Do you understand the value of critical thinking?
You are probably thinking right now; what a ridiculous question, of course I know how to think, it’s like breathing. You may believe that you cannot shut off thinking, well, actually you can and sometimes you need to. Did you know that according to the National Science Foundation we have anything between 50, 000 and 70,000 thoughts per day? That’s a lot of mental noise! 95% of these are allegedly repetitive thoughts and up to 85% are negative. Sometimes we think so much we cannot think…clearly that is. Those neurons will keep firing whether we want them to or not, our brains are relentless machines and when a deadline looms they are often fuelled by caffeine and other stimulants, so the noise becomes even louder.
If there are times when these thoughts overwhelm us, then our actual productivity drops dramatically. This can spell disaster in a work environment as the lack of clarity leads to errors in judgment and hasty decision making. So, how to shut off the clamour and focus on the productive, useful thoughts? We need to retrain our brains, and learn to watch our own thoughts- banish the negative ones, clear out the time consuming repetition and learn to think critically.
Many businesses, institutions and even schools are now beginning to teach critical thinking skills as a way to retrain the brain to a more productive use of all those active neurons.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following:
- understand the logical connections between ideas
- identify, construct and evaluate arguments
- detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
- solve problems systematically
- identify the relevance and importance of ideas
- reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values
Let’s look at each of these skills in turn
- Logical connections between ideas- creative thinkers may challenge the status quo but to implement their off the wall ideas you need to make sense of patterns and join up the dots. So, employ your maverick thinkers but make sure you have critical thinking in the team to create coherence and sequence the ideas.
- Identify, construct and evaluate arguments- ask any salesperson how they handle client objections and the best of them will demonstrate their ability to see behind the objection. They employ critical thinking skills to counter objections and move the customer persuasively to a sale.
- Inconsistencies- passionate arguments are often flawed reasoning- driven by emotive responses to circumstances. This lack of critical thinking can lead a business down a dangerous path. You need a dispassionate approach and an analysis of the thought process behind the reasoning.
- Systematic problem solving. When you come up against obstacles they do not always seem to be linear, or systematic, but their solution is. Too often a problem can trigger a panicked response, lots of different tactics tried all at once to solve it and ultimately failure. A critical thinking systematic approach eliminates each potential solution thoroughly until the actual solution is found. It does not have to be complex either – see https://www.pamwarren.co.uk/personal-blog/keep-it-simple/
- Relevance and importance. Ever had a great idea and then ruefully, sometime later, discovered it was totally irrelevant to the job at hand? In among those 50, 000 plus thoughts we have per day, most of them are pretty unimportant and often very irrelevant. Critical thinking skills allow us to drill down to what is actually important, relevant and worthy of consideration- clearing away the noise and chatter.
- Justifying one’s own beliefs and values. This critical thinking skill is relevant personally as well as professionally. If the work that you are engaged in does not align with your own belief systems, then you will experience a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. Similarly, if a business is not true to its beliefs its customers will sense this and loyalty will be difficult to cultivate. Critical thinking applied to this alignment will identify any discord and point you in the right direction.
Clearing out the cacophony of noise in our heads can be helped by meditation for example, but also by focused awareness of what we are thinking. Developing critical thinking skills in an organisation and in individuals is a worthwhile business and personal investment.