Become a critical thinker

Nov 01, 2018
Thinking is the top-rated next generation skill, but the ability to think critically is rare. Follow these tips to stand out from your peers in the soft skills stakes.

I was browsing LinkedIn recently when a headline caught my eye. It read: “The top skills companies need – and how to help your employees develop them”. I’m a sucker for a list, so I clicked in and scrolled down for the answer, whizzing past the verbiage in the process. To my surprise (and that of the article’s author, as I found out when I eventually read the intro), the leading ‘next generation skill’ is... thinking. We do it all the time but according to research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it’s the most important skill of the future followed by self-understanding, empathy, ethics and communication.

Develop your critical thinking

According to Georgetown professor, William T. Gormley, critical thinking consists of three elements: a capacity to spot weakness in other arguments, a passion for good evidence, and a capacity to reflect on your own views and values with an eye to possibly changing them. He elaborated on these points in a recent Harvard EdCast, which you can listen to here. But how can you develop these three elements and learn to think critically? According to an article published by NUI Galway, there are a number of ways to do this. You will likely know some of the points mentioned (join a debating society, get involved in class discussions etc.), but there some very noteworthy suggestions also. They include:

  • Swap coursework with a classmate and critically evaluate each other’s arguments, use of evidence and conclusions;
  • Accept that criticism and disagreement aren’t the same as conflict. It’s okay to hold different views to a classmate, friend or lecturer;
  • Engage critically with course content, particularly with your assigned reading; and
  • Remember that critical thinking is hard. As a set of ‘higher order’ skills, it isn’t something you can learn overnight. Keep trying. Ask for feedback – and learn from it.
There’s some great material there, but the university’s Christopher Dwyer also suggested a very useful – and fun – means of honing this skill in his book entitled Critical Thinking: Conceptual Perspectives and Practical Guidelines: play devil’s advocate. In the era of groupthink and news bubbles, it’s easy to be convinced that there’s a right way and a wrong way. Seeking out alternatives, even seemingly irrational ones, could help you see things in a new light and this is what your future employers will be looking for - someone who is technically competent but can approach things with fresh perspectives. Let the debate begin!