Overview of Critical Thinking
Several definitions of critical thinking can be found in the public domain, but they all seem to boil down to finding the best answer or solution to a question or problem. Many companies and business leaders believe that mastering critical thinking and the skills associated with it is essential to improve decision-making and succeed in the future. Interpreting, analytical thinking, and problem solving are some skills that are commonly associated with critical thinking.
Definition of Critical Thinking
- There is hardly any consensus as to what critical thinking means, according to an article published by the Harvard Business Review. Indeed, numerous definitions of critical thinking can be located in the public domain.
- The Paul-Elder Framework for Critical Thinking, which, according to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, is "the most integrated approach to critical thinking in the world," defines critical thinking as "the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view of improving it" and describes it as "self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking."
- The Foundation for Critical Thinking, which promotes fairminded critical thinking and provides a way for organizations to be certified in the Paul-Elder Framework, defines critical thinking as "that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and restructuring it."
- Zarvana, a California-based company that provides professional training and coaching services and counts research-based critical thinking as one of its areas of expertise, notes that while a team of experts joined hands in 1988 to provide an official definition of critical thinking, the definition was hard to understand, and several other definitions emerged in the years that followed. After reviewing the definitions that have emerged since 1910, Zarvana believes the definition of critical thinking can be simplified into "the development of a robust answer to a question."
- Job site Indeed provides a slightly similar definition and established critical thinking as "the process of analyzing information to get the best answer to a question or problem." According to Indeed, critical thinkers draw upon their experience, observation, reasoning, and communication with other people to make the best decisions possible.
Importance of Mastering Critical Thinking
- Several statistics underscore the importance of critical thinking to leaders and companies. For example, the Conference Board, a New York-based member-driven think tank, polled C-suite executives about their views on workplace skills that companies need to succeed in the future, and found that of the chief executive officers who were surveyed, 22% believe that the future will require stronger strategic skills such as critical thinking and the ability to define goals and strategies.
- It also found that slightly over 22% of chief human resource officers believe that there will be increased reliance on problem solving and critical thinking skills in the future.
- Through another survey, it also learned that for chief executive officers, critical thinking skills are fifth among the skills and characteristics that are "most important today for [their] top leaders to lead change in the coming years." Critical thinking skills follow innovative thinking, ability to execute, team leadership, and building integrity and trust, based on this survey.
- Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company also learned, through a survey it commissioned, that critical thinking and decision-making skills, leadership and management skills, and analytical and mathematical skills are the top three skills that companies focus on in their reskilling programs.
- Additionally, data intelligence company Morning Consult, on behalf of education and technology firm Cengage, surveyed managers and human resource decision-makers in the United States and found that 67% of employers look for critical thinking skills in job candidates. According to its survey, critical thinking is the fourth most important skill for employers after listening, attention to detail, and communication.
- Critical thinking is important in the workplace because, according to Indeed, it helps employees improve their decision-making and working relationships, and it enables employees to engage with their colleagues in a more scholarly and effective way.
Skills Associated with Critical Thinking
- As can be seen in the image below, Indeed believes critical thinking is defined by the following skills: observation, analysis, inference, communication, and problem solving.
- According to Indeed, the skill of observation is what makes people able to notice and predict things, the skill of analysis is what makes people able to gather, understand, and interpret information, the skill of inference is what enables people to draw conclusions based on experience, knowledge, and available information, the skill of communication is what enables people to share and receive information, and lastly, the skill of problem solving is what enables people to identify and test solutions.
- Zarvana, on the other hand, associates critical thinking with four level-one skills, namely executing, synthesizing, recommending, and generating, and sixteen level-two skills.
- Executing or translating instructions into action covers the following level-two skills: remembering, analytical thinking, interpreting, and applying.
- Synthesizing or determining what is important or unimportant and combining important information to form new insights covers the following level-two skills: recognizing patterns, categorizing, identifying relevance, and decoding significance.
- Recommending or identifying the best path forward after examining alternatives covers the following level-two skills: logical reasoning, probabilistic thinking, evaluating, and decision-making.
