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A Short Guide to Building Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills

critical thinking techniques and tools which could be applied to a team environment

Critical thinking isn’t an innate skill. It can be learned.

Most employers lack an effective way to objectively assess critical thinking skills and most managers don’t know how to provide specific instruction to team members in need of becoming better thinkers. Instead, most managers employ a sink-or-swim approach, ultimately creating work-arounds to keep those who can’t figure out how to “swim” from making important decisions. But it doesn’t have to be this way. To demystify what critical thinking is and how it is developed, the author’s team turned to three research-backed models: The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment, Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model, and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Using these models, they developed the Critical Thinking Roadmap, a framework that breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases: the ability to execute, synthesize, recommend, and generate.

With critical thinking ranking among the most in-demand skills for job candidates , you would think that educational institutions would prepare candidates well to be exceptional thinkers, and employers would be adept at developing such skills in existing employees. Unfortunately, both are largely untrue.

According to a 2016 survey of 63,924 managers and 14,167 recent graduates, critical thinking is the number one soft skill managers feel new graduates are lacking , with 60% feeling this way. This confirms what a Wall Street Journal analysis of standardized test scores given to freshmen and seniors at 200 colleges found: the average graduate from some of the most prestigious universities shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. Employers fare no better. Half rate their employees’ critical thinking skills as average or worse .

Why is it so difficult to teach people how to think critically?

It starts with the fact that there is little agreement around what critical thinking is. From there, it gets even less clear. Most employers lack an effective way to objectively assess critical thinking skills and most managers don’t know how to provide specific instruction to team members in need of becoming better thinkers. Instead, most managers employ a sink-or-swim approach, ultimately creating work-arounds to keep those who can’t figure out how to “swim” from making important decisions.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

To demystify what critical thinking is and how it is developed, our team at Zarvana turned to three research-backed models: The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment , Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model , and Bloom’s Taxonomy . Using these models, we developed the Critical Thinking Roadmap , a framework that breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases: the ability to execute, synthesize, recommend, and generate.

Here is how to assess the critical thinking skills of each of your team members, how to help those who are struggling, and how to know when a team member has mastered one phase and is ready for the next.

Phase 1: Execute If team members are just starting a new role or have never been pushed to think for themselves, they will likely be in the execution phase. In this phase, team members simply do what they are asked to do. This may seem basic and even pre-critical thinking, but converting instructions into action requires several of the skills Halpern describes as critical thinking: verbal reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving. You know your employee is getting it when you can answer “yes” to these 3 questions:

If a team member is struggling here, make sure they understand your instructions by asking them to rearticulate each assignment before they begin. Start by giving them smaller assignments with more immediate deadlines. Once they’ve begun the work, ask them to explain what they did, how they did it, and why they did it that way. Once team members are making suggestions for how to improve their work, you know they’re ready for the next phase.

Phase 2: Synthesize In this phase, team members learn to sort through a range of information and figure out what is important. For example, they can summarize the key takeaways after an important meeting. Here, you want to be able to answer “yes” to these questions:

Synthesis is a skill that, like any other, grows with practice. Try to give team members who are getting stuck here as many chances to synthesize as possible. You could ask them to share takeaways after a call with a client, for example, or after an important meeting. When you check in with them, make them share the insights first and in a succinct manner. If they are still struggling to identify what is important, try leading them through resource-constrained thought experiments that force them to isolate the most important information (e.g., what if you could only share one insight, what if you only had 5 minutes, what if we only had a thousand dollars). You know team members are ready for Phase 3 when they can provide a summary of the important insights and implications for future work on the spot without preparation.

Phase 3: Recommend In this phase, team members move from identifying what is important to determining what should be done. The primary goal is for team members to consistently make recommendations that are well-founded — even if their recommendations don’t align with your opinion. Here’s how you can assess their progress:

When team members enter this phase, start by requiring them to make recommendations before you share your opinion. Once they are, ask them to share their rationale, the alternatives they considered, and the downsides of their recommendations. This pushes them to do more than share the first idea that comes into their minds. Team members are ready to move to Phase 4 when they make reasonable recommendations that reflect sound business judgment on work that is not their own.

Phase 4: Generate To operate in this phase of thinking, team members must be able to create something out of nothing. For example, they are told there is a need to improve the training program for new hires and they develop a project to do it. In this phase, they become adept at translating the vision in others’ heads (and their own) into projects that can be executed. Assess their progress with these questions:

To help team members move into this phase, you will often have to model this thinking for them. Invite them to observe and participate in your own generative process. Many people don’t make it to this phase because they don’t give themselves permission to do the kind of open-ended thinking required. By inviting them to attend your brainstorming session, you show them it is not only okay to spend time thinking, but it is required. You can also ask them to keep a list of their ideas for improving the project, department, or organization. Invite them to share those ideas with you regularly. Then, seriously vet the ideas with them to show them the exercise was more than a practice activity.

It’s time to reject the notion that critical thinking is either an innate gift that can’t be developed or a skill learned only through experience. Begin using this systematic approach to lead team members through the four phases of critical thinking. By doing so, you can help your team members develop one of today’s most in-demand skills.

critical thinking techniques and tools which could be applied to a team environment

Partner Center

Wide Lens Leadership

The lack of creative ideas and problem solving could be short- or long-term, and the root cause for a team is likely multi-factorial since multiple players are involved. Factors may include boredom, perfectionism, overwhelm, fear, distraction, or otherwise. And while it’s true that teams tend to be more creative than individuals (after all, they have access to a greater amount of perspectives), when a team has been working together for a while, particularly on the same brand or product or mission, it’s easy for them to get stuck in a creative rut – together. No matter the cause, leaders of these teams always ask the same questions:

How can we get over the creative block hump as a team? What might catalyze creativity when innovation seems stagnant? What can I do to spark creativity with my team?

There are many ways to answer these questions. In this article (Part I), I’ll address these questions by sharing some practical tips on what you can do as the leader to set the right context for creativity. When the environment and energy in the room (or virtual room) is light, relaxed, and playful, creativity can more readily and freely emerge. So as the leader, make sure you prepare for brainstorms and problem-solving meetings by inviting in creativity — and making sure your team works in an environment that fosters creative thinking.

In Part II in this series, I share six activities to spark creativity and innovation on your team .

The Energy of Creativity

In order to encourage your team to get into a mode of thinking more innovatively, you have to ensure you set the right context and environment – so it is highly conducive for creative thinking.

Creativity requires a lot of energy – and a certain type of energy, one that is lighthearted, curious, and open-minded. This is a very different type of energy than you would bring to a budget-planning meeting, where you want people to show up with focus, decisiveness, and assertiveness. The following tips are meant to invite people into a mood that is light, curious, open, fun, and of course creative.

10 Ways to Set a Context for Creative Thinking

The first way to answer the question, What can I do to spark creativity with my team ? is to focus on ensuring that team members have the right energy for creative thinking. These ideas can be used as you plan specific creative meetings and brainstorming sessions, and they can also be applied to day-to-day operations to ensure they are working in an environment that fosters creative thinking.

The solution to overcoming creative blocks involves much more than what you will find below, but these quick tips offer an ideal starting point to ensure all team members’ basic needs are taken care of – so they can free their minds to open up to creative possibilities.

1. Create Ground Rules to Encourage Psychological Safety

Make sure your team members feel like they can speak their mind and share their ideas without the threat of being judged by others on the team. Whether or not team members have creative ideas won’t matter if they don’t feel like they trust and respect one another enough to speak them out loud and share them.

Creating ground rules as a team encourages the respect and candor needed for creativity to emerge. Start by tossing the judgment out the window – judgmental comments have no place in a creative room and will bring the entire energy of the room down – make this rule #1. This will discourage negativity and encourage connections. Enroll your team to collaborate on writing the remainder of the ground rules.

