Two years back I was offered to facilitate a course titled ‘Critical Thinking and Analysis in Management’ at Masters of Business Administration (MBA) in the Faculty of Management Studies, Mid-western University, Surkhet. In the beginning, I did not accept the offer since the subject seemed to be quite new. Later, despite a number of challenges I dared to teach the course to the MBA students at the University. As I started teaching, I had a hard time in preparing and delivering the contents relating it to management. I was about to discontinue my teaching after two weeks. Nevertheless, I thought critically over my teaching career, faced the challenges, and turned it into an opportunity. My critical thinking helped me survive in my profession. Since then when I am faced with any problem, I think over the case critically, make an informed decision, and implement it into practice. It helps me a lot to select the best alternative and make an informed decision in life. So it has become a “life skill” for me.
Before we discuss what critical thinking is and why to be a critical thinker, let’s read the following brainteaser.
AT THE BUS STOP
Suppose it is a dark and stormy night. You are driving along in your sporty little two-seater. You come to a bus stop. Three people are waiting for the bus. One is stranger who at that very moment keels over with a heart attack. Next is an old friend who once saved your life. The last, believe it or not, is the man or woman of your dreams. Who do you pick up?
At first glance, there is no good answer or there may be too many. The patient needs to get to a hospital as quickly as possible. Your old friend also expects a ride. But there is also a man or woman of your dream, who otherwise you may never meet again. And you have only one seat in your car … So what do you think? How do you solve the problem? Or, what would you do?
Next, have you ever asked questions to yourself like what is thinking? What type of thinking is referred to as critical?, Who is a critical thinker?, Who is not a critical thinker?, How to be a critical thinker?, Are you a critical thinker? If not, can you be a critical thinker? and so on.
If yes, then it’s OK. And, are you fully satisfied with your answers? If not, then let’s discuss critical thinking below.
Thinking is ‘a conscious and purposeful mental activity’. It is conscious because it is an active process in which you think yourself, raise questions yourself and find relevant information yourself. Similarly, it is purposeful because it involves ‘deciding what to do’ or having a purpose in your mind. And, thinking is a mental activity as it has to do with the mind. Then what type of thinking is critical? Critical thinking is a kind of evaluative thinking -which involves both criticism and creative thinking.
Critical thinking is sometimes known as ‘critico-creative’ thinking. We have two reasons for this. Firstly, it is sometimes considered as ‘negative’, as if one’s only interest is in severely criticizing other people’s arguments and ideas. Secondly, being good at evaluating arguments and ideas one often has to be very imaginative and creative about other possibilities, alternative considerations and different options. A good critical thinker does not see only faults in what other people say, you need to base your judgment on the best arguments you can devise and this often requires that you think of relevant considerations other than those presented. Critically thinking is sometimes called as “thinking outside the box” and “thinking laterally”. A straight line is not always the best way between two points. Rather than just charging directly ahead into a problem, you also need to look for sidesteps and end runs. You need to mentally revisit every part of a problem, not just the one or two seemingly most obvious. Each aspect can be varied, questioned, stretched. This is what de Bono calls “lateral thinking”.
What are the standards of critical thinking?
Critical thinking is analyzed on the bases of some standards that have proven usefulness in evaluating reasoning and knowledge. They include clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, reliability, soundedness, completeness, and fairness. Each of them has been described briefly as follows:
- Clarity: Before evaluating a person’s argument or claim, we need to understand clearly what he or she is saying. Critical thinkers not only strive for clarity of language but also seek maximum clarity of thought.
- Precision: Critical thinkers understand the importance of precise thinking in daily life: What exactly is the problem we are facing? What exactly are the alternatives? What exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative? Only when we habitually seek such precision we are truly critical thinkers.
- Accuracy: Critical thinkers do not merely value the truth; they have a passion for accurate and timely information.
- Relevance: What is said should be pertinent. Discussion should be relevant to the subject matter.
- Consistency: Consistency is essential to critical thinking. Logic tells us that if a person holds inconsistent beliefs, at least one of those beliefs must be false for inconsistencies, both in their own thinking and in the argument and assertions of others. Critical thinking helps us recognize such logical inconsistencies or, still better, avoid them together.
- Completeness: In most contexts, we rightly prefer deep and complete thinking to shallow and superficial thinking. Thinking is better when it is deep rather than shallow, thorough rather than superficial.
