How are you working to improve your critical thinking skills? Through in-person training programs? Online learning? Brain teasers and puzzles?
What about through reading books on critical thinking? There are several great books on the topic (especially ones for business professionals), and here are our favorites:
For a quick, free read on critical thinking, check out this eBook available for download: http://www.thinkwatson.com/ebook
Now You’re Thinking! is a great introduction to critical thinking told through a real life example of great decision making and problem solving. This book not only tells the story of Amenah, a two-year old dying of a congenital heart defect in Iraq and how a Marine battalion worked to save her life, but it also includes an overview of the RED Model of Critical Thinking. This model and the Five Steps to New Thinking are a great guide to keep your critical thinking on track. Lastly, this book also offers free access to take the My Thinking Styles assessment so you can learn how your unique thinking style impacts the way you seek out and evaluate information.
Rethink: A Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation. It’s a totally human condition, a trap that ensnares virtually everyone. Just as when we tie a route to a destination so much so that when someone else takes a different route “why are we going this way?” it usually doesn’t matter “how” you get there. This “how” trap also takes place at work, people intertwine “how” they do their job with the outcome of “what” they are doing that sometimes obvious decisions are masked, and missed. We know how to focus on process: the how of business. That’s why this book shows that we’re leaving so much value on the table and that’s what this book exposes with vivid examples, while at the same time offering guidance on ways you can take advantage of this new business lens. Business architect Ric Merrifield shows how to rise above the clutter of your “hows” to expose what does and doesn’t need attention. You’ll learn to identify the activities most critical to success and those that that are borderline, redundant, or even counterproductive. Along the way, Merrifield presents powerful case studies from companies as diverse as ING DIRECT and Eclipse, Amazon.com and Procter & Gamble firms that have learned how to cut costs, strengthen innovation, and profit from change all at the same time.
Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life. Critical Thinking is about becoming a better thinker in every aspect of your life: in your career, and as a consumer, citizen, friend, parent, and lover. Discover the core skills of effective thinking; then analyze your own thought processes, identify weaknesses, and overcome them. Learn how to translate more effective thinking into better decisions, less frustration, more wealth and above all, greater confidence to pursue and achieve your most important goals in life.
Brains: How they Seem to Work. For 50 years, the world’s most brilliant neuroscientists have struggled to understand how human brains really work. Today, says Dale Purves, the dominant research agenda may have taken us as far as it can–and neuroscientists may be approaching a paradigm shift.
In this highly personal book, Purves reveals how we got to this point and offers his notion of where neuroscience may be headed next. Purves guides you through a half-century of the most influential ideas in neuroscience and introduces the extraordinary scientists and physicians who created and tested them.
Purves offers a critical assessment of the paths that neuroscience research has taken, their successes and their limitations, and then introduces an alternative approach for thinking about brains. Building on new research on visual perception, he shows why common ideas about brain networks can’t be right and uncovers the factors that determine our subjective experience. The resulting insights offer a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.
Keeping Conflict Constructive: And Unleashing the Power of Divergent Thinking. This Element is an excerpt from Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus (ISBN: 9780137000630) by Michael A. Roberto. Available in print and digital formats.
Promoting constructive dialogue–and keeping it from degenerating into destructive, dysfunctional argument.
In many organizations, debates become dysfunctional before the leader recognizes the warning signs. Diagnosing these situations as they unfold represents a critical leadership capability. How does a leader discern whether a passionate debate among his advisers and subordinates stands on the verge of becoming dysfunctional?
The Truth About Making Smart Decisions. Everything you need to know to make smarter, better decisions in business and in life!
This book brings together 50 powerful “truths” about making better decisions: real solutions for the tough challenges faced by every decision-maker, in business and in life. You’ll discover how to systematically prepare to make better decisions…how to get the right information, without getting buried in useless data…how to minimize your risks, and then act decisively…how to handle your emotions…make better group decisions…profit from mistakes…and a whole lot more. This isn’t “someone’s opinion”: it’s a definitive, evidence-based guide to effective decision-making…a set of bedrock principles you can rely on no matter what kind of decisions you make!
Encourage Unconventional Thinking. This Element is an excerpt from Do the Right Thing: How Dedicated Employees Create Loyal Customers and Large Profits (9780132343343) by James F. Parker. Available in print and digital formats.
Your employees’ wild ideas: they’re one of your greatest resources for business transformation!
Not everything has already been invented. Not every great idea has already occurred. Not every valuable innovation has already been implemented. Nobody knows everything there is to know. The world advances through change and new ideas. Will R&D tell us when to change and how? Perhaps, but it’s likely our employees and customers will tell us first–if we just listen….