Read this article about building psychological safety on your team to learn more, as psychological safety really is foundational in creative and innovative work.

2. Prioritize Wellbeing

Have you ever had a brilliant idea when you are exhausted and running on an empty gas tank? Me either. Proper rest and nutrition are foundational to creativity.

For this important pillar, check in with your team to ensure there are no signs of burnout – it will be nearly impossible to cultivate creativity on a team that is overworked and overstressed. Read more about the common signs of burnout here . Encourage everyone to get proper rest, eat well, and practice self-care regularly – and particularly before a team creative thinking session. That goes for you, too!

3. Make it Comfortable

If you are planning a big brainstorm, leadership retreat, or simply trying to upgrade your weekly team meetings, know that space matters. Sitting in a stiff boardroom doesn’t exactly inspire creativity. Find a space that has couches, floor cushions, or other relaxed seating arrangements. Make sure there are plenty of flexible writing surfaces so that people can capture whatever creativity emerges. An environment that fosters creative thinking is one that has multiple seating options and an assortment of writing options – i.e. notepads, whiteboards, post-its, etc.

4. Set Time Blocks

It sounds counter-intuitive to put time limits on creative ideas, but certain types of time pressure actually work really well to generate a larger quantity of ideas in a short amount of time.

Time drains can happen when you are filtering or editing ideas along the way. Make it clear that there will be a time to be practical, realistic, and to filter out ideas that won’t work … later . For now, encourage ideas to flow uncensored and quickly. You won’t have time to judge ideas if your goal is volume, and the time limit is short!

5. Preempt Hunger

Make sure no one is hungry or thirsty by ensuring getting catered meals and ensuring there are plenty of snacks on hand.

6. Stave Off the Mid-Day Slump

It’s hard to be creative when you need a cup of coffee. Make sure to get ahead of the slump by ensuring there is plenty of coffee and tea accessible. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some research suggests that alcohol can facilitate creative problem solving , so consider having some wine available as well!

7. Incorporate Movement and Breaks

Give people time and space to move around and take breaks. Whether giving them free time or planning 10-minute yoga, meditation, walking, or humor breaks throughout the day, make sure to allow time to rest their minds.

8. Make it New

Consider relocating outdoors or to a new location that the team is unfamiliar with from time to time to spark new ideas. Meet in a park, rent out an Airbnb, swap offices with another team … perhaps getting creative with your space will spark creativity for your team!

9. Preach Quantity Before Quality

Ensure the team understands the “no idea is a bad idea” notion for brainstorming sessions. This is where the non-judgment ground rule becomes necessary, both in terms of withholding judgment of your own ideas and the ideas of others. If everyone knows that even silly ideas can spark brilliant ones, this will encourage more voices to be heard and promote courage and connection on the team.

10. Lead Fun Activities

Warm ups and icebreakers are fun ways to build connection on a team, which can help get the creative juices flowing. Whether the activities involve improv, music, art, or simply off-the-wall questions, plan to incorporate these into team meetings and brainstorms to lift the energy of the team.

Embody a Mood of Creativity and Curiosity as the Leader

This may be the most important idea among them, which is why I singled it out at the end of this article. One thing about being in a playful and creative mood is that it is contagious, and one way to ensure that the mood of creativity is present in a meeting is if you bring it with you as the leader. Pay close attention to tip #2 above, as it will be difficult to bring the creative fuel if your own fuel tank is empty.

What do you need to do before the meeting to ensure that you show up in a mood that is energetic, light, curious, and fun? Do what you have to do to bring it, and your team will surely follow.


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How to build critical thinking skills

How to Build Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking ranks among the most  in-demand skills for job candidates and leads to better life and job outcomes.

Value of critical thinking skills

However, both educational institutions and employers have found it challenging to develop these skills in their people.

To help managers and their teams develop these skills, our team at Zarvana turned to three research-backed models: The  Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment ,  Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model , and  Bloom’s Taxonomy . Using these models, we developed the  Critical Thinking Roadmap , a framework that breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases:

For each phase, we identified five milestones that chart the course to developing the skill so you can determine where your skill level is now:

Critical thinking roadmap

And we’ve identified development exercises for each milestone so you know how to get to the next level:

Critical thinking development exercises

It’s time to reject the notion that critical thinking is either an innate gift that can’t be developed or a skill learned only through experience. Download the full toolkit and begin using this systematic approach to lead team members (and yourself) through the four phases of critical thinking.

Critical Thinking Mastermind

This is an excerpt from the article “ A Short Guide to Building Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills ” we published in Harvard Business Review.

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Hum Qing Ze

Mar 11, 2020

Applied Critical Thinking Handbook (Formerly the Red Team Handbook)

“The premise of the program at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) is that people and organizations court failure in predictable ways, that they do so by degrees, almost imperceptibly, and that they do so according to their mindsets, biases, and experience, which are formed in large part by their own culture and context. The sources of these failures are simple, observable, and lamentably, often repeated. They are also preventable, and that is the point of ‘red teaming’. Our methods and education involve more than Socratic discussion and brainstorming. We believe that good decision processes are essential to good outcomes. To that end, our curriculum is rich in divergent processes, red teaming tools, and liberating structures, all aimed at decision support. We educate people to develop a disposition of curiosity, and help them become aware of biases and behavior that prevent them from real positive change in the ways they seek solutions and engage others. We borrow techniques, methods, frameworks, concepts, and best practices from several sources and disciplines to create an education, and practical applications, that we find to be the best safeguard against individual and organizational tendencies toward biases, errors in cognition, and groupthink. Red teaming is diagnostic, preventative, and corrective; yet it is neither predictive or a solution. Our goal is to be better prepared and less surprised in dealing with complexity.”

This book made me rethink how we should look at operational success. Very rarely do we consciously red team our own operations but it is absolutely crucial. Red teaming does not only apply to operations but can be used in any challenge one applies yourself to.

1: Why Red Teaming

Good decision processes are essential to good outcomes. Red teaming is diagnostic, preventative, and corrective; yet it is neither predictive or a solution. Our goal is to be better prepared and less surprised in dealing with complexity. This gives commanders the independent capability to fully explore alternatives.

However, Red Teams require top cover. Meaning it needs support from upper management to succeed. A Red Team works best behind the scenes, assisting the commander and staff in a non-critical, helpful manner, without taking credit.

Self-Awareness : Understanding how our values and beliefs affect how we think and decide … and how that differs for others. Major sub-elements: • Personal reflection, Jungian typology, Personality Dimensions, Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instruments, etc. • Watershed event story telling • Daily Journaling Groupthink Mitigation & Decision Support : The challenges inherent in hierarchical environments and elite teams — groups which might value maintaining social relationships more than making a tough decision. • Use of fungible, small group techniques to mitigate groupthink: use of anonymous feedback, liberating structures, etc. • How to connect critical thinking to operational design, problem framing, assumption validation, assessment tools, and MDMP. Critical Thinking : Support for planning and decision making -deconstructing arguments, examining analogies, challenging assumptions, and exploring alternatives. • The role of intuition — System 1 versus System 2 thinking. • Numerous tools to examine a plan through different lenses — Premortem Analysis, Stakeholder Mapping. • Thinking meta-cognitively, and enabling graduates to understand how humans think, and how culture shapes thoughts. Fostering Cultural Empathy : Developing better questions about culture, in order to facilitate strategic and operational decision making which is informed by cultural empathy. •Culture examined from the perspective of a cultural anthropologist, versus “dos and don’ts.” •Conscious examination of the roles of ethnocentrism, versus cultural relativism. • Culturally-centric case studies. • Tools to help understand foreign cultural contexts, and to foster empathy.

