I’ve been having some interesting exchanges lately about the importance of critical thinking, which appears to be emerging as one of the skillsets that will play an increasingly pivotal role when it comes to the realm of work.
When I first heard about critical thinking, I must admit that it blindsided me a little – what was it and did I have these skills? At its most simplistic, critical thinking is the ability to look at all aspects of an issue, and evaluate to create an informed judgement. For this process to be successful, it almost goes without saying that time and space for reflection are required.
For most of us, however, this poses a problem. In this age of 24/7/365 instant access to ever-increasing streams of information and being almost constantly ‘on’, only a handful of us probably have the time to devote to allow productive critical thinking to take place – it seems for many of us, that our brains are constantly busy, and yet this doesn’t automatically translate to increased productivity levels across the various aspects of our lives.
When I was studying to become an executive coach, one of the books that really resonated with me was Time to Think by Nancy Kline (1). Nancy is a world-renowned leadership expert whose mantra is that the quality of everything we do is contingent on the quality of thinking we do beforehand. I can wholeheartedly recommend the book and I know its philosophy is highly respected throughout the international coaching community.
Making room for deep thinking is easier said than done, of course. It goes against the grain of the lifetime of habits we’ve built up for ourselves that insidiously steal one of the most valuable assets we have – time.
And yet, when you consider the scale of the social, political, economic and environmental challenges we face as humans, there’s probably never been a more compelling case for making space for critical thinking.
As the world of work evolves over the next decade and beyond, business leaders and owners will face something akin to a ‘perfect storm’ – mounting challenges in successfully integrating technological advances (automation, AI and robotics) with human expertise, blending the demands emanating from multi-generational cohorts, as well as adapting to different engagement models that fulfil both the requirements of a transitioning work force and the commercial benefits that an ‘on-demand’ economy provides.
For their part, workers at all levels will need to reflect deeply on their individual skills, figuring out what capabilities they have that will survive the constantly changing demands of the workplace, and in which areas they need to upskill and invest in their own learning.
The good news is that critical thinking is a skill that can be learned. If we allow ourselves the time to think, and commit to regular thinking time each day, our brains have the potential to reprogramme. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways that, through committed practice, will enable critical thinking to become habit. Just taking 10-20 minutes a day to reflect and evaluate can soon become a rewarding habit, as it starts to produce some potent, transformative critical thinking, particularly in the context of business strategy and competitive edge.
There’s a lot out there on the Web about how to think critically, but as an entry point, you could do worse than to check out an American guy called Colin Wright, who has a website called www.exilelifestyle.com. Colin has come up a technique he calls ‘20 minutes of Awesome’, and while he doesn’t focus specifically on how to apply critical thinking, I think his strategy of devoting 20 minutes a day to thinking time is simple yet powerful: http://exilelifestyle.com/20-minutes-awesome/. I hope you enjoy!
(1) Kline, N. (1999). Time to Think – Listening to Ignite the Human Mind
Cat’s recruitment career has furnished her with fascinating insights into how people behave in the workplace, particularly in response to change. She has a deep interest in human behaviour, organisational psychology and helping business leaders create sustainable, ethical and values-based working environments.