by Jim Bruce
Recently on TV, I was attracted to a Cascade dishwasher detergent commercial featuring child actress Sierra Richards, who seeing her “mother” rinse off the dishes before putting them in the open dishwasher asks, “just what does the dishwasher do?” This question is an example of thinking critically about what the “mother” in the commercial was doing.
Wikipedia tells us ”Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgement”1 and asserts that the concept of “critical thinking” can be traced to the teachings of Socrates. He was concerned that too often “authority” was exercised without accurate knowledge or critical thinking about the issue at hand. We continue to see many examples of this, the exercise of authority without understanding, in essentially all phases of our lives today.
Edward Glaser,2 in his 1941 study of critical thinking, tells us that “The ability to think critically … involves three things: (1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experiences, (2) knowledge of the method of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods.”
A simplified definition of critical thinking is that of Robert Ennis who says that “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication as a guide to belief and action.”3
Clearly, being able to think critically would be a valuable skill to have. Yet, the SHRM 2019 State of the Workplace Survey4 reports that critical thinking is one of the top missing soft skills of job applicants. Other studies indicate that about half of employers rate their employee’s critical thinking skills as average or below.5 And, a parallel study indicated that 66% of new graduates applying for jobs said that they had critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, only 21% of employers agreed.
So most likely we all have some deficiency in our ability to think critically.
Will Erstad6 suggests six skills that will help you begin thinking more critically:
Pearson | TalentLens, a training and assessment company, has a critical thinking model they call the RED Model7 which you may also find helpful in expanding your thinking skills:
So, now you have two different approaches to becoming better at thinking critically. Each approach has lots of options and touchpoints that will help you become a more critical thinker. Why don’t you begin today to work on your critical thinking skills? What about simply being more inquisitive than you typically are? Ask questions to increase your understanding of the issue. And, if asking more questions doesn’t work for you, there are lots of other approaches to choose from in these lists. The thing I urge you to do is to begin.
Make it a great week for you and your team. . . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.