This basically sets out the skeleton for the rest of the book.

2: Self-Awareness

The self-aware person is more enabled as a critical thinker, more aware of personal biases and recognizes his or her own cultural framework. It is with this understanding of self that an expanded world view opens — one that is more empathetic to the differences of other cultures and ways of thinking and thus primed to engage as a Red Teamer.

This is broken down into the domains of personality, values, habits, needs, and emotions.

People undergo events that serve as crucibles, forging the individual’s character. An exercise called “Who Am I” is proposed as a method for deep introspection to allow one to better understand how they engage the world and hear the stories of their peers.

3: Fostering Cultural Empathy

For the Red Teamer, culture may be best approached with techniques borrowed from the perspective of a cultural anthropologist instead of a prescriptive framework or list of ‘dos and don’ts’; in other words, there is value in passively regarding what is. However, “Anthropology, or at least interpretive anthropology, is a science whose progress is marked less by a perfection of consensus than by a refinement of debate. What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other.” This will not do. What is needed is a systemic approach to culture the outcome of which is designed to enhance military planning.

The rest of the chapter covers the approach itself starting with highlighting the issue of ethnocentrism. This breeds stereotypes. Stereotypes by themselves are not negative. At issue here is whether they are accurate or distorted. Distorted stereotypes are polarized, simplistic, and self-serving. Race and ethnicity are common characteristics that are historically susceptible to distorted stereotypes.

Cultures have social and psychological as well as geographical contexts. Culture’s complexity is illustrated by the hundreds or perhaps even thousands of culturally learned identities, affiliations, and roles we each assume at one time or another. ~ Connerley & Pederson, 2005

When seeking to interpret, understand, or analyze a culture, nothing is more essential than to realize the extent to which the interpretation is uniquely our own, with all the inherent and inescapable biases and ethnocentricity that comes with it.

The key point to remember is it is all theory until you get there.

• Is learned.

• Is shared.

• Changes over time.

• Is not always rational to outsiders.

The challenge for a Red Teamer is to render reality as simple as possible but not simpler for the purpose of military planning.

This approach is good for looking at the outcomes and effects as it lets you identify what is important across specific areas. It also synchronises knowledge and analysis across multiple levels in terms of institutions/hierarchies.

The study of culture is not performed in isolation. It is only meaningful when regarded as part of a larger body of thought (e.g., strategy, design, campaign planning).

We study culture because cultural knowledge helps locate individuals, their wealth, and their supporters. To control anonymity, you must know culture.

Cultural knowledge can improve communications with others so as to endear and not offend, to facilitate collaboration and compromise, and to settle disputes peacefully when preferable.

To identify objects of desire, sources and holders of power, grievances, agents.

To set reasonable objectives. Knowing how or if to change the social compact, how long it might reasonably take you to implement such a change, and how long the changes might last. To put things in the right places.

To correctly time actions and activities. Knowing when to act and not act.

To get the joke or make the joke. Jokes work the same mental pathways as military deceptions.

4: Critical Thinking

“A process by which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them… [It requires] a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”

So what is critical thinking?

Look at the definition by Drs. Paul and Elder above. Several tangible ideas emerge: critical thinking is a process, and it deals with the quality of thinking by imposing intellectual standards. In fact, in other writing these two authors assert that critical thinking considers points of view, the quality of information, interpretation and inference, assumptions, and implications and consequences.

Critical thinking consists of an awareness of a set of interrelated critical questions, plus the ability and willingness to ask and answer them at appropriate times”

Critical thinking means developing an ever better worldview and using it well in all aspects of your life…

Searching for hidden assumptions, noticing various facets, unraveling different strands, and evaluating what is most significant …[and] adopt a skeptical attitude.” “Critical thinking means questioning not only the assumptions of others, but also questioning your own assumptions”

Here’s a list

Critical thinking is:

Otherwise, we take for granted that the first thing that comes to our mind is the way it really is — we fall prey to default-mode thinking. Most human beings are on “cognitive autopilot” most of the time.Our minds are full of biases and assumptions. Unless we are forced to stop and think through a particular challenge, we are able to blot out much of the complexity surrounding us and rely on routines of habit.

Most of these mental models, like our values and beliefs, reside in our subconscious, which means that we are not normally cognizant when we are using them.

Frames are hard to recognize, and distort what we see. Most of us don’t realize that we have various frames and mental models.

Given all of the information that is physically filtered out, we are inclined to fill in the gaps by making assumptions in a way that makes sense to us: we assign meaning to what we perceive, because we are generally uncomfortable with a completely abstract picture devoid of meaning.

In all cases, the first requirement of a critical thinker is to realize that he is resorting to inductive reasoning, and as such acknowledge that his inferences and conclusions are at best probabilities.

We fail to differentiate between causation and correlation. Distinguishing between cause and correlation is an important function of critical thinking. Most of us are unaware that the two concepts exist, and tend to fall into a trap of connecting two events in a linear cause-and-effect relationship.

The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and circumstances of inquiry permit.

5: Groupthink Mitigation & Decision Support

Clausewitz reminded us, “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”

Janis points out however, “The more amiability and esprit de corps among the members of a policy making in-group, the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against out-groups.”

To mitigate group think, senior leaders need to set the right tone, allow groups to explore impartially other courses of action, and even set up multiple groups to examine the same problem.

One of the keys to mitigating groupthink is to have all members of the group express their opinion absent pressure from the leader or group to conform. Weighted anonymous feedback techniques give the individual the ability to express his or her opinion in an anonymous fashion without being crushed by group pressure.

When the problem is framed, then you conduct mission analysis.

Design can be used to aid the commander’s visualisation of the problem.

6: Red Teaming Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

This handbook goes in depth into how you can achieve your goals through certain methods. I will mention those I find most useful.

Argument deconstruction

Argument = Issue (or premise, or thesis) + Reasons + Conclusion

Check for value conflicts, prescriptive assumptions (author assumes things as it should be, wishful thinking), descriptive assumptions (author assumes the way things are).

BATNA- Best Altnernative to a Negotiated Agreement

Vigorous exploration of what you will do if you do not reach agreement can greatly strengthen your hand. BATNA thus not only enables you to determine what is a minimally acceptable agreement, it will probably raise that minimum.

Challenges to effective planning

Cognitive Biases

Critical Variables

Deception Detection

• Does a foreign actor have the motive, opportunity, and means (MOM) to deceive?

• Would this potential deception be consistent with past opposition practices?

• Do we have cause for concern regarding the manipulability of sources?

Devil’s advocacy

Devil’s Advocacy is used to consider whether stated beliefs or assertions have been formed prematurely, without first considering alternative perspectives. It is a technique designed to help expose implicit assumptions and faulty reasoning.

Do this by 1) considering the same evidence, some of which may have been disregarded or ignored, and by 2) finding new and disconfirming evidence originally unavailable.

High-impact Low-probability analysis

To have you consider unlikely events that are plausible.

Indicators or signposts of change

An analyst or team can create an indicators or signposts list of observable events that one would expect to see if a postulated situation is developing.

Using an indicators list can clarify substantive disagreements, once all sides agree on the set of objective criteria used to measure the topic under study.

Most people have about 15 percent control over their work situations. The other 85 percent rests in the broader context, shaped by the general structures, systems, events and culture in which they operate. The challenge rests in finding ways of creating transformational change incrementally.

Premorterm analysis

Find key vulnerabilities in a plan.

