Critical Thinking and the Future of Work

High Tech worker pointing to digital screen labeled Critical Thinking and the Future of Work

There appear to be any number of soft skills that management and HR are being told will be required for the future of work.  Many headlines shout about the skills gap facing us in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).  You’ve likely seen lists of five or, even, ten key skills required as per the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report

Top 10 Job Skills of the Future

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with Others
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Judgment and Decision Making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

Numerous workplace surveys, such as the QS Global Employer Survey, present pie charts crowded with diet-size slivers of core skills for the future of work. 

Pie Chart showing global core skills from QS Global Employee Survey

Sometimes critical thinking is listed, other times reporters call for reasoning, decision-making or problem-solving (synonyms for critical thinking).  Or critical thinking can be left off, entirely. 

It can be confusing.

Defining Critical Thinking for the Future of Work

Further, when you read about the necessary skills for the workforce and leaders of tomorrow—basically, lifelong learners with the agility and flexibility to be ready for job positions that don’t even exist, now—there often is a misunderstanding of what exactly constitutes critical thinking.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have some consensus?

In 1987, Insight Assessment founder Peter Facione, Ph.D. was the lead investigator for the APA to produce a definite guide of critical thinking assessment and curriculum development at all educational levels.  The research was conducted utilizing a scientific methodology known as the Delphi Process and took approximately a year.  Working with a panel of over forty experts in the fields of education, philosophy, physical and social sciences, a consensus definition of critical thinking was reached.  A detailed overview and more information can be found in Facione’s executive summary, CRITICAL THINKING: A STATEMENT OF EXPERT CONSENSUS FOR PURPOSES OF EDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENT AND INSTRUCTION

Critical thinking, basically, is “to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based.”

While the ideal critical thinker is “habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.”

What the Media has Wrong

Know that critical thinking is not an island.  It does not happen in isolation.  Rather than just one skill, critical thinking is a skill set.

It is a bundle.

Successful critical thinking involves a long laundry list of soft skills.  Literally, all the skills that you’ve see listed, independently, in these news articles are encompassed by strong critical thinking

Strong Critical Thinking Leads to positive outcomes

Let’s Explain about Explanation

Know that soft skills can have many labels and/or names. 

Take communication skills, for example.  This is what we refer to as explanation.  A strong critical thinker must have the ability to convey their decisions, ideas and overall vision to others to make them happen (also seen described as leadership, negotiation, emotional intelligence, people skills, etc.). 

Explanation is the process of justifying decisions and beliefs, to provide the evidence, methods, and considerations that were relied upon to arrive at a judgment.  Explanations may include a person’s assumptions, reasons, values, and beliefs.  Robust explanations also enable others to understand and to evaluate someone else’s decisions. 

Other pertinent skills used in critical thinking would include (what we like to call) interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, and self-regulation.  To succeed as a critical thinker, all six of these skills are needed and they are interconnected and interdependent, upon each other, to succeed.

Five Other Softs Skills Involved in Strong Critical Thinking

Interpretation is about determining what something means and what is being communicated, using all the textual, contextual, physical, and emotional cues.  Interpretation can be applied to virtually anything, from written content, charts, diagrams, maps, graphs and memes to verbal and non-verbal exchanges. Interpretive skills are also applied to behaviors, events, and social interactions.

Analysis takes a deep dive on what the question or problem is by looking at its elements and how they relate to each other.  Analytical skills strive to identify all the assumptions, reasons, themes, and evidence used in making an argument or explanation.  Important patterns and details become apparent when strong analytical skills are applied to the most relevant information (such as spoken language, documents, signs, charts, graphs and diagrams).

Inference is the careful consideration of the consequences for various options, whether those consequences be certain, probable, or only possible.  Inference skills enable drawing conclusions from evidence such as analogical, probabilistic, empirical, and mathematical reasoning.  Inference is further employed when offering thoughtful suggestions, hypotheses and predictions.  Sound inferences, however, rely upon accurate information. 

Evaluation is to assess the credibility of a claim, including the credibility of the source of the claim. Evaluation also includes assessing the strength of inferences, explanations and arguments.  Evaluation skills are, additionally, applied to judge the quality of analyses, interpretations, explanations, inferences, options, opinions, beliefs, ideas, proposals, and decisions. 

Self-regulation is last, but not least.  This is when you evaluate your own thinking and, where appropriate, correcting your own thinking.  Doing this involves the evaluation of your own interpretations, analyses, inferences, and explanations. And, if you find any shortcomings, to make the necessary adjustments.  This is an essential part of being a “life-long learner.”

Again, you’re probably aware of all of the above soft skills by another name…

Finding all the Soft Skills Needed for Future Growth

Facing upskilling, reskilling or just incorporating automation or AI into normal business processes? 

Allow Insight Assessment to prepare your employees for the future of work with the right set of soft skills. 

Through assessing and developing critical thinkers, we’ve pinpointed which soft skills must be measured and taught.  Our proven testing and training solutions are derived from a culmination of over 30 years of leading research and assisting clients in the academic, business, government and healthcare sectors.

Contact Insight Assessment to make certain that your Learning & Development efforts are on the right track!

This article was also contributed to by Dee August.

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