Why is critical thinking now more critical than ever?
Throughout history, it has been acknowledged by the great thinkers in all societies that “knowledge is power”. But in our world today, that is no longer true, says Bryan Travers, facilitator of the new Executive Education course “Critical Thinking in the Age of Disruption”.
Why? Because knowledge, rather than being held in the minds of an elite few, is now available to anyone who has access to the Internet. We have masses of information on millions of subjects at our fingertips all the time, but few of us have the skills to evaluate received data objectively and decide what to do (or not do) with it. The Foundation for Critical Thinking puts it this way:
“Much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. Yet, the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.”
As the age of disruption advances, and purely transactional jobs are taken over by artificial intelligence in one form or another, it is the critical thinkers who will survive and thrive. They will be the leaders, movers and shakers, and their organisations will be successful because they are collaborative, diverse and future-focussed.
So what is critical thinking? There are probably 60-odd definitions in the literature, some of them very lengthy.
But from Bryan’s observations over nearly four decades in the corporate world, he has distilled the concept of critical thinking down to four essential skills that can be learned in his course:
- How to solve problems
- How to discover truth
- How to communicate truth effectively
- How to resolve conflict
Whether you are a chief executive, manager, project manager, team leader or team member, you will be a better thinker at the end of this journey. You’ll learn how to think rationally, question your own and others’ assumptions, eliminate bias from your viewpoint, be open-minded, and above all, suspend judgement until you are certain that you have all the data required to make the right decision.
Bryan’s course is highly interactive, with 50% dedicated to knowledge/theory (a review of the literature, videos etc), and 50% to practical application and workshops, during which participants will personalise their own experience in order to apply the principles and behaviours covered during the course.
A successful technique Bryan employs in these workshops is to introduce a contentious subject, such as euthanasia, to which the group is asked to apply critical thinking skills.
Such a subject immediately triggers personal bias, pre-conceived notions and untested assumptions, which must be eliminated in favour of good judgement, sound reasoning and impartial evaluation. Participants are compelled to differentiate between observation and inference, between inductive and deductive thinking, between evidence and belief, and to ask themselves: are my assumptions definitely true, probably true, possibly true, possibly false, probably false or definitely false?
“It’s impossible to over-estimate how powerful critical thinking can be for both individuals and organisations”, says Bryan. “It is a systematic methodology for evaluating what is true and what is false…We can use it to radically improve our own outcomes and at the same time contribute to a more rational and civilised society.”
Bryan likes to quote Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer and philosopher, who said:
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
To that, he would add that if we all changed ourselves into critical thinkers, the world would be a profoundly different place.
Bryan Travers facilitates the Executive Education course: Critical Thinking in the Age of Disruption