Problem restatement

Assumptions and dependencies

Appropriate assumptions have two characteristics:

• They are valid, that is, they are likely to be true, and

Events or actions are sometimes called 1st order effects as they actually occur in the physical domain. 2nd order effects represent how individuals feel about the event; emotions in the affective domain. 3rd order effects represent thoughts about the event; thinking in the cognitive domain.

To identify cascade effects requires a knowledge of physics, a hard science question. To identify 2nd & 3rd order effects and predict their consequences requires an understanding of culture, history, and sociology among other social, or “soft” sciences.

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How Teams Should Approach Critical Thinking

by Bryn Kelly

critical thinking techniques and tools which could be applied to a team environment

Posted on January 18, 2020

Want to know how you and your team can think critically? You’ve come to the right place. By developing your critical thinking skills, you’ll be able to make choices and arguments that are both objective and effective. You’ll also be able to think through and solve difficult problems. Critical thinking skills are important in the workplace , so here we’ll explore seven methods to approach it with your team.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the process of conceptualising, analysing, synthesising, or evaluating information that you’ve gathered from observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication. It’s about considering the ‘what, where, when, why, who and how’ of something. This’ll help you understand things better and therefore make better decisions, as well as help you recognise and find solutions to complex problems.

If you have critical thinking skills , you’ll be able to:

Best ways for teams to approach critical thinking

1. question each other.

Questioning what someone says enables you to think critically, so get your team to question each other. For example, if someone makes an assumption or says something you don’t agree with, ask them why they think that way in a non-confrontational manner. If you don’t understand what someone is trying to say or you’re confused, ask them to further elaborate. Asking questions is a great start to thinking critically.

2. Challenge each other’s mental shortcuts

Your brain naturally uses heuristics, or mental shortcuts , to explain what’s happening around you and help you make decisions and solve problems based on limited information. However, this can lead to cognitive biases and personal prejudices. A critical thinker is aware of their biases and prejudices and how they influence seemingly objective decisions and solutions. To make critical thinking possible in your team, you should be aware of and challenge each other’s mental shortcuts.

3. Share and learn critical thinking strategies

There are various critical thinking strategies that you can learn and share with your team. This includes being aware of how you and others think, analysing what someone says or does, using evidence-based reasoning, identifying what isn’t stated, and debating questions and answers. Doing these things can help you and your team think more critically.

4. Use active listening

To become critical thinkers, your team should actively listen to others’ ideas, arguments, and criticisms. This means not thinking of your response or reaction while someone else is speaking. Listening allows you to feel empathy and when you hear someone’s perspective, you can take that information and analyse it. By using active listening skills, you’ll be able to fully understand what someone is trying to tell you because the conversation continues until you can repeat what the other person is trying to say.

5. Look for problems and solve them together

Identifying problems and solving them can also help your team think critically. Once a problem is identified, state it clearly and then figure out what you have to do to solve it. This includes gathering the information you need and analysing it to draw reasonable inferences. Next, consider your options for action and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then create a strategy to solve the problem and implement it. Afterwards, review the results and implement change where necessary.

6. Evaluate each other’s strengths and weaknesses

Every member of your team should clearly assess their own and someone else’s strengths and weaknesses, and the impact these may have on any decisions you make. For instance, you could ask questions like: What are you good at? What are you bad at? What do you want to improve on? This can help you assign tasks to the right person and ensure they get done efficiently and effectively.

7. Use foresight

Foresight is the ability to predict the future impact of a decision. Your team should use foresight as far as this is possible so that everyone can make the best decisions and avoid negative outcomes. For example, moving your business to a new location could improve output but you might end up losing skilled workers if the distance is too far. It’s important to consider which of the two is more important and if there’s a way to reduce the conflict.

Develop your critical thinking skills with Deakin’s micro-credentials

Critical thinking can help you evaluate information objectively in order to solve problems and make the right decisions at work. By following these tips, thinking critically will become second nature to you and, in turn, it’ll benefit your team in the workplace.

Critical thinking is an essential skill to have in the workplace and can be gained through learning and practice. Have your existing critical thinking skills recognised, and become an authority in your workplace. Learn more about Deakin’s Critical Thinking Credential today. - logo

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Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected] Read more from this blog.

Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

critical thinking techniques and tools which could be applied to a team environment

(This is the first post in a three-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?

This three-part series will explore what critical thinking is, if it can be specifically taught and, if so, how can teachers do so in their classrooms.

Today’s guests are Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom .

Current Events

Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher at the Early College High School at Delaware State University, where she serves as a teacher and instructional coach and lead mentor. Dara has been teaching for 25 years (career preparation, English, photography, yearbook, newspaper, and graphic design) and has presented nationally on project-based learning and technology integration:

There is so much going on right now and there is an overload of information for us to process. Did you ever stop to think how our students are processing current events? They see news feeds, hear news reports, and scan photos and posts, but are they truly thinking about what they are hearing and seeing?

I tell my students that my job is not to give them answers but to teach them how to think about what they read and hear. So what is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom? There are just as many definitions of critical thinking as there are people trying to define it. However, the Critical Think Consortium focuses on the tools to create a thinking-based classroom rather than a definition: “Shape the climate to support thinking, create opportunities for thinking, build capacity to think, provide guidance to inform thinking.” Using these four criteria and pairing them with current events, teachers easily create learning spaces that thrive on thinking and keep students engaged.

One successful technique I use is the FIRE Write. Students are given a quote, a paragraph, an excerpt, or a photo from the headlines. Students are asked to F ocus and respond to the selection for three minutes. Next, students are asked to I dentify a phrase or section of the photo and write for two minutes. Third, students are asked to R eframe their response around a specific word, phrase, or section within their previous selection. Finally, students E xchange their thoughts with a classmate. Within the exchange, students also talk about how the selection connects to what we are covering in class.

There was a controversial Pepsi ad in 2017 involving Kylie Jenner and a protest with a police presence. The imagery in the photo was strikingly similar to a photo that went viral with a young lady standing opposite a police line. Using that image from a current event engaged my students and gave them the opportunity to critically think about events of the time.

Here are the two photos and a student response:

F - Focus on both photos and respond for three minutes

In the first picture, you see a strong and courageous black female, bravely standing in front of two officers in protest. She is risking her life to do so. Iesha Evans is simply proving to the world she does NOT mean less because she is black … and yet officers are there to stop her. She did not step down. In the picture below, you see Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal, except this was Pepsi’s weak, pathetic, and outrageous excuse of a commercial that belittles the whole movement of people fighting for their lives.

I - Identify a word or phrase, underline it, then write about it for two minutes

A white, privileged female in place of a fighting black woman was asking for trouble. A struggle we are continuously fighting every day, and they make a mockery of it. “I know what will work! Here Mr. Police Officer! Drink some Pepsi!” As if. Pepsi made a fool of themselves, and now their already dwindling fan base continues to ever shrink smaller.

R - Reframe your thoughts by choosing a different word, then write about that for one minute

You don’t know privilege until it’s gone. You don’t know privilege while it’s there—but you can and will be made accountable and aware. Don’t use it for evil. You are not stupid. Use it to do something. Kendall could’ve NOT done the commercial. Kendall could’ve released another commercial standing behind a black woman. Anything!

Exchange - Remember to discuss how this connects to our school song project and our previous discussions?

This connects two ways - 1) We want to convey a strong message. Be powerful. Show who we are. And Pepsi definitely tried. … Which leads to the second connection. 2) Not mess up and offend anyone, as had the one alma mater had been linked to black minstrels. We want to be amazing, but we have to be smart and careful and make sure we include everyone who goes to our school and everyone who may go to our school.

As a final step, students read and annotate the full article and compare it to their initial response.

