Why everyone needs critical thinking
Good decision-making requires good critical thinking.
We often fail to notice the importance of critical thinking in everyday life. We are all making decisions, daily, that impact not only ourselves, but our families, our country and the world. When stakes and consequences are high, strong thinking skills are vital.
Critical thinking skills and a lifelong learning mindset are required when purposeful and reflective judgment is needed.
Strong critical thinking and success
Good thinking skills are not optional. They are an essential life skill.
Critical thinking is important in education. Learning demands strength in thinking skills. The ability to learn requires the interpretation and integration of new knowledge and then, its practical and appropriate application. This is especially necessary when encountering novel situations, complicated conditions as well as innovative opportunities.
Critical thinking is necessary in business success. This is the reason why decision-making is a key skill valued by employers. Leaders in business and non-profit organizations view a candidate’s capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems as a core competency.
Critical thinking is often cited by organizations such as the World Economic Forum as being needed for the future of work or the 4th Industrial Revolution. This is when employees must be able to respond to a rapid rate of change in business and technology. A time when education and training will have a limited shelf-life (the majority of today’s students will work positions that do not, yet, exist, and can not be taught, now) and learning must become a lifelong endeavor.
Evolving world culture and information-intensive media channels invite us to apply critical thinking. We must interpret, analyze, evaluate, explain, and draw warranted inferences about what to believe and what to do in a stream of novel and, too often, time-limited or high-stakes, uncertain situations. Further, research studies consistently show that strength in critical thinking correlates with workplace and academic success (as seen in the certification and licensure in the most valued professions).
For the thinking process to be successful, it must be done with the habits of mind that have been identified as supporting strength in critical thinking. Individuals can have experience and skills, but still lack the motivation to use either when making decisions. Mindset matters!
Risks of poor thinking compound over a lifetime.
Weak critical thinking skills and mindset show themselves in many ways: dangerous and expensive errors, repeated mistakes, bad decisions, failed systems, inaction (when action is needed), bad advice, inaccurate assumptions. It is also seen in the poor design of training programs, poor evaluation of educational curricula and the lack of anticipated action–the list is long.
We no longer can afford to be mistaken about best thinking. The costs are too high. Error rates must be reduced. Difficult problems and decisions must be addressed reflectively. We cannot accept poor judgments that can lead to irreparable damage and, even, cost lives.
Health misinformation that once promoted the sale of specific fruits or vegetables, relatively harmless, then; is now advocating against vaccines in-the-midst of a pandemic. Rather than being told to eat blueberries, people are hearing conspiracy theories about vaccines involving tracking microchips, 5G and that COVID-19 is a hoax. Weak critical thinking, in this instance, will cost lives, bankrupt businesses, and depress economies.
Unaddressed weakness in thinking skill results in loss of opportunities, of financial resources, of relationships, and loss of life.
Students and workers with weak thinking skills and mindset are unable to benefit from the educational training programs. Their presence in the class, course and lab forces instructors to slow or alter the training for the other students/trainees. Their presence in clinics, internships, or field exercises risks increases in injuries and liabilities related to, likely, errors of both inaction and wrong action.
Importance of measuring thinking skills
There is probably no other attribute more worthy of measure than critical thinking.
Many believe that the best thinkers are obvious in an institution, business or agency. But impressions are subjective. These opinions are, too often, based on chance circumstances (such as expressions of self-confidence; hierarchical position in the group and on hindsight.)
We have discovered more about how humans engage, attempt to understand problems, and arrive at judgments. Perhaps, more importantly, we know more about how they make bad judgments, often without realizing it.
Human reasoning and problem solving are highly complex processes, but not they are not impossible to analyze, measure and improve. Critical thinking measurement, which describes an individual’s comparative strength in thinking, is a valuable aid in determining a person’s capacity to benefit from training or to succeed in their job.
Individual measures of critical thinking ability (analysis, inference, evaluation, inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning) and lifelong learning mindset (truth-seeking, open-mindedness, resourcefulness, focus and inquisitiveness) provide guidance as to where to dedicate programs of improvement in students and valuable information about potential hires and employees.
When objective measures reveal weaknesses in reasoning and mindset, there are effective training/teaching techniques that can strengthen them. A positive mindset toward thinking and reasoning can be fostered. Start with an honest and concerned appraisal of the variances in critical thinking skills and mindset manifested in working adults or students in all programs of study.
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For more about critical thinking in life, work, and learning:
- Critical Thinking: What it is and Why it Counts
- 15 Positive Examples of Critical Thinking
- Characteristics of Strong Critical Thinkers