What is critical thinking?


In the past, critical thinking has been defined by several different scholars using different terms. However, all these definitions contained the similar idea that critical thinking:

·         Is a decision-making tool that enables individuals to make effective choices about things.

·         Assists a critical thinker to accurately and adequately meet the standards of thinking.

Thus, critical thinking can be defined as the objective examination of facts to make a judgment. Other definitions for critical thinking are: contemplating the truth and making a decision based upon it, and reflective and reasonable thinking is aimed at deciding one's beliefs or actions. Critical thinking is not a new concept; it was coined several decades ago and integrated by Socrates in his teachings, and was later recorded by Plato after his execution .  

Importance of critical thinking

1.      Critical thinking is important in enhancing the economy

As above-mentioned, decision-making is a core aspect of critical thinking. Effective-decision making and problem-solving skills are quite important in every sector of a country, and can significantly improve its economy. For instance, critical thinking skills are incorporated when deciding what equipment to buy for public hospitals, and where to buy them to ensure proper management of financial resources.

2.      Critical thinking improves language and presentation skills

Critical thinking equips individuals with excellent communication skills that enable them to express themselves better. Further, a critical thinker can comprehend even the most complex of tests because of their ability to break it down into smaller bits for better understanding.

3.      Critical thinking is universal

A reasonable reflection that shapes people's thoughts, actions, and beliefs is a relevant skill that benefits all individuals regardless of their age, career, religion, or race.

4.      Critical thinking is important for self-reflection

Self-reflection is a constant aspect of our lives as it helps us adjust to the environment around us and live a meaningful life. Sometimes, our beliefs, thoughts, and actions may not be the best and I turn, we may end up hurting others or ourselves. Critical thinking skills enable humanity to reflect on their daily behaviors and make needed changes.

5.      Critical thinking is the basis of science and democracy

Democracy refers to the inclusion of a whole population in the governance of a state often through elected leaders. Democracy can only be achieved if the larger population has the necessary critical thinking skills. Similarly, critical thinking is also significant in the world of science as it helps prove back scientific facts by enabling individuals to interpret theories and principles.

6.      Critical thinking promotes creativity

One way that critical thinking promotes creativity is through the forming of new and creative ideas as a problem-solving technique. Also, critical thinking is useful to creatives when it comes to designing art that appeals to their target audience.

Benefits of Creative Thinking

Critical thinking has numerous benefits:

1.      It leads to better decision making

Critical thinkers are the best decision-makers regardless of the forum they are in. Dealing with problems on the regular improves one problem-solving and decision-making skills.

2.      It improves individual happiness

Critical thinking is not just a skill used to solve the world’s problems. On the contrary, it enables one to examine their inner self and enables them to understand themselves better. Knowing yourself is a recipe for increased happiness. Further, it allows individuals to understand their thought process and can help in avoiding negative energy, thereby maintaining one’s happiness.

3.      It helps makes better citizens

Citizens equipped with critical thinking skills are unlikely to drown in propaganda or be lied to, and consequently, they can choose good leaders to run their state.

4.      It improves relationships

Critical thinking improves one's open-mindedness, which makes considering other people's perspectives on things easier. This improves the relationship by avoiding conflict.

5.      It influences creativity

Critical thinking enables individuals to come up with new and creative ways of solving problems or doing a project. Depending on one's career, creativity can manifest in several ways. For instance, if one is a grade 1 teacher, creativity is achieved by devising new ways to make the class session more interesting. The same applies to entrepreneurs – coming up with a business idea that appeals to a large market population requires them to be creative.

6.      It leads to career success

Regardless of the field one works in, critical thinking can be essential in improving their success. For instance, competitiveness in business is a never-ending cycle, making it essential for one to have critical thinking skills for their survival. In the medical sector, critical thinking assists medical practitioners to save lives.

7.      It makes individuals independent

Critical thinkers often trust their reasoning and judgment better and are thus not dependent on anyone to make their decisions.

 

8.      It is a crucial life skill

Critical thinking is part of daily life whether at home, school, or the workplace. Deciding one's morning and evening routine heavily relies on critical thinking. For instance, people who work from home may need critical thinking skills to understand when they are most active to plan their working days. Similarly, students require critical thinking skills to understand concepts and to complete tests.  

Steps of Critical Thinking Skills   

·         Observation

Observation skills are an essential aspect of critical thinking. Observant people can pick up on challenges more easily and understand their impacts. In some cases, excellent observation skills are useful in predicting certain problems. An observer first pays close attention to things before interpreting them. Observation is exemplified by journaling, active listening, or mindfulness while assessing surroundings.    

·         Analysis

Observation is followed by analysis. The data, information, and facts collected during the observation stage are effectively evaluated and analyzed to increase one’s understanding of the problem. Other important steps in the analysis stage include asking questions that are relevant tithe problem and examining the data for accuracy and objectivity to ensure there is no bias. Taking on new experiences can help build effective analysis skills. One of the ways this can be done is by reading complex books for the first time or trying to solve complex calculations, both of which encourage an individual to develop new ways of thinking and interpreting information.