Using current events and critical-thinking strategies like FIRE writing helps create a learning space where thinking is the goal rather than a score on a multiple-choice assessment. Critical-thinking skills can cross over to any of students’ other courses and into life outside the classroom. After all, we as teachers want to help the whole student be successful, and critical thinking is an important part of navigating life after they leave our classrooms.



Patrick Brown is the executive director of STEM and CTE for the Fort Zumwalt school district in Missouri and an experienced educator and author :

Planning for critical thinking focuses on teaching the most crucial science concepts, practices, and logical-thinking skills as well as the best use of instructional time. One way to ensure that lessons maintain a focus on critical thinking is to focus on the instructional sequence used to teach.

Explore-before-explain teaching is all about promoting critical thinking for learners to better prepare students for the reality of their world. What having an explore-before-explain mindset means is that in our planning, we prioritize giving students firsthand experiences with data, allow students to construct evidence-based claims that focus on conceptual understanding, and challenge students to discuss and think about the why behind phenomena.

Just think of the critical thinking that has to occur for students to construct a scientific claim. 1) They need the opportunity to collect data, analyze it, and determine how to make sense of what the data may mean. 2) With data in hand, students can begin thinking about the validity and reliability of their experience and information collected. 3) They can consider what differences, if any, they might have if they completed the investigation again. 4) They can scrutinize outlying data points for they may be an artifact of a true difference that merits further exploration of a misstep in the procedure, measuring device, or measurement. All of these intellectual activities help them form more robust understanding and are evidence of their critical thinking.

In explore-before-explain teaching, all of these hard critical-thinking tasks come before teacher explanations of content. Whether we use discovery experiences, problem-based learning, and or inquiry-based activities, strategies that are geared toward helping students construct understanding promote critical thinking because students learn content by doing the practices valued in the field to generate knowledge.


An Issue of Equity

Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at The Possible Project, an out-of-school program that collaborates with youth to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and provides pathways to careers and long-term economic prosperity. She has been in the field of education for over 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, school coach, college professor, regional director of N.Y.C. Outward Bound Schools, and director of external research with EL Education:

Although critical thinking often defies straightforward definition, most in the education field agree it consists of several components: reasoning, problem-solving, and decisionmaking, plus analysis and evaluation of information, such that multiple sides of an issue can be explored. It also includes dispositions and “the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than fall back on existing unexamined beliefs, or simply believe what you’re told by authority figures.”

Despite variation in definitions, critical thinking is nonetheless promoted as an essential outcome of students’ learning—we want to see students and adults demonstrate it across all fields, professions, and in their personal lives. Yet there is simultaneously a rationing of opportunities in schools for students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and other historically marginalized groups to deeply learn and practice critical thinking.

For example, many of our most underserved students often spend class time filling out worksheets, promoting high compliance but low engagement, inquiry, critical thinking, or creation of new ideas. At a time in our world when college and careers are critical for participation in society and the global, knowledge-based economy, far too many students struggle within classrooms and schools that reinforce low-expectations and inequity.

If educators aim to prepare all students for an ever-evolving marketplace and develop skills that will be valued no matter what tomorrow’s jobs are, then we must move critical thinking to the forefront of classroom experiences. And educators must design learning to cultivate it.

So, what does that really look like?

Unpack and define critical thinking

To understand critical thinking, educators need to first unpack and define its components. What exactly are we looking for when we speak about reasoning or exploring multiple perspectives on an issue? How does problem-solving show up in English, math, science, art, or other disciplines—and how is it assessed? At Two Rivers, an EL Education school, the faculty identified five constructs of critical thinking, defined each, and created rubrics to generate a shared picture of quality for teachers and students. The rubrics were then adapted across grade levels to indicate students’ learning progressions.

At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students’ early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a kindergarten student may be expected to “identify cause and effect in familiar contexts,” while an 8th grader should demonstrate the ability to “seek out sufficient evidence before accepting a claim as true,” “identify bias in claims and evidence,” and “reconsider strongly held points of view in light of new evidence.”

When faculty and students embrace a common vision of what critical thinking looks and sounds like and how it is assessed, educators can then explicitly design learning experiences that call for students to employ critical-thinking skills. This kind of work must occur across all schools and programs, especially those serving large numbers of students of color. As Linda Darling-Hammond asserts , “Schools that serve large numbers of students of color are least likely to offer the kind of curriculum needed to ... help students attain the [critical-thinking] skills needed in a knowledge work economy. ”

So, what can it look like to create those kinds of learning experiences?

Designing experiences for critical thinking

After defining a shared understanding of “what” critical thinking is and “how” it shows up across multiple disciplines and grade levels, it is essential to create learning experiences that impel students to cultivate, practice, and apply these skills. There are several levers that offer pathways for teachers to promote critical thinking in lessons:

1.Choose Compelling Topics: Keep it relevant

A key Common Core State Standard asks for students to “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” That might not sound exciting or culturally relevant. But a learning experience designed for a 12th grade humanities class engaged learners in a compelling topic— policing in America —to analyze and evaluate multiple texts (including primary sources) and share the reasoning for their perspectives through discussion and writing. Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care about and connect with can ignite powerful learning experiences.

2. Make Local Connections: Keep it real

At The Possible Project , an out-of-school-time program designed to promote entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, students in a recent summer online program (modified from in-person due to COVID-19) explored the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and local BIPOC-owned businesses. They learned interviewing skills through a partnership with Everyday Boston , conducted virtual interviews with entrepreneurs, evaluated information from their interviews and local data, and examined their previously held beliefs. They created blog posts and videos to reflect on their learning and consider how their mindsets had changed as a result of the experience. In this way, we can design powerful community-based learning and invite students into productive struggle with multiple perspectives.

3. Create Authentic Projects: Keep it rigorous

At Big Picture Learning schools, students engage in internship-based learning experiences as a central part of their schooling. Their school-based adviser and internship-based mentor support them in developing real-world projects that promote deeper learning and critical-thinking skills. Such authentic experiences teach “young people to be thinkers, to be curious, to get from curiosity to creation … and it helps students design a learning experience that answers their questions, [providing an] opportunity to communicate it to a larger audience—a major indicator of postsecondary success.” Even in a remote environment, we can design projects that ask more of students than rote memorization and that spark critical thinking.

Our call to action is this: As educators, we need to make opportunities for critical thinking available not only to the affluent or those fortunate enough to be placed in advanced courses. The tools are available, let’s use them. Let’s interrogate our current curriculum and design learning experiences that engage all students in real, relevant, and rigorous experiences that require critical thinking and prepare them for promising postsecondary pathways.


Critical Thinking & Student Engagement

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the award-winning Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

When I start my keynote on student engagement, I invite two people up on stage and give them each five paper balls to shoot at a garbage can also conveniently placed on stage. Contestant One shoots their shot, and the audience gives approval. Four out of 5 is a heckuva score. Then just before Contestant Two shoots, I blindfold them and start moving the garbage can back and forth. I usually try to ensure that they can at least make one of their shots. Nobody is successful in this unfair environment.

I thank them and send them back to their seats and then explain that this little activity was akin to student engagement. While we all know we want student engagement, we are shooting at different targets. More importantly, for teachers, it is near impossible for them to hit a target that is moving and that they cannot see.

Within the world of education and particularly as educational leaders, we have failed to simplify what student engagement looks like, and it is impossible to define or articulate what student engagement looks like if we cannot clearly articulate what critical thinking is and looks like in a classroom. Because, simply, without critical thought, there is no engagement.

The good news here is that critical thought has been defined and placed into taxonomies for decades already. This is not something new and not something that needs to be redefined. I am a Bloom’s person, but there is nothing wrong with DOK or some of the other taxonomies, either. To be precise, I am a huge fan of Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework. I have used that as a core element of my practice for years, and it has shaped who I am as an instructional leader.

