativity and facilitates learning and growth throughout life by supporting more effective decisions and improving communication & persuasiveness.
Additionally, it promotes independence and stronger problem-solving abilities. It helps to gain deeper understanding & insight and enable better collaboration to develop & implement real solutions to solve issues.
This can help to recognize and capitalize on opportunities and avoid threats as we adapt to our rapidly changing world. Furthermore, it can help us combat discrimination & promote social justice, improve performance, and avoid seriously negative outcomes.
How to Think Critically
Being prepared to think critically starts with laying the foundation for what to be aware of as far as how it works and traps to avoid.
First, it’s important to gain awareness of the components of critical thinking, which include perception, assumptions, emotions, language, and logic. Then additional insight can be gained by using the standards of critical thinking to evaluate the elements of reasoning, which are purpose, problem/question at issue, evidence, inferences & interpretations, concepts, point(s) of view, assumptions, and implications &/or consequences.
Then, becoming aware of obstacles to critical thinking can help avoid falling into the traps of cognitive biases (200+), logical fallacies (140+), and analytical pathologies (10), which can lead to errors in thinking and thus to drawing incorrect conclusions, making poor decisions, and ineffective or detrimental actions.
Building upon this foundation of awareness, there are several things that can be done to start thinking critically.
Ask Questions – Gain insight, clarity, and additional perspective to expand and deepen your understanding.
Evaluate Existing Evidence – Take time to gather, review, & utilize existing research, data, & info. Note the sources and evaluate its validity by questioning, assessing and comparing to other sources.
Challenge Assumptions – Recognize assumptions, beliefs, and preconceived notions often emotionally based and ask questions and seek information to answer them. This helps to be able to respond, rather than just react.
Mental Mindset Awareness – Consider if you have any internal barriers clouding judgment or blocking objectivity.
Think Scientifically or Technically – Study the situation to learn how it works and why. Identify which variables are key to driving results &/or creating obstacles. Break things down to understand the forces at play and isolate & validate the root causes of issues. Then develop effective solutions to eliminate, remove, or control them.
Who should Enhance their Critical Thinking Skills?
Critical thinking is a core skill needed for everyone, and at every level of an organization from top to bottom. It should start with executive leadership and engineering, process improvement, quality departments, then middle management and front-line leaders, then finally staff and other employees.
Without critical thinking, logical decisions are less abundant, and progress is much slower… because we’ll just keep doing things the way we’ve always done them just because “it’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Check out our self-study eLearning course if you would like to learn more about critical thinking in our Introduction to Critical Thinking course.
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