In this article we will explore what critical thinking is, dive into practical strategies to help improve your critical thinking, and learn the main reasons why critical thinking skills are important for managers

In a world of “post-truth”, “fake news” and “alternative facts,” truth can be elusive—or completely absent. And it can be obscured or distorted in the “echo chambers” populated with friends, family, and colleagues, on social media or face-to-face.

Yet as a leader or manager you (presumably) want to make decisions that are fact-based, and in the best interests of your stakeholders.

More than ever before, therefore, it’s important to develop or maintain ability to question, analyze, and detect inconsistencies or reasoning errors.

Now may be a good time for a quick refresher on critical thinking.

What is Critical Thinking?

A critical thinker is curious, reasonably skeptical, with a healthy questioning attitude. Critical thinkers want to learn and seek evidence instead of blindly accepting arguments or conclusions.

Critical thinkers aren’t argumentative or critical of other people, and when faced with convincing contradictory evidence, have the humility to admit they are wrong.

A critical thinker:

  • Raises vital questions and formulates them clearly
  • Gathers and assesses relevant information
  • Thinks open-mindedly
  • Communicates thoughts effectively
  • Comes to well-reasoned conclusions

Why is Critical Thinking Important?

In an article titled “The Future of Jobs”, The World Economic Forum says that that critical thinking is considered one the three most important job skills, ranking higher than creativity and second only to complex problem solving.

When you think critically, you will benefit in many ways:

  • Your problem-solving ability will grow.
  • You will express your ideas more clearly.
  • You will evaluate new ideas more effectively.
  • You will gain tools for self-reflection, and self-evaluation.
  • Thinking clearly, expressing clearly, and evaluating ideas more effectively will boost your career.

Strange answers aren’t inherently wrong…

…and satisfying answers aren’t inherently right, says astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss. He suggests you apply the principles of scientific skepticism to filter the misinformation and nonsense we encounter each day:

  • Question what you see, read or hear and ask whether it’s consistent with what you already know.
  • If it’s not, examine the information with an inquiring, neutral mind to assess whether your current view needs to change.
  • Recognize your own biases. Be wary of your personal likes and dislikes when you encounter new information.
  • Seek out information from sources that do not necessarily conform to your world view, or preferences.
  • Evaluate sources of information. If a source is repeatedly inaccurate or unreliable, you should be highly suspicious of them in the future.
  • Recognize that your skepticism may really be myopia, closing off possibilities.

How to Improve your Critical Thinking Skills

In How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills, Katherine Hurst offers five exercises to help with the critical thinking process:

1. Ask basic questions

  • The better you are at critical thinking, the more fundamental and clear your questions become, such as:
    • What information about this problem do you already have?
    • How do you know the above information?
    • What is your goal? What are you trying to discover, prove, disprove, support or criticize?
    • What might you be overlooking?

2. Be aware of your mental process

  • Make a habit of asking yourself what you’re assuming and why. Being a genuinely skilled thinker involves self-reflection. Accept that you have biases, and learn to look out for them. Adjust your perspective

3. Adjust your perspective

  • Read the literature on biases and how they operate. Deliberately expose your mind to other ways of thinking. Instead of sticking to your favored news sources, read a little more widely. Pick up books by authors outside your culture.

4. Think in reverse

Flip what you think you know on its head. So, if you think it’s pretty obvious that A caused B, ask yourself “But what if B caused A?”

5. Develop foresight

  • Take the time to look at all angles of a potential decision. Making a pro and con list can also boost your foresight, making you much better at predicting outcomes.

Today’s world offers a lot of opportunities to practice and hone your critical thinking skills. With those skills you can build your immunity to “alternative facts,” “post-truth,” and “fake news.”

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