- Generating or providing new and innovative ideas covers the following level-two skills: creative thinking, strategic thinking, problem solving, hypothesis testing.
Research-Backed Methods to Master Critical Thinking
The Paul-Elder Framework for Critical Thinking, Bloom's Taxonomy for 21st century learners, and Zarvana's Critical Thinking Roadmap are three ways by which a person can go about mastering critical thinking. These frameworks or models for learning critical thinking are all supported by research. The Paul-Elder Framework and Bloom's Taxonomy have long been used in the development of critical thinking skills. Zarvana's Critical Thinking Roadmap, on the other hand, is a more modern approach that is based on the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment, Pearson's RED Critical Thinking Model, and Bloom's Taxonomy.
The Paul-Elder Framework for Critical Thinking
- The Paul-Elder Framework for Critical Thinking, developed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder, states that critical thinkers regularly apply intellectual standards to their elements of reasoning. It, therefore, follows that people who wish to master critical thinking should routinely apply certain intellectual standards to their elements of reasoning or thought as they learn to develop the desired intellectual traits.
- As can be seen in the image below, the Paul-Elder Framework for Critical Thinking identifies ten intellectual standards, eight elements of reasoning, and eight intellectual traits.
- The ten intellectual standards are clarity, accuracy, relevance, logicalness, breadth, precision, significance, completeness, fairness, and depth, while the eight elements of reasoning are purposes, questions, points of view, information, inferences, concepts, implications, and assumptions. The eight intellectual traits are intellectual humility, intellectual autonomy, intellectual integrity, intellectual courage, intellectual perseverance, confidence in reason, intellectual empathy, and fairmindedness.
- To help users of the framework understand what the intellectual standards are, Paul and Elder listed the questions that people should ask when they deal with various elements of reasoning. For example, for clarity, they listed three questions that people should ask to gain more clarity about a subject or problem. The list of questions can be seen in the 2006 edition of Paul and Elder's book The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools.
- The figure below shows the questions that Paul and Elder listed for each intellectual standard.
- Based on Paul and Elder's framework, an experienced critical thinker formulates clear and precise questions and problems and makes logical conclusions and solutions. He processes and communicates information in an effective manner, and he demonstrates openness to other people's ideas and recommendations.
Bloom's Taxonomy for 21st Century Learners
- Bloom's Taxonomy was first developed in 1956 when Benjamin Bloom and his team of researchers studied learning behaviors.
- It was revised forty years later by Lorin Anderson, one of Bloom's students, to incorporate changes in pedagogy and better serve the needs of 21st century learners.
- Bloom's taxonomy has been used several times in the design of frameworks, models, or programs for critical thinking skill development. For example, in 2003, Bloom's taxonomy was presented as a learning tool for "critical thinking in the management classroom."
- Also, in 2018, it was used in the design of assignments for critical thinking skill development.
- Bloom's Taxonomy, as shown below, segments learning into six aspects, namely remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
- It also states that there are four kinds of knowledge, namely, factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and metacognitive knowledge.
- It provides verbs that learners of critical thinking can use as a guide as they advance to higher levels of learning and knowledge.
- For example, for the final learning phrase 'create,' it lists verbs such as assimilate, condense, derive, design, generate, hypothesize, invent, propose, and synthesize.
- Verbs in Bloom's Taxonomy offer clues as to what learners of critical thinking should do to gain metacognitive knowledge, the highest level of knowledge.
Zarvana's Critical Thinking Roadmap
- Several helpful insights can be gleaned from the Critical Thinking Roadmap developed by Zarvana. Zarvana based this roadmap on three research-backed frameworks, namely the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment, Pearson's RED Critical Thinking Model, and Bloom's Taxonomy.
- Although the roadmap, seen below, is designed to help managers and business leaders assess the critical thinking skills of their direct reports, it offers insights into how any employee, regardless of his or her position in the company, can master critical thinking.
- The roadmap segments critical thinking into four phases, namely execute, synthesize, recommend, and generate.