So, in order to explain critical thought, a teacher or a leader must familiarize themselves with these tried and true taxonomies. Easy, right? Yes, sort of. The issue is not understanding what critical thought is; it is the ability to integrate it into the classrooms. In order to do so, there are a four key steps every educator must take.




Thanks to Dara, Patrick, Meg, and PJ for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching .

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Why Is Critical Thinking Important? A Survival Guide


Why is critical thinking important? The decisions that you make affect your quality of life. And if you want to ensure that you live your best, most successful and happy life, you’re going to want to make conscious choices. That can be done with a simple thing known as critical thinking. Here’s how to improve your critical thinking skills and make decisions that you won’t regret.

What Is Critical Thinking?

You’ve surely heard of critical thinking, but you might not be entirely sure what it really means, and that’s because there are many definitions. For the most part, however, we think of critical thinking as the process of analyzing facts in order to form a judgment. Basically, it’s thinking about thinking.

How Has The Definition Evolved Over Time?

The first time critical thinking was documented is believed to be in the teachings of Socrates , recorded by Plato. But throughout history, the definition has changed.

Today it is best understood by philosophers and psychologists and it’s believed to be a highly complex concept. Some insightful modern-day critical thinking definitions include :

The Importance Of Critical Thinking

Why is critical thinking important? Good question! Here are a few undeniable reasons why it’s crucial to have these skills.

1. Critical Thinking Is Universal

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. What does this mean? It means that no matter what path or profession you pursue, these skills will always be relevant and will always be beneficial to your success. They are not specific to any field.

2. Crucial For The Economy

Our future depends on technology, information, and innovation. Critical thinking is needed for our fast-growing economies, to solve problems as quickly and as effectively as possible.

3. Improves Language & Presentation Skills

In order to best express ourselves, we need to know how to think clearly and systematically — meaning practice critical thinking! Critical thinking also means knowing how to break down texts, and in turn, improve our ability to comprehend.

4. Promotes Creativity

By practicing critical thinking, we are allowing ourselves not only to solve problems but also to come up with new and creative ideas to do so. Critical thinking allows us to analyze these ideas and adjust them accordingly.

5. Important For Self-Reflection

Without critical thinking, how can we really live a meaningful life? We need this skill to self-reflect and justify our ways of life and opinions. Critical thinking provides us with the tools to evaluate ourselves in the way that we need to.

Photo by  Marcelo Chagas  from  Pexels

6. the basis of science & democracy.

In order to have a democracy and to prove scientific facts, we need critical thinking in the world. Theories must be backed up with knowledge. In order for a society to effectively function, its citizens need to establish opinions about what’s right and wrong (by using critical thinking!).

Benefits Of Critical Thinking

We know that critical thinking is good for society as a whole, but what are some benefits of critical thinking on an individual level? Why is critical thinking important for us?

1. Key For Career Success

Critical thinking is crucial for many career paths. Not just for scientists, but lawyers , doctors, reporters, engineers , accountants, and analysts (among many others) all have to use critical thinking in their positions.

In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the most desirable skills to have in the workforce, as it helps analyze information, think outside the box, solve problems with innovative solutions, and plan systematically.

2. Better Decision Making

There’s no doubt about it — critical thinkers make the best choices. Critical thinking helps us deal with everyday problems as they come our way, and very often this thought process is even done subconsciously. It helps us think independently and trust our gut feeling.

3. Can Make You Happier!

While this often goes unnoticed, being in touch with yourself and having a deep understanding of why you think the way you think can really make you happier. Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life.

4. Form Well-Informed Opinions

There is no shortage of information coming at us from all angles. And that’s exactly why we need to use our critical thinking skills and decide for ourselves what to believe. Critical thinking allows us to ensure that our opinions are based on the facts, and help us sort through all that extra noise.

5. Better Citizens

One of the most inspiring critical thinking quotes is by former US president Thomas Jefferson: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

What Jefferson is stressing to us here is that critical thinkers make better citizens, as they are able to see the entire picture without getting sucked into biases and propaganda.

6. Improves Relationships

While you may be convinced that being a critical thinker is bound to cause you problems in relationships, this really couldn’t be less true! Being a critical thinker can allow you to better understand the perspective of others, and can help you become more open-minded towards different views.

7. Promotes Curiosity

Critical thinkers are constantly curious about all kinds of things in life, and tend to have a wide range of interests. Critical thinking means constantly asking questions and wanting to know more, about why, what, who, where, when, and everything else that can help them make sense of a situation or concept, never taking anything at face value.

8. Allows For Creativity

Critical thinkers are also highly creative thinkers, and see themselves as limitless when it comes to possibilities. They are constantly looking to take things further, which is crucial in the workforce.

9. Enhances Problem Solving Skills

Those with critical thinking skills tend to solve problems as part of their natural instinct. Critical thinkers are patient and committed to solving the problem, similar to Albert Einstein, one of the best critical thinking examples, who said “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Critical thinkers’ enhanced problem-solving skills makes them better at their jobs and better at solving the world’s biggest problems. Like Einstein, they have the potential to literally change the world.

10. An Activity For The Mind

Just like our muscles, in order for them to be strong, our mind also needs to be exercised and challenged. It’s safe to say that critical thinking is almost like an activity for the mind — and it needs to be practiced. Critical thinking encourages the development of many crucial skills such as logical thinking, decision making, and open-mindness.

11. Creates Independence

When we think critically, we think on our own as we trust ourselves more. Critical thinking is key to creating independence, and encouraging students to make their own decisions and form their own opinions.

12. Crucial Life Skill

Critical thinking is crucial not just for learning, but for life overall! Education isn’t just a way to prepare ourselves for life, but it’s pretty much life itself. Learning is a lifelong process that we go through each and every day.

How to Think Critically

Now that you know the benefits of thinking critically, how do you actually do it?

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking

How Is Critical Thinking Developed At School?

Critical thinking is developed in nearly everything we do. However, much of this important skill is encouraged to be practiced at school, and rightfully so! Critical thinking goes beyond just thinking clearly — it’s also about thinking for yourself.

When a teacher asks a question in class, students are given the chance to answer for themselves and think critically about what they learned and what they believe to be accurate. When students work in groups and are forced to engage in discussion, this is also a great chance to expand their thinking and use their critical thinking skills.

How Does Critical Thinking Apply To Your Career?

Once you’ve finished school and entered the workforce, your critical thinking journey only expands and grows from here!

Impress Your Employer

Employers value employees who are critical thinkers, ask questions, offer creative ideas, and are always ready to offer innovation against the competition. No matter what your position or role in a company may be, critical thinking will always give you the power to stand out and make a difference.

Careers That Require Critical Thinking

Some of many examples of careers that require critical thinking include:

Truth be told however, it’s probably harder to come up with a professional field that doesn’t require any critical thinking!

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What is someone with critical thinking skills capable of doing.

Someone with critical thinking skills is able to think rationally and clearly about what they should or not believe. They are capable of engaging in their own thoughts, and doing some reflection in order to come to a well-informed conclusion.

A critical thinker understands the connections between ideas, and is able to construct arguments based on facts, as well as find mistakes in reasoning.

The Process Of Critical Thinking

The process of critical thinking is highly systematic.

What Are Your Goals?

Critical thinking starts by defining your goals, and knowing what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

Once you know what you are trying to conclude, you can foresee your solution to the problem and play it out in your head from all perspectives.

What Does The Future Of Critical Thinking Hold?

The future of critical thinking is the equivalent of the future of jobs. In 2020, critical thinking was ranked as the 2nd top skill (following complex problem solving) by the World Economic Forum .

We are dealing with constant unprecedented changes, and what success is today, might not be considered success tomorrow — making critical thinking a key skill for the future workforce.

