When I was a science teacher, one of our goals was to enhance the ability of our students to use critical thinking skills. As I look at the approach to studying problems commonly used today, I am afraid we failed.
H.L. Mencken wrote, “For every complex question there is an answer that is simple, clear, and wrong.” People often head for the simple, easy answer that matches what they want to accept or is based on false information they are told to believe, regardless of evidence, data, or basic reasoning. Facts and logic are replaced with ignorance and bias.
Critical thinking is when you systematically process all relevant information to make the best decision and better understand what is really happening. A survey of employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) identified the top competencies they consider for candidates they look to hire. Critical thinking and problem solving topped the list.
As we work with Labor-Management Committees and other groups, we encourage them to gather all relevant information when studying a problem. The information can help them better analyze the root causes of a problem and separate them from the symptoms. Using the tools of data-based decision making enables teams to determine the best solutions to the issues. Critical thinking replaces conjecture, and better outcomes result.
A recent article examined the importance of critical thinking and offered suggestions to help build critical thinking skills. As the author points out, we do not know everything and our instincts are not always correct. Critical thinking is founded on open-mindedness and evidence-based knowledge. While it’s good to look to past experiences to inform future decisions, it’s important to deliberately consider other options and their potential outcomes.
The suggestions offered to improve critical thinking from the article include:
- Define Your Purpose and Intention
It’s so easy to get caught up in persisting without any direction or goal, resulting in lost focus and failure to complete tasks. This requires you to slow down the automatic thought processes and think deliberately.
- Articulate Your Perspective
The author suggests the importance of understanding the scenario you face. This involves questioning everything and carefully assessing the validity of your assumptions. Questioning your assumptions helps bring your biases to light so they don’t cloud your decision making. She suggests cultivating an awareness of your personal prejudices and cognitive biases makes your thinking critical — you’re critiquing how perspective is influencing your thought process.
- Look At All Outcomes
Obviously, every decision you make will have outcomes, both positive and negative. Visualization can help you see what those outcomes will look like and how others may perceive them. Have you ever been part of a group that made a decision that created unanticipated problems? Considering both the potential positive and negative outcomes of your decision, anticipating potential problems, and planning for how to avoid or deal with them will help avoid this situation.
Critical thinking is essential for individuals and teams as they seek to understand situations and make decisions. As with any skill, critical thinking can be learned and developed and CALMC can help you build these skills. If your team can use help building your critical thinking or data-based decision making skills, contact us.