How You Can Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills
Have a tricky problem to solve at work? With more information than ever at our fingertips, solving it should be easy. Right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Without critical thinking skills to help us, that mountain of data is just as likely to mislead us as it is to help. Cognitive bias, emotional reactions and an uptick in fake news are all arrayed against us. How can anyone be sure that they’re making the right decision?
Luckily, critical thinking can be taught. No matter what your role, critical thinking skills are a valuable asset that will stand you in good stead – inside and outside the office.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate information objectively and arrive at a conclusion. It’s a deeper kind of thinking in which you will question, analyse and evaluate the information you have at hand to help solve a problem or arrive at a decision. This evaluation can include where the information has come from, whether it can be backed up and whether the person presenting it – even if that’s you – has any biases or motives.
Why critical thinking is important in business
In the business world, you’ll often be called upon to think critically. Critical thinking is integral to decision making and finding solutions. This is true no matter what industry you’re in. Beyond the solving of problems, the development of critical thinking skills can also aid the following:
- Helps with creativity. The best critical thinkers are also creative thinkers. Creative people question assumptions and limits. They look past their cognitive biases and take wider information into account. This allows them to take risks and come up with new ideas.
- Encourages collaboration. When you know how to sift information, and are open to conflicting ideas, you’re better able to work in a team.
- Embraces diversity. Different people bring different priorities, perspectives and experiences to bear in a workplace. Critical thinkers are able to see all of these are valuable, even if they go against their initial assumptions.
- Strengthens resilience. Critical thinkers understand that their first conclusion may not be the right one. They’re also aware that some information is designed to mislead and play to our biases. Pushing through to a more objective truth builds resilience.
How to improve your critical thinking skills
Critical thinking is not unlike the scientific method, which is viewed as an extensive, structured mode of critical thinking that involves hypothesis, experimentation and conclusion. You need to be able to institute a rational process that is suitable for the problem you’re trying to solve, assess all the evidence and reach a conclusion.
To get started, choose a time when you’re not under stress. High stakes make for panicked thinking, so start your critical thinking training when things are calm and you have some clear head space to focus on it.
To improve your critical thinking skills, implement the following strategies:
1. Stay outcome-focused
Remembering what you’re trying to achieve can help you avoid getting side-tracked and be more discerning about what information you consider.
2. Recognise your biases
Be especially wary if your eventual solution is the one you first thought of, or is convenient to you. This might suggest that you are letting bias creep in to get a desired outcome.
3. Adopt an ‘information funnel’
At the start of the exercise, your information gathering should be wide, like the mouth of a funnel. As you learn more, you can narrow your focus to get to the goal.
4. Collaborate with others
Two heads are definitely better than one when trying to come up with an objective strategy. Be open to feedback, including opinions that don’t gel with yours.
5. Seek out diverse opinions
To make collaboration more valuable, try and get perspectives from people with a different background, skill set or experiences. They may point out things that wouldn’t have occurred to you.
6. Test your hypothesis
Once you’ve come up with a conclusion, stress-test it. What information would change your mind? What would need to change in the current scenario for the conclusion to be wrong? Is it possible that these variables exist?
Remember that critical thinking takes practice. If you find any of these exercises confronting at first, keep at it. It’s a valuable skill both inside and out of the workplace.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Entrepreneur, The Balance and ZipRecruiter.