Why Is Critical Thinking So Important?

Why is critical thinking important? Critical thinking is more than just important! It’s one of the most crucial cognitive skills one can develop.

By practicing well-thought-out thinking, both your thoughts and decisions can make a positive change in your life, on both a professional and personal level. You can hugely improve your life by working on your critical thinking skills as often as you can.

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How to build your critical thinking skills in 7 steps (with examples)

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Critical thinking is, well, critical. By building these skills, you improve your ability to analyze information and come to the best decision possible. In this article, we cover the basics of critical thinking, as well as the seven steps you can use to implement the full critical thinking process. 

Critical thinking comes from asking the right questions to come to the best conclusion possible. Strong critical thinkers analyze information from a variety of viewpoints in order to identify the best course of action.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you have strong critical thinking abilities. In this article, we’ll help you build a foundation for critical thinking so you can absorb, analyze, and make informed decisions. 

What is critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution. 

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Top 8 critical thinking skills

Like most soft skills, critical thinking isn’t something you can take a class to learn. Rather, this skill consists of a variety of interpersonal and analytical skills. Developing critical thinking is more about learning to embrace open-mindedness and bringing analytical thinking to your problem framing process. 

In no particular order, the eight most important critical thinking skills are:

Analytical thinking: Part of critical thinking is evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject bias and strive to gather and consume information to come to the best conclusion. 

Open-mindedness: This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go and coming to a conclusion based on all of the information. 

Problem solving : Because critical thinking emphasizes coming to the best conclusion based on all of the available information, it’s a key part of problem solving. When used correctly, critical thinking helps you solve any problem—from a workplace challenge to difficulties in everyday life. 

Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate your thoughts and set aside any personal biases to come to the best conclusion. In order to be an effective critical thinker, you need to question the information you have and the decisions you favor—only then can you come to the best conclusion. 

Observation: Observation skills help critical thinkers look for things beyond face value. To be a critical thinker you need to embrace multiple points of view, and you can use observation skills to identify potential problems.

Interpretation: Not all data is made equal—and critical thinkers know this. In addition to gathering information, it’s important to evaluate which information is important and relevant to your situation. That way, you can draw the best conclusions from the data you’ve collected. 

Evaluation: When you attempt to answer a hard question, there is rarely an obvious answer. Even though critical thinking emphasizes putting your biases aside, you need to be able to confidently make a decision based on the data you have available. 

Communication: Once a decision has been made, you also need to share this decision with other stakeholders. Effective workplace communication includes presenting evidence and supporting your conclusion—especially if there are a variety of different possible solutions. 

7 steps to critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.

 First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process

There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process. 

The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias. 

If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .

1. Identify the problem

Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like: 

What’s happening? 

Why is this happening? 

What assumptions am I making? 

At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem? 

A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process. 

2. Research

At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper. 

During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.

Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option

3. Determine data relevance

Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant. 

Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process. 

To determine data relevance, ask yourself:

How reliable is this information? 

How significant is this information? 

Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field? 

4. Ask questions

One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making. 

We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary. 

Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:

Am I making any assumptions about this information? 

Are there additional variables I haven’t considered? 

Have I evaluated the information from every perspective? 

Are there any viewpoints I missed? 

5. Identify the best solution

Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion. 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision. 

6. Present your solution

Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution. 

7. Analyze your decision

The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time? 

Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was. 

Example of critical thinking in the workplace

Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps: 

Start by identifying the problem

Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page. 

Gather information about how the problem started

Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself: 

Why did you design the pricing page the way you did? 

Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process? 

Where are users getting stuck on the page?

Are any features currently working?

Then, you research

In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like. 

Ask yourself: 

How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?

Are there any pricing page best practices? 

How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation? 

Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see? 

Organize and analyze information

You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider? 

Ask open-ended questions to reduce bias

In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself: 

Is there anything I’m missing? 

Have I connected with the right stakeholders? 

Are there any other viewpoints I should consider? 

Determine the best solution for your team

You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.

Present your solution to stakeholders

Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page. 

Analyze the results

No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.

Critically successful 

Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed . 

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Creative Thinking: Techniques and Tools for Success

Image of instructor, Peter Childs

About this Course

In today’s ever-growing and changing world, being able to think creatively and innovatively are essential skills. It can sometimes be challenging to step back and reflect in an environment which is fast paced or when you are required to assimilate large amounts of information. Making sense of or communicating new ideas in an innovative and engaging way, approaching problems from fresh angles, and producing novel solutions are all traits which are highly sought after by employers.

This course will equip you with a ‘tool-box’, introducing you to a selection of behaviours and techniques that will augment your innate creativity. Some of the tools are suited to use on your own and others work well for a group, enabling you to leverage the power of several minds. You can pick and choose which of these tools or techniques suit your needs and interests, focusing on some or all of the selected approaches and in the order that fits best for you. The practical approach of this course enables you to acquire an essential skill-set for generating ideas, with plenty of: - Fun e-tivities and exercises; - Practical lectures and tips; - Video representations of the techniques in action. By the end of this course you should be able to: - Pick a type of brainstorming you think will be useful to apply to a challenge - Use alphabet brainstorming in tackling a challenge - Use grid brainstorming in tackling a challenge - Use a morphological chart to synthesise a solution to a challenge - Use the TRIZ contradiction matrix to identify recommended inventive principles - Apply SCAMPER to a range of challenges The greatest innovators aren’t necessarily the people who have the most original idea. Often, they are people- or teams- that have harnessed their creativity to develop a new perspective or more effective way of communicating an idea. You can train your imagination to seize opportunities, break away from routine and habit, and tap into your natural creativity. Join this course and a community of practitioners in CREATIVITY!

Could your company benefit from training employees on in-demand skills?

What you will learn

Understand what creative thinking techniques are

Comprehend their importance in tackling global challenges as well as in everyday problem-solving scenarios

Select and apply the appropriate technique based on the opportunity to seize or the problem to tackle

Skills you will gain


Peter Childs


Imperial College London

Imperial College London is a world top ten university with an international reputation for excellence in science, engineering, medicine and business. located in the heart of London. Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

Imperial students benefit from a world-leading, inclusive educational experience, rooted in the College’s world-leading research. Our online courses are designed to promote interactivity, learning and the development of core skills, through the use of cutting-edge digital technology.

See how employees at top companies are mastering in-demand skills

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course

Introduction to the principles of creativity.

In the first week, we focus on the basic principles of creativity and highlight its importance in tackling global challenges. Creativity is explored and applied at two different levels, lower and higher-level creativity.

Creativity Tools

In this week, we will look at how we can augment our creativity using different methods of Brainstorming, a creativity approach that aids the generation of ideas in solving a stated problem. We particularly focus on the application of brainstorming tools in group activities, with the aim of enabling you to understand, evaluate and apply different types of brainstorming techniques in your own context.

Thinking Styles

There are many thinking styles which can be helpful in creativity. We will focus on the principles as well as application of a variety of thinking approaches that can be used at both at an individual level and in a group, under various professional and personal situations, allowing you to develop competency and accelerate proficiency in the use of some different thinking styles.

Morphological Analysis

You will become familiar with the Principles of Morphological Analysis and learn how to apply it in various life scenarios, from design to developing movie plot-lines, whilst developing a more systematic approach to idea generation.

TRIZ - the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving

In week 5, we continue to enhance your fluency, flexibility and originality of idea generation by introducing you to another creativity tool called the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ). We will particularly focus on application of TRIZ and the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix and how it can be used in problem, both at an individual and in group level.

This week, we will introduce you to the final creativity tool in the course and its importance in generation of ideas and improvement of the existing ones; SCAMPER.