·         Inference

After analysis, the next step is inference where a critical thinker is required to draw conclusions using the information and data collected. Knowing the specific field is important as it guarantees the formation of effective conclusions. Inferences normally involve drawing conclusions from limited information. Improving inference skills required one to have a reasonable understanding of the particular area of study. Making conclusions with no background does not reflect critical thinking. On the other hand, examining reports, articles, and images and using them as evidence to draw conclusions can build on inference skills and enhance critical thinking.   

·         Communication

Inference is followed by communication, which entails explaining issues and discussing potential solutions. Communicational is an important aspect of critical thinking and is needed in every field be it business, education, science, and technology among others. Improving communication skills is central to critical thinking and should thus be enhanced at every opportunity. One way to do this is by regularly engaging in discussions that you deem difficult. This can be anything from conversations with family or friends to colleagues. This is important because of the different perspectives everyone holds. While engaging in the discussion, try to listen keenly before responding, and allow people to finish speaking to facilitate a better understanding and interpretation of their opinions.

 

·         Problem-solving

All the other steps lead to this one; problem-solving. A problem is observed and information regarding the same is collected; the data and information is analyzed; conclusions are drawn; the issue is discussed and explained together with its potential solutions; finally the solution is implemented. As mentioned earlier, critical thinking is very important in problem-solving. In the communication stage, numerous potential solutions are recommended. In the communication stage, the most effective solution is chosen and executed. Improving one’s problem-solving skills requires more knowledge of their industry, or themselves, depending on who the problem is affecting. An important problem-solving tip is to observe effective solutions that other people have executed in the past and using them to create your own. Asking questions is also a good way of enhancing the effectiveness of designed solutions.  

Examples of Critical Thinking Situations

·         A student explaining to his peers how their team came to a specific conclusion about a subject of study. The student would need to have carried out valid research for them to make reasonable conclusions.

·         Parents deciding which school to take their children to and where to live to ensure their finances are equally distributed. Managing finances is a delicate subject that requires a critical assessment before decisions are made.

·         A first aider providing assistance to a victim of a hit-and-run. First aid depends on the victim’s injuries and this means that one has to critically analyze the situation before making a move. However, this assessment should be fast in order to try and save the victim’s life.  

·         A lawyer preparing a defense for his client to ensure they do not get jailed. Critical thinking comes in handy when lawyers are preparing a convincing defense to save their clients from serving jail time.

·         A marketer deciding which strategy to use to ensure their product or service appeals to a larger population. Critical thinking in marketing can increases sales for a marketing company through good decision-making and excellent problem-solving techniques.

·         A company deciding what strategies to execute to cut back on costs and ensure the organization does not go bankrupt. When cutting back on costs, organizations may lay off workers, reduced their salaries, or withdraw certain allowances. Critical thinking is essential in deciding which option suits the organization best.

·         Human resource personnel deciding which applicants fit the job description and their organizational requirements. Critical thinking enables them to pick an all-round candidate who can effectively meet the organization's requirements.  

Improving Critical Thinking Skills

1.      Defining questions

Critical thinking requires clarity in that, the goal should always be clear. As such the following questions may be helpful:

·         What do you want to achieve?

·         What is the best way to get there?

2.      Gathering reliable information

When gathering information, credible sources are the way to go because they are more factual and less biased. Some of these credible sources include reports, research articles, websites, and journal articles. Newspapers may not be a good source as they are often biased. s  

3.      Asking the right questions

While asking questions is good, asking the right questions is very important because they give you the right answers needed to achieve your goal.

4.      Consider the short-term and long-term aspects of potential solutions

Critical thinking and problem-solving go hand in hand. When designing solutions, it is important to examine their short-term and long-term impacts. This is because some solutions work best in the short-term and others are effective for the long-term. The best solution is the one that is effective in both the short-term and long-term, even though the degree of effectiveness may differ.

5.      Exploring all options

Exploring all possible options before making a decision is always a good idea. As mentioned above, assessing the short-term and long-term effects of different solutions can enable one to come up with the most effective solution. Exploring new options requires creativity and consequently enhances critical thinking skills.

Developing Critical Thinking in School

Critical thinking is a lifelong process that continues to improve as we learn new things. The importance of developing critical thinking at school cannot be downplayed. School children should be taught these skills to enhance their survival skills outside of school. Further, these skills are also needed in performing various tasks in school such as participating in discussions in the classroom, completing standardized tests and, interacting with teachers and fellow students.

Careers and Critical Thinking

Critical thinking applies to most careers. Interviewers are always looking for individuals that possess critical thinking skills exemplified by their willingness to ask questions, and their creative and innovative capabilities. Critical thinking makes people stand out and qualifies them for whatever positions they are seeking. Some of the careers that require critical thinking include (but are not limited to):

·         Law

·         Engineering

·         Management

·         Marketing

·         Business

·         Human resource