- Fairness: Finally, critical thinking depends that our thinking be fair-that is, open-minded, impartial, and free of distorting biases and preconception. That can very difficult to achieve. Basic fair-mindedness is clearly an essential attribute of a critical thinker.
Some of the fundamental critical thinking skills
What thinking skills do you need to possess to be a critical thinker? Following are the list of thinking skills which are basic to a critical thinker. i) to recognize problems, ii) to find out workable means for meeting those problems, iii) to gather and marshal pertinent information, iv) to recognize unstated assumptions and values, v) to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity and discrimination, vi) to interpret data, draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, vii) to appraise evidence and evaluate statements, viii) to draw the existence of logical relationship between propositions, ix) to put to test the generalizations and conclusions at which one arrives, x) to reconstruct one’s patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience and xi) to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life. (Glaser, 1941, p.6).
Characteristics of a Critical Thinker
Who are critical thinkers? And, who are not critical thinkers? Critical thinkers reveal a number of characteristic features that distinguish them from those of uncritical thinkers.
Among the most important of characteristic features are a passionate drive for clarity, precision, accuracy and other intellectual standards that characterize careful, disciplined thinking; a sensitivity to the ways in which critical thinking can be skewed by egocentrism, wishful thinking, and other psychological obstacles to rational belief; honesty and intellectual humility; open-mindedness; intellectual courage; love of truth; and intellectual perseverance (Bassham et al.,2007, p. 29). Another important characteristic is control of one’s mental activities. Similarly, critical thinkers are honest with themselves, acknowledging what they don’t know, recognizing their limitations, and being watchful of their own errors. In addition, they base judgments on evidence rather than personal preferences.
On the contrary, uncritical thinkers are those who pretend they know more than they do, ignore their limitations, and assume their views are error-free. They are impatient with complexity and thus would rather remain confused than make the effort to understand. They base judgments on first impressions and gut reactions. They are unconcerned about the amount or quality of evidence and cling to their views steadfastly.
We are faced with decisions every day. Some decisions are straightforward, such as deciding what vegetable item to buy for dinner. Others are more complex, such as deciding whether to discontinue from the present job or not. Decision-making is a blend of thinking, deciding and action. In fact, it is a complex mental exercise.
The decision-making process, however, is much more than this. Hence, the decision-making process includes recognizing and defining the nature of a decision situation, identifying alternatives, choosing the ‘best’ alternative and putting it into practice.
Why to be a Critical Thinker
The critical thinking teaches us to replace our intuition with empiricism (i.e. fact-based information and analysis) or grounded-reality. Fact-based information and analysis leads to empowering decision-making. The selection of the best decision alternatives helps in attaining operational excellence by means of evidence-based problem analyses and decision-making. There can be a number of advantages of critical thinking in one’s life. Some of the important advantages have been discussed below.
Firstly, critical thinking helps in promoting the culture of evidence-based problem inquiry, analysis and decision-making. Empirical facts or existence of truth based problem observation and information analysis is used in resolving every critical problem. Such a system in long run takes the shape of a culture of evidence based problem inquiry, analysis and decision-making.
Secondly, it enhances in harmonizing interpersonal and institutional communications through fact-based discourse. The information gathered through empirical approaches is used across all responsible individuals, groups or people each crucial information communication is guided by the prevailing facts. Thirdly, it supports in promoting cross-cultural communications. Critical thinking and analyses requires one to go beyond the cultural boundaries and explore information associated with different people having concerned with the firm.
Fifthly, it develops skills for active observation, analysis, listening, speaking and argumentation in a more formal way. Critical thinking and analysis system, of course, promotes with a more systematic and scientific pattern of problem exploration, information analysis and development of decision arguments on the basis of truth or grounded. Finally, it helps in evidence-based decision-making. It results in high degree of effectiveness in decision implementation.
Critical thinking is the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. The critical thinking helps to us think in a better way. Moreover, it, to a great extent, enhances in effective decision-making.
Bassham, G., William I., Henry, N. & James, M. (2007). Critical thinking: A student’s Introduction. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill.
Glaser, E. (1941). An experiment in the development of critical thinking. Columbia: Advanced School of Education at Teacher’s College.
Lohani, S., Adhikary, R, Subedhi, & Gupto, A. (2000). Critical & creative thinking. Kathmandu: Educational Enterprise Pvt. Ltd.
Weston, A. ( 2006). Creativity for critical thinkers. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.