You will become familiar with the concepts of SCAMPER and gain proficiency in its application in various unusual, personal or professional situations, whilst inspiring related ideas.

Using the Tools in Combination

Now that you have mastered a wide range of creativity tools and developed competency in their application over a wide range of situations and domains, we will wrap up by asking you to use these tool in combinations and apply these in context and scenarios that are also related to your own discipline or context. This will help you reinforce the concepts that you have learnt so far and enable you to use the creativity tools freely in problem solving and idea generation.


Really enjoyed this. I've completed some Creativity courses before, however I learnt lots of new tools and techniques that I will actually be able to use both at home and at work. Thank you.

Amazing to find out that I have been using the Six thinking Hats tool all my adult life and I wasn't even aware of its existence! As an Event Manager, I would definitely be applying many of the tools.

I enjoyed this course right from the start. The videos are relatable and exciting as so were the reading exercises to get a better knowledge of how to think and easy, fast steps to get to those ideas.

An excellent course which got me to think on many different plains, specially when using the tools on issues and topics that I didn't think needed creative thinking skills. Would recommend it.

Frequently Asked Questions

When will I have access to the lectures and assignments?

Access to lectures and assignments depends on your type of enrollment. If you take a course in audit mode, you will be able to see most course materials for free. To access graded assignments and to earn a Certificate, you will need to purchase the Certificate experience, during or after your audit. If you don't see the audit option:

The course may not offer an audit option. You can try a Free Trial instead, or apply for Financial Aid.

The course may offer 'Full Course, No Certificate' instead. This option lets you see all course materials, submit required assessments, and get a final grade. This also means that you will not be able to purchase a Certificate experience.

What will I get if I purchase the Certificate?

When you purchase a Certificate you get access to all course materials, including graded assignments. Upon completing the course, your electronic Certificate will be added to your Accomplishments page - from there, you can print your Certificate or add it to your LinkedIn profile. If you only want to read and view the course content, you can audit the course for free.

Is financial aid available?

Yes. In select learning programs, you can apply for financial aid or a scholarship if you can’t afford the enrollment fee. If fin aid or scholarship is available for your learning program selection, you’ll find a link to apply on the description page.

More questions? Visit the Learner Help Center .

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The Ultimate List of Visual Creative Thinking Techniques for Your Next Great Idea

Updated on: 10 January 2023

Great ideas don’t just occur. In order to come up with some great new idea, you need to have the right knowledge and experience, and the ideal circumstance. However, there are techniques that you can use to boost your creative thinking skills.  

In this post, we’ll look into creative thinking techniques that will help accelerate the process. You can start right away with the editable templates provided. 

What is Creative Thinking? 

Let’s start with the creative thinking definition. 

Many people associate being creative with being able to paint, sing or write, but someone who is not good at any of these things could still be a creative thinker. 

How? Because creative thinking is the process of coming up with something new; looking at a problem from a new light and finding an innovative solution or a solution that hasn’t been thought of before. Or in other words, thinking outside the box. 

Although some people are more creative than others, creative thinking can be developed with practice. It’s a skill that is indispensable to everyone whether you are still learning or working.

Creative Process

Creative ideas don’t just pop in your head. If you need to come up with innovative ideas you need to set the circumstances for it to occur or give your brain the right material to work with. Let’s understand how creative thinking works. 

According to the book The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas , there are four stages to creative thinking. 

Preparation: This is where you define the problem you want to solve or the need. Then you start gathering as much knowledge about the subject as you can. 

Incubation: In this stage, you’ll be processing the information you have gathered. Instead of consciously trying to solve the problem, you’ll let your mind wander on its own, working its way through the subject. This will lead to more creativity. Basically, your unconscious mind will be at work here. 

Illumination: This is the “Eureka” moment that really occurs when you are not actively thinking of a creative solution. You could be literally having a shower when all of a sudden you have found the answer you’ve been looking for. 

Verification : Now it’s time to see if your idea will really work out or not. In this last stage of the creative thinking process, you need to test your idea. Use your critical thinking skills to fine-tune your idea and ready it to reach the audience.

Creative Thinking Techniques

We have listed below several creative thinking techniques that you can use to come up with creative ideas faster. The templates are instantly editable; you can even collaborate with others from your team on editing them during a brainstorming session. 

1. Affinity Diagrams 

After a brainstorming session, meeting or research you end up with a load of information that needs to be sorted through and categorized. This is where the affinity diagram comes. 

The affinity diagram helps you group your data based on themes. This makes it easier to detect patterns and connections among the information you have gathered, thus allowing you to come up with new ideas or solutions. 

Don’t know how to use the affinity diagram? We’ve got you covered with this complete guide to affinity diagrams .

Affinity Diagram Template

2. Brainstorming 

Brainstorming is one of the most popular methods of idea generation. You can go about this individually or with a group of people. 

In group brainstorming, you have the ability to collect many creative ideas from people with diverse skills and experience.

There are many brainstorming techniques out there, and some handy visual brainstorming techniques are listed in this post. And refer to this resource to learn about how to carry out a successful brainstorming session step-by-step .

3. Concept Map

The concept map is a teaching and learning techniques that help visualize the connections between concepts and ideas. It helps organize thoughts and discover new relationships, ideas or concepts. 

Check out our guide to concept maps to learn about how to use it in more detail.

Concept Map Template for Creative Thinking Techniques

4. Mind Map

The mind map starts with the key concept you are brainstorming around in the center. Related ideas are connected to the center with lines. 

It helps you capture your free flow of thoughts and organize them on a canvas in a way that will later allow you to discover new connections that will let you arrive at a possible solution. 

Because it connects both text and a visual layout, it allows for a more creative style of thinking.

Mind Map Template for Creative Thinking

5. Mood Board 

A mood board – like a collage – is a collection of images, fonts, icons colors, etc. that is representative of a particular theme or style. Mood boards are also known as inspiration boards and commonly used in design projects. 

Here’s how to use a mood board .

Mood Board Template

6. SCAMPER Technique 

SCAMPER is another successful creative thinking technique that is used to spark creativity during brainstorming. SCAMPER stands for seven thinking approaches,

Learn how to generate new ideas using the SCAMPER method here.

SCAMPER Technique Template

7. Six Thinking Hats 

Each hat in the six thinking hats method represents a different perspective. It is used during meetings or brainstorming sessions to allow team members to look at possible solutions from different perspectives or thinking directions. 

Each hat represents a different thinking angle, and during the session, each member will get to put it on in turn. 

White hat – facts and information 

Red hat – feelings, intuitions, emotions, and hunches 

Balck hats – judgment, legality, morality 

Yellow hat – optimism, benefits

Green hat – new ideas, opportunities 

Blue hat – conclusions, action plans, next steps 

Refer to this resource on six thinking hats to learn about how to use it in more detail.

Six Thinking Hats Diagram

8. Storyboards 

Storyboards are a way to visually organize ideas. It’s a common tool used in video planning. Say you are planning a TV advertisement, you can start with a storyboard to graphically organize the ideas in your head. As you lay them out on a storyboard, you’d be able to quickly mold the idea in your head.

Storyboard Template

9. SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In business planning, the SWOT analysis is applied in various situations; in competitor analysis, situation analysis, strategic planning, personal evaluation, etc. 

It can be used to identify effective innovative opportunities, mitigate threats using strengths, etc.

critical thinking techniques and tools which could be applied to a team environment

What More Creative Thinking Techniques Do You Know? 

Here, We’ve covered most visual creative thinking techniques. Go ahead and share with us your most favorite creative thinking technique as well. 

Join over thousands of organizations that use Creately to brainstorm, plan, analyze, and execute their projects successfully.

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