The Role of Critical Thinking in Effective Decision Making
Critical thinking is the art of raising what is subconscious in our reasoning to the level of conscious recognition. It is the art of taking control of our thinking processes so as to understand the pathway and inputs that our thinking employs.
Critical thinkers understand the mechanics of reasoning (thinking). They use this understanding to manage the unconscious influences that contribute to their decision-making processes.
By taking charge of the thinking process, critical thinkers develop an understanding of what they do not know about a particular subject, and make better decisions as a result.
Who Needs Critical Thinking?
The study of critical thinking is the study of reasoning. Implicit in this study is the recognition that if we are to become better thinkers, our thinking skills must be practiced and developed, just like any other skill set.
Advocates of critical thinking believe that critical thinking is a philosophical perspective that can help anyone to become more successful. The logic behind this belief is that everyone can benefit from becoming a better thinker and as a result, have greater control over their thinking processes.
In the business world, a critical thinking approach to problem solving improves the quality of analysis, resulting in a more balanced, reasoned decision-making process.
To become a critical thinker is to become an effective critic of your own thinking. This involves an analysis of the inputs (information, assumptions, and biases) that form part of your reasoning, as well as the outputs (decisions, assumptions, and biases) that result from your reasoning.
As part of your development as a critical thinker you learn to gauge and measure the outputs of other people's thinking (which are your inputs), and as a consequence develop improved decision-making skills.
Are You a Critical Thinker?
Most people, particularly anyone with higher education, consider themselves to be critical thinkers. Unfortunately, quality thinking does not come naturally to most people (maybe to no one) and our education system does not fill the gap.
Critical thinking is the discipline of making sure that you use the best thinking that you are capable of in every situation. To become a skilled critical thinker it is necessary to understand thought processes and to use that understanding to structure your analysis of anything and everything, in a balanced way.
What are the symptoms of being a critical thinker? The indicator that someone is practicing critical thinking (to some degree) is that they continually question their own and other people's assumptions, reasons, motivations, and outlook. This questioning must not focus on generating mere contradiction but rather on the discovery of context, reasoning, and point of view. Critical thinkers ask questions to answer questions and seek reason and logic as the foundation for understanding.
Role of Critical Thinking
In effect, what critical thinking does for us is to put the extent of our real understanding (knowledge) into perspective. It illustrates what we do and do not know about a subject by revealing the nature and significance of assumptions and gaps in information.
Critical thinkers recognize everyone's tendency towards lazy thinking and make the effort to really 'think hard'. The surprising outcome of critical thinking is not to demonstrate our knowledge of a subject, but rather to illustrate our level of ignorance.
Such an inverse approach to problem analysis is unnatural for most people. The natural tendency is for people to use their analysis to confirm their initial choices and reassure themselves that they were right all along. To think hard on a subject only to undermine the pillars of one's choices is viewed by many as a waste of time.
However, critical thinking should not be thought of as an effort to refute any particular choice or decision, but to balance evidence, reason, and options. Critical thinking may very well make it harder to choose between options, but the ultimate choice will be made with a fuller understanding of the implications and consequences.
Developing as a Critical Thinker
Becoming a skilled thinker requires practice. Everyone 'practices' thinking, but the question is whether he or she is practicing good or bad habits. The mere act of thinking does not ensure that one is becoming an increasingly skilled thinker over time.
As with every other set of skills, bad habits are easy to learn and difficult to break.
To develop as a critical thinker, you must understand and then practice the necessary thinking skills. To determine whether or not you are improving, you must judge your performance against a meaningful set of quality standards.
It is much the same as the way one would advance in the development of any set of skills, in any sport or activity. Improvement comes from guided skill set development - instruction, practice, criticism, and more practice.
Imagine trying to learn skills any other way. Would you ever become an excellent soccer player without being told what to practice or how to measure improvement? Would any parent launch a child's soccer career by leaving them in a field without any idea of what the rules of the game were, the nature of the activities, or the level of performance of other players? Of course not, but this is exactly how thinking skills are developed.