- Based on the roadmap, it appears that an employee can hone his critical thinking skills by making it a practice to (a) go beyond what is asked of him by making suggestions on how to solve a problem or improve a process, (b) separate important insights from unimportant insights, (c) evaluate the relative value of each important insight, (d) communicate important insights in a clear and concise manner, (e) come up with reasonable recommendations or solutions instead of relying on others to answer his questions, (f) demonstrate openness to other people's recommendations, and (g) find answers to questions other people may not know the answer to.
- Zarvana shares 100 questions that an employee can keep in mind and ask himself as he goes about his day-to-day work and as he progresses through the critical thinking roadmap. Managers or leaders who wish to develop critical thinking skills in their direct reports should create plenty of opportunities for their direct reports to demonstrate these actions or practices.
Tips and Tricks for Mastering Critical Thinking
Wabisabi Learning, Debra Kasowski of the Forbes Coaches Council, and the School of Thought provide tips and tricks for mastering critical thinking. Wabisabi Learning has a cheatsheet for critical thinking where it lists thought-provoking questions that learners of critical thinking can ask. Kasowski shares the seven critical thinking tactics that high-performing leaders employ, while the School of Thought shares the logical fallacies and cognitive biases that learners of critical thinking should avoid.
Wabisabi Learning's Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking
- Wabisabi Learning, a company that offers professional learning programs, has released what it calls "the ultimate cheatsheet for critical thinking."
- Although the company is not based in the United States, the cheatsheet is widely cited and contains questions that anyone, regardless of location, can use to hone his critical thinking skills. According to the company, people who want to sharpen their critical thinking skills should ask these questions whenever they discuss or encounter new information.
- As can be seen in the image below, the questions are categorized into who, what, where, when, why, and how questions.
- Wabisabi Learning believes that for a person to develop critical thinking skills, he should ask thought-provoking questions and engage in thought-provoking discussions.
- The company claims that its questions in the cheatsheet are both broad and versatile and can be applied to an unlimited number of scenarios.
Kasowski's Critical Thinking Tactics of High-Performing Leaders
- Debra Kasowski of the Forbes Coaches Council says there are seven critical thinking tactics that high-performing leaders employ to make well-informed decisions. Learners who want to become high-performing leaders can use these tactics to their advantage too.
- The seven tactics are being open-minded and staying curious, being an observer and listening carefully, reflecting on learning, assimilating new experiences and knowledge, starting conversations with other employees to learn their perspective, brainstorming solution-focused ideas, and assessing the decisions, judgments, and opinions of other employees.
- While high-performing leaders know how to draw on their previous experiences, they do not rely solely on them. They know how to ask questions, and they connect with individuals and team members on a regular basis.
- They are not afraid to surround themselves with people who have perspectives and opinions that are different from theirs. They find that by doing so, they discover new ways of doing things.
- They reflect on successes and failures, and they constantly ask questions such as "Is the step I am taking align with getting the results I want?" and "Did the action I took get the results expected?"
School of Thought's Critical Thinking Cards and Posters
- Learners of critical thinking can also take advantage of the critical thinking cards and posters provided by the School of Thought, a non-profit organization whose free educational resources on critical thinking are used by people and institutions worldwide, including Harvard.
- The School of Thought has a website, thethinkingshop.org, where visitors can buy critical thinking cards and posters or download free versions.
- It provides materials on logical fallacies and cognitive biases that learners of critical thinking should avoid.
- Shown below are the 24 logical fallacies and 24 cognitive biases that The School of Thought believes learners of critical thinking should not commit and suffer.
- The School of Thought's materials are designed for teachers and students, but they can be used in the business world too. In fact, the materials were based on best practices in the advertising and design industries. The organization's rationale for creating the materials was that "if [they] use the same creative engagement employed to sell people things they probably don’t need, but for education instead, then it might just make learning how to think something that’s genuinely interesting and effective."
- The School of Thought has a microsite called yourlogicalfallacyis.com that has been viewed more than 49 million times and has been visited by nearly 8 million unique visitors.