Critical Thinking

The world is a complicated place, and getting more complicated every day.  Vast quantities of information allow us to support any conclusion, and the inundation of information makes it difficult for us to understand if it is good, valid, and relevant.  We need something to help us understand the world around us, to counter normal human cognitive impediments, and to solve problems.  That something is critical thinking.

Recognizing the fact that critical thinking1 can be abstract and theoretical when presented in a vacuum, the Omnis educational and philosophical approach links critical thinking to a methodological process of problem solving based on the scientific method2.  The methodology is the backbone of our critical thinking education and use because everyone solves problems, and, whether they know it or not, they use a methodology.  We just make that methodology explicit.

Another aspect of our educational approach is the use of examples, anecdotes, and exercises that are relevant to the learner.  For example, if they are law enforcement officers, the material taught must apply to their every day lives in law enforcement; if they are financial analysts, the examples and anecdotes must be material from the financial realm. 

Employing Critical Thinking:  The Elements of Critical Thinking

To employ critical thinking properly we believe a first important step is to understand human cognition and the problems caused by our natural ways of thought.  Being aware of mindsets and biases, the issues with assumptions, anecdotal information, and the importance of objectivity goes a long way in making an individual an excellent critical thinker.

But the epitome of critical thinking is questioning (asking good questions and, more importantly, obtaining good answers – and knowing what is a good question and answer).  Excellent critical thinkers question everything:  the quality of information, the source of the information, whether biases are present, what assumptions are being used, how valid the logic is, etc.

By questioning everything, we mean more than just being skeptical – although skepticism is a good attribute of a critical thinker.  Rather, the thoughtful application of questions throughout the problem-solving process is necessary to be confident in our analyses and the conclusions at which we arrive. 

We at Omnis are strong advocates for a robust interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.  Obtaining multiple perspectives is a hallmark of the excellent critical thinker.  Using multiple viewpoints gives a greater likelihood of obtaining the correct answer or solution.  Multiple viewpoints also automatically counter a range of biases.

Making our thinking explicit is a vital aspect of critical thinking and a way to counter a number of biases and mitigate errors in thought.  Making thinking explicit helps us see our arguments and logic, and allows others to understand and critique our thinking more easily.  We should use techniques to help us visualize our thinking, as this causes us to use multiple parts of our brain to deal with a problem.

And finally, striving for objectivity is of utmost importance for the critical thinker.  We must approach our problem solving from as unbiased a perspective as possible.

1 Our definition of critical thinking is that it is “quality assurance for the thought processes” TM

2 We employ the scientific method because of its many attributes:  It has been around, in one form or another, for almost four hundred years, it has a proven history of success, it forces compliance with a methodological approach, it has feedback mechanisms, and, most importantly, it is self correcting.