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The Importance of Critical Thinking & How to Develop It

November 22, 2019

The Importance of Critical Thinking & How to Develop It

In this age of information overload, we are inundated with fake news and rumors via multiple WhatsApp forwards and social media feeds. How do we know what to believe and what not to?

This is where Critical Thinking comes to the rescue!

Critical Thinking is defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. In simpler terms, this is basically deciding what’s true and what you should do about it.

The average human is prone to biases, irrationality, and prejudices. Learning how to think critically could make the difference between success & failure in almost every area of your life.

Advantages of Developing Critical Thinking

1. Key to Career Success –

Critical thinking helps in any profession where you need to analyze information, systematically solve issues, create innovative solutions and present them to others in a way that can be understood. This capability is used frequently by lawyers, analysts, accountants, doctors, engineers, reporters, and scientists. However, due to the increased prevalence of information technology, this is becoming a key skill in most professions. According to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking and complex problem solving are the two top in-demand skills that employers look for.

2. Better decisions in personal life –

Every day, you make thousands of decisions that don’t require much thought, like what clothes to wear or what to eat for lunch. However, there are important choices like which career to choose who to get married to or when to buy a house, which requires a deep understanding of the situation using an unbiased logical decision process. The outcomes of these choices could have a major impact on your life.

3. Can make you happier –

A key component of being happy is knowing and understanding yourself. Critical thinking can free you from cognitive biases and negative thoughts that hold you back in life. It helps you dispassionately assess your strengths & weaknesses to help you decide areas of improvement. It also helps you better understand the motivations and needs of those around you. To use your critical thinking is important because it affects your emotional intelligence overall. Emotional intelligence is said to be more important than IQ so to analyze and reflect on everyday situations or workplaces or meetings, it is necessary to think critically in such situations.

4. Improves your relationships –

Critical thinking enables you to formulate and convey your thoughts clearly to others, which helps them understand you better. You will also be able to be more open-minded and accepting of others’ points of view. This enhanced level of communicating will greatly improve your relationships with family, friends and your work colleagues.

5. Makes you better informed –

More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of mankind. Critical thinking helps you sort through the overwhelming amount of noise surrounding you to identify the true facts that matter to you. The benefit of critical thinking is that once you read an article, skim through it, you can immediately make note of important points and brush off the unnecessary ones. You’ll be better able to spot fake news and false rumors. Your opinion on issues will become more respected by others and will enhance your standing amongst your peers.

Developing your critical thinking skills

The simplest way to start is to adopt the classic five-step critical thinking process whenever you are faced with a new idea, news item or decision to make:

1. Clearly define your question or problem –

Albert Einstein said; “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” The importance of focusing on what exactly you need to solve it cannot be understated.

For example, you may want to get a good job after graduation. You need to be very clear about what you define as a good job. Is it one that gives you a high salary or one that lets you use your creativity or one that gives you enough free time or has a short commute from home? Unless you are clear on exactly what you want, you may come up with the wrong solution. For example, you may get a job with a high salary which gives you no free time at all, which would not be a “good” job in your case.

2. Gather reliable information –

Make sure you consider only the most valid information from reputable sources and disregard the rest.

For example, in your job search mentioned above, valid sources of information could include well-known business news articles about companies and industries, company websites, job review sites like Glassdoor and feedback from people who have worked in the company you are targeting. Invalid sources could include social media rumors and general opinions from your classmates who themselves have not started working anywhere.

3. Apply the gathered information and ask critical questions –

Have a look at all the information you’ve found and use that for your queries. A great way to start would be to ask the 5 “W” questions; Who?, What?, Where?, When?, Why?

Supposing you’ve identified a company you want to join, look at all the evidence you’ve collected and asked questions like “Why would a job in this company be good?”, “What sort of work would I be doing?” etc.

4. Thinking outside the box

Now considering the job interview situation, the interviewer asks questions to the interviewee to test their critical thinking skills.

They want the interviewees to create ideas for the problems, find solutions and think outside the box.

Their critical thinking is measured by how well the interviewee analyses the situation and thinks of applying solutions to the problems.

It is important to first listen to the interviewer’s question and start connecting the dots and find the answer. The reason why critical thinking is important because it is needed everyday and everywhere. It is needed by universities to teach students how to think critically as it benefits students for the long run in life

5. Consider the implications-

Once you’ve got your questions answered and have a rough idea of what you have decided, consider what will happen once you’ve made the decision and if that outcome is acceptable to you.

Continuing with our job search example, some implications for planning to choose a specific job could be the other job options you are giving up, how this job will affect your family life and long-term prospects, etc.

6. Explore other viewpoints –

Sometimes people will look at the same set of information and will come to different decisions. This does not mean that one set of them is right and one set is wrong. It could just mean that they have had different experiences and have different needs from each other.

If you’ve chosen to join a specific job and your father is against the idea, do not immediately dismiss his views. Use the same critical thinking process outlined earlier to explore whether he has a logical argument for thinking the way he does. Then evaluate how valid his view is compared to what you have decided and determine if you need to relook at your own decision.

There are many online videos and resources you can view to get a deeper understanding of critical thinking and how to develop it. This will include aspects of cognitive biases, decision frameworks and research methods among others. You can spend a lifetime developing this critical skill, but it will definitely be worth it!

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