Critical Thinking is what will distinguish us from the bots. Our ability to use our higher order thinking skills, to critically reflect on our own experiences, beliefs and assumptions, to hold them suspended apart from us without immediate judgement, to analyse these in light of conflicting information and to self-direct our thinking towards gaining deeper understanding, this is what is going to set human apart from humanoid.
Critical thinking is the second most critical skill identified by the WEF. It is the skill that will help us to make decisions in this ever evolving complexity we find ourselves living through.
Critical Thinking refers to the ability to perform several mental tasks simultaneously. It refers to a person’s ability to perceive, conceptualise, analyse, evaluate and synthesise information while at the same time thinking about the possible application of this information.
As we saw with Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking is also a higher order thinking skill, and closely aligned with Emotional Intelligence. To be emotionally intelligent you need to be able to think critically about your emotional experiences, as well as evaluate and understand the emotions expressed by others. So by mastering critical thinking you increase your mastery of both your cognitive and emotional life.
To think critically means to be able to reflect deeply on our beliefs and assumptions, to think rationally in our appraisal of information or experiences. It refers to our ability to question and not just accept things at face value, it is self-directed thinking, and this to me is why it is such an important skill to master in future.
We are spearheading the knowledge and insight based economy which is powered by our ability to think critically. Therefore it has become essential that we develop this skill in ourselves and our teams as we head into this fourth industrial revolution.
This economy requires that we are cognitive gymnasts, thinking ‘agilists,’ and information ‘discernists.’ With information flying at us from all angles our discernment becomes imperative. We need to understand the source of information as well as the intention of it otherwise we will become easy targets for manipulation and make poor decisions that serve to derail as opposed to advance or enrich us in anyway.
Developing Critical Thinking is relatively easy, however it takes practice and discipline. This is the hard part, training our minds to not jump to the first conclusion based on unexamined assumptions or beliefs.
Firstly we need to be disciplined enough to look at information presented to us in several different ways, i.e. what are we observing. The caveat here is to not judge the observation but to remain an objective observer, just describe it don’t assign meaning or try to interpret your observations.
Secondly try to gain direct experience. Often we think we know or rather we infer what the experience of said situation may be, only to find out that we were far off once involved directly. Remember when we infer we do so on the basis of our own beliefs and assumptions which creates an inherent bias and often leads us to the wrong conclusion.
Third, question everything, especially your own and others assumptions or beliefs. Then test these for contextual relevance and accuracy. Also question your motives, understand your why as well as the why driving others. Our motivation invariably directs our decisions and behaviour and if not kept in check can easily lead us to make poor choices by not thinking critically enough before we leap.
Questioning our beliefs and assumptions is especially important when we feel unable to do something or feel limited. Often there is no logical reason for this. You know the saying whether you believe you can or believe can’t you’re right.
Fourth improve your ability to evaluate. Do you remember the 5 W’s and an H? I hope so! Learning to evaluate means questioning who, what, where, when, why and how, and I always like to throw in so what am I missing?
Make sure you remain disciplined about asking these questions, about observation without judgement, about gaining as much direct experience as possible and you will be well on your way to improving your critical thinking skills.
Remember without thinking critically you will continue to make decisions based on cognitive biases that lead you to either ignorant certainty or naïve relativism. Both of which are in direct opposition to critical thinking and rarely lead to a sustainable solution.