5.1 The power of critical thinking
Critical thinking is ‘the ability to thoughtfully analyse and evaluate situations and recommend courses of action that consider stakeholders, implications and consequences (Eggers et al., 2017, p. 266)
Thinking critically involves considering a subject, content or problem diagnostically, identifying opportunities and developing, testing and implementing appropriate solutions. Taken for granted assumptions must be challenged and should lead you to asking searching questions that may have no simple answer, such as:
- What is the problem?
- Where is the opportunity?
- Why has nothing been done?
- What should be done?
Identifying what you want to think critically about may require creativity. Critical thinking may also involve daring to be different in your approach to a problem or an opportunity, and – importantly – thinking for yourself. This can involve questioning strongly held beliefs and ideas even when they might be considered to be virtually sacred or untouchable by others. It can also mean considering the arguments from various perspectives and sources, even if you might not intuitively agree with them.
Challenging the status quo could help critical thinkers create new and more advantageous ways of doing things. The World Economic Future of Jobs Report (WEF, 2016) highlights critical thinking as tomorrow’s key job skill, a point further underlined by Hess (2017) when he argues that in a world where technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are increasingly important:
Many experts believe that human beings will still be needed to do the jobs that require higher order critical, creative, and innovative thinking and the jobs that require high emotional engagement to meet the needs of other human beings. The challenge for many of us is that we do not excel at those skills because of our natural cognitive and emotional proclivities: we are confirmation-seeking thinkers and ego affirmation-seeking defensive reasoners. We will need to overcome those proclivities in order to take our thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating skills to a much higher level.
Box 3 Is critical thinking the same as intelligence?
While critical thinking involves the intelligent application of thoughts, it is not the same as intelligence. Butler et al. (2017, p. 38) make the point that ‘We all probably know someone who is very intelligent, but does blatantly stupid things. Despite evidence that intelligence predicts a variety of life outcomes, the relationship between intelligence and good thinking is less clear’. They further argue that ‘critical thinking involves thinking rationally in a goal-oriented fashion… It is a collection of skills and strategies that a thinker can use when the situation calls for them. It is also a disposition towards thinking careful and thoughtfully’ (2017, p. 39).
So what is the link between creative thinking and critical thinking? Are they related or perhaps completely different phenomena?