Let’s do a quick recap of what we have learned in this series on critical thinking. There are a number of skills we identified as necessary for critical thinking:
- Logical thinking
- Nonlinear or lateral thinking
- Embracing change
- Self-awareness and cognitive bias
- Perspectives and objectivity
- Distinguishing between facts and values
- Using if-then statements
- Problem solving
- Using our instincts
- Evaluating information and assessing options
- Drawing conclusions
How do we incorporate this list into our life? First, we acknowledge that these skills take practice. Lots of it. The more we practice, the easier and more automatic a process it will be.
I’ve said it before, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to be inquisitive. Curiosity about the world, and asking rich questions, cannot be overemphasized.
One thing I’ve always found helpful in this process is developing a routine. I would recommend reflecting on each day as part of our nightly ritual. Lying in bed, think back. Did we learn anything new that day? And especially, did we make any new mistakes? Right there, we have an opportunity for growth if we think critically.
Now that we have outlined what critical thinking is, and how to go about it and incorporate it into a routine, we can utilize our critical thinking skills to make an action plan. The action plan can concern anything – our career, health, family, or personal finances.
Let’s say our action plan concerns leadership of our company and our goals for 2022. For this exercise, let’s say our main goal is to improve employee engagement and performance.
First, we create a schema. A schema is a mental plan or structured framework on any given concept. Perhaps the basic building blocks of our existing schema arrange employees in a hierarchical pyramid with leadership at the top. In this structure, clearly leadership is more highly valued as it is “higher” in the schema.
But critical thinking tells us that we can create a new schema to view the relationship differently, perhaps with company leadership and company employees as two sides of the same coin. In other words, it doesn’t matter which side a flip of the coin lands on… the value of the coin doesn’t change. This new schema changes the value placed on company personnel.
Add to this schema some new conceptual structures that critical thinking tells us to employ, such as industry challenges, political climate, the economy, the pandemic… and start making a network of interconnectivity. As experts in our company, we have the ability to organize discrete pieces of knowledge into a larger schema of understanding.
Suddenly, concepts such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and company culture, mission and values take on new meanings with new possibilities for action.
Transforming our schema allows us to become transformative leaders ourselves, inspiring and motivating our employees and amplifying the success of our companies as well as the good we can do in our communities.
In this world of economic uncertainty, political fragmentation, and continuing global health and safety crises, it is more imperative than ever to use critical thinking as we navigate our businesses and our lives.
As one final thought, I would like to add: Words are powerful, and stringing the right words together is another necessary skill. Let’s close this series by highlighting some of my favorite quotes on critical thinking:
“Words are pegs to hang ideas on.” – Henry Ward Beecher
“Good questioners are good thinkers.” – Alison King
“All perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention.” – Rudolph Arnheim
Written by Dr. Jim White.
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