This is the second in a five-part series discussing skills critical for future success. Succeeding articles will cover creativity, communication, and entrepreneurship.
A recalibration is taking place in the workforce as leaders are moving to skills-based organizations and artificial intelligence (AI) is slowly taking on some roles, either completely or as an adjunct to human workers. Many characteristics currently outside AI capabilities are those traditionally called “soft skills,” and savvy employers realize that these are skills to seek in hiring employees and independent contractors.
Critical thinking is the ability to analyze available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment free of bias or assumptions. The value of critical thinking in the workplace is readily apparent.
It is front and center in situations like:
- Anticipating problems and proactively preventing them
- Designing solutions for challenges
- Creating streamlined, efficient work processes
- Gauging demand there for a product or service based on industry data and trends
- Delegating tasks effectively
Critical thinking is the friend of data, metrics, and analysis. People who apply this skill make well-reasoned arguments based on fact, without emotion involved, using:
- Logic – Critical thinkers can consider a situation from every angle and use logic to develop a solution to a problem.
- Discipline – They can discern their own biases and assumptions and set them aside.
- Innovation – They look at problems from a different perspective, so can come up with fresh solutions.
8 Characteristics of Critical Thinkers
In the workplace, critical thinkers can be spotted through a range of characteristics. For example, they:
- Ask questions and look for the best available information.
- Are more interested in getting something right than in being the one who is right.
- Take time to better understand a situation before acting or making a decision.
- Ask questions to understand reasons behind the data being presented.
- Look for patterns in the data and avoid forcing information to fit a desired conclusion.
- Are continuous learners and inquisitive about a variety of topics.
- Are willing to consider alternative ideas and opinions.
- Can clearly explain how they arrived at a conclusion.
Notice the ways in which the employees and independent talent on your team interact, approach problems and challenges, and present solutions. Are there critical thinkers among them? If so, find ways cultivate and nurture them.
Hiring Critical Thinkers
Incorporate questions and requests about critical thinking into your interviews of potential employees and contractors. Queries like these can help you gauge the how a candidate uses (or doesn’t use) critical thinking.
How do you make a decision when you can’t access all the information?
Assess how the person thinks within limitations. Look for their use of logic and ingenuity to reach a decision. Ask for an example from their experience.
What was a difficult work-related decision you had to make?
Understand the thought process behind the decision and how the person applied critical thinking to figure out options and select the solution.
Talk about a time when you had to make a decision immediately.
Gauge the person’s approach in a time- and information-bound situation. Note how they applied logic and reasoning under pressure.
How would you engage with a colleague who presented a solution that is different from yours?
Listen for the person’s ability to be open-minded and how they consider new ideas offered by other team members.
Talk about a big goal you set for yourself and how you achieved it.
Listen along to lines to this response. First, the actual process they went through and, second, how they explain it to you.
Critical thinking is increasingly important in today’s fast-changing, information-laden workplace. It’s a skill that AI doesn’t possess, which makes it an even more essential characteristic of your workforce.