How to become a better thinker & problem solver through critical thinking.

Elements of critical thinking - analyze, infer, evaluate, interpret, generate, reason.

Think back. Remember a time in your life where you were specifically taught how to think. If you can, you are one of the lucky few.

Most people go through their entire lives never learning how to think. Critical thinking is a term most do not encounter in their lives. Now, I realise you may be going “That’s not true, I went to school and wrote exams!”

Yes, but unfortunately the school system is where most people are let down in their lives.

Unless you had forward-thinking parents, or went to a school that offered an alternative curriculum to the traditional, it is entirely likely that you have not been taught HOW to think.

Where It All Began

You see, the school system we currently have has not changed much in over 200 years. Most schools are structured around the idea that discipline is the only way to deal with rowdy children; and self-discovery, imagination and out-of-the-box (critical) thinking has no place in the school environment. Change is intimidating and the natural inclination is to avoid it and so, it is understandable how we ended up here.

The Industrial Revolution brought about the concept of duplicating ideas (job) for a reward (salary), then this concept was adopted by the school system. Ideas (schoolwork) are duplicated (exams) in exchange for a reward (favourable marks). And unique, individual thinking got left at the wayside.

Yes, schools do the best they can with what they have, and discipline has its place, but unfortunately a fear of change, lack of funding and increasing political correctness is holding a lot of schools back from embracing the possibilities and giving students the best platform from which to step into the world.

All Is Not Lost

As humans we have the incredible ability to adapt and grow when we need to. We can learn the skills we lack and improve on the ones we already have.

This is where critical thinking comes in. You don’t know what you don’t know, BUT you can ask.

Now, most of us never realise we can ask because we’ve developed a fear of looking stupid by asking questions. So, please keep an open mind, and despite feeling fear, allow yourself the opportunity to choose the red pill and begin asking “Why” and then ask, “What can be done about it?”

By doing that, you will engage the power of your incredible mind. It will begin looking for answers and developing solutions to problems. Our minds are wired to find answers and solve problems. This is the basis of critical thinking.

Just think of any product that you take for granted in your life; it is entirely possible that it exists purely because it solves a specific problem.

Someone somewhere had asked “Why” and “What can be done about it?” and proceeded to develop those ideas into a solution.

If you get stuck, don’t worry. You’re in luck. We live in the information age, and with the click of a button can have information from the best minds in the world at our disposal.

A word of caution though, we also have information from the worst minds of the world at our disposal, so it becomes necessary to be able to qualify that which you find – further developing your power of critical thinking.

Question & Qualify Everything

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

Use the following six qualifying questions to filter out the valuable information from the misguided information, for example:

  1. Who? E.g. Who is it coming from? Who is it aimed at? The source is important. Wikipedia, for example has a lot of information on, but can’t always be trusted since it is open for members of the public to edit the information, and yes there are those characters out there that wilfully post misinformation. The intended audience should also be considered.
  2. What? E.g. What are the facts? Can the information be measured and quantified? What are the limitations?  What are they trying to achieve? Is it intended to evoke a response?
  3. When? E.g. When was it posted (is it still relevant to the world we live in today) Yes, a horse and carriage is a mode of transportation, but it is not the BEST mode of transportation anymore.
  4. Where? E.g. Where can it be applied? Is it only relevant to one problem or can it be adapted to solve multiple problems?
  5. Why? E.g. Why is something being done in a certain way? Or are there new, better ways? Why is it relevant? Remember, challenging a system can cause a lot of friction, so tread carefully.
  6. How? E.g. How can it be done differently? How can it be improved? Beware of ‘how’. It often leads to analysis paralysis and prevents people form taking action, which will be covered in part 4 of soft skills – work ethic.

These questions can be used in more than just the business environment, since they are valuable in rooting out false information.

A Practical Example

A basic example is spam messages. Have you ever received an SMS or email claiming you the first 2000 people who enter will get a free Woolies or Pick ‘n Pay voucher? Next time you do, stop and qualify the information. Go a step further and Google to see if there are any competitions running at the moment. Don’t be afraid to ask “Why”.

By taking a moment and asking even just one of the qualifying questions, putting it into Google, and you will have your answer. (A good rule of thumb is checking the grammar of the message. It will give you an idea of the reliability of the source.)

Critical thinking is important for moving the human race forward. It is the golden thread that has brought us to where we are, so as long as we keep using it, it will lead us to a better future than we could possibly imagine.

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Want To Know More?

Resources you may find helpful in developing critical thinking:

  • Thinking fast & slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Think Smarter by Michael Kallet
  • Wait, What? & Life’s Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan
  • The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
  • Teach Your Child How To Think by Edward de Bono

Until next time,

The SkillzTrader Team

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PS. You can find the other posts in our 5-part series on Soft Skills by clicking here.