What Disruptive Thinking Is, and Why You Should be Doing It. This Element is an excerpt from Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business (9780137025145) by Luke Williams. Available in print and digital formats.
Why incremental change is a recipe for disaster and what your business must do instead.
Successful companies often embrace incremental change because it supports their current business model. Big mistake. When a business makes only incremental changes, they’re on a path that gets narrower and narrower. Eventually, they reach the end–and by then, their customers have forsaken them for a new offering that nobody saw coming.
The Power of Impossible Thinking: Transform the Business of Your Life and the Life of Your Business. The Power of Impossible Thinking is about getting better at making sense of what’s going on around you so you can make decisions that respond to reality,not inaccurate or obsolete models of the world. This bestseller reveals how mental models stand between you and the truth and how to transform them into your biggest advantage! Learn how to develop new ways of seeing, when to change to a new model, how to swap amongst a portfolio of models, how to understand complex environments and how to do “mind R and D,” improving models through constant experimentation, Jerry Wind and Colin Crook review why it’s so hard to change mental models and offer practical strategies for dismantling “hardened missile silos”. Finally they show how to access models quickly through intuition, and assess the effectiveness of any mental model. Purchasers of this book gain access to audio summaries on a companion web site, along with a new half-hour interview with the authors.
25 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living. You are what you think! Take control of your thinking…and start living life to the fullest! In just 25 days, you can discover how to cut through lies, gain insight, and make smarter choices in every area of your life from work and money to your intimate relationships. Discover how to overcome bad thinking habits caused by self-delusion or out-of-control emotions…clarify what you really want…recognize what you don’t know. Ask the right questions…resist brainwashing, manipulation, and hypocrisy…Avoid worrying, conformism, and blame!
FutureThink. In The Untrapped Mind, two leading futurists reveal the breakthrough thinking techniques they’ve developed to liberate the mind from its old assumptions, and sensitize it to the earliest signals of change. Edie Weiner and Arnold Brown show how to overcome both personal and institutional biases, to see the big picture. Learn how to recognize when trends aren’t linear, and when tomorrow won’t be ‘just like today’. The authors show how a football game can help clarify priorities in attracting and retaining customers; how the history of railroads can put the Internet into perspective; how the ‘Law of LargeNumbers’ helps one recognize the drivers behind such powerful forces as deviancy and terrorism; and much more.
Your Brain and Business: The Neusoscience of Great Leaders. Harvard psychiatrist and executive coach Srinivasan S. Pillay illuminates the rapidly-emerging links between modern brain science and the corner office. What does neuroscience have to do with leadership? Everything. Recent advances in brain science and neuroimaging can dramatically improve the way leaders work with colleagues to drive successful change. As the brain is increasingly examined in the context of personal and organizational development, remarkable insights are being uncovered: insights that are leading to powerful new strategies for improving business execution. Pillay reveals six powerful ways that brain science can be used by today’s executives, and presents powerful new interventions for coaches who want to help their clients overcome common leadership problems. Discover how to use positive, “strengths-based” approaches to encourage the brain to learn, how the fascinating neuroscience of social intelligence can help leaders encourage more effective relationships, how to promote innovation and intuition, and overcome intangible vulnerabilities in leaders’ brains, how to transform the “idea” of change into crisp, timely execution, and much more. Leaders and coaches worldwide are already applying this knowledge to dramatically improve personal performance. Now, with Pillay’s help, everyone can.
Becoming a Critical Thinker: A User Friendly Manual. Becoming a Critical Thinker: A User Friendly Manual, trains students to become critical thinkers and thoughtful decision makers. It helps students to distinguish high-quality, well supported arguments from those with little or no evidence to support them. It also develops the skills students will need to effectively evaluate the many claims facing them as citizens, learners, consumers, and human beings, and also to be effective advocates for their beliefs.
The Art of Questioning: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. This text offers students the clearest explanations and the most examples of any critical thinking text on the market. Begins with issues concerning words, examines techniques for evaluating explanations and arguments, and concludes by applying all the skills to reading essays and writing argumentative essays.
Critical Thinking: An Introduction. This second edition has been extensively revised with updated examples and a brand new chapter on how to obtain reliable information from the internet. Studying critical thinking involves trying to change the ways in which most of us think. In this second edition of the popular ‘Critical Thinking: An Introduction’, Alec Fisher concentrates on developing critical thinking skills explicitly and directly. His aim is to teach the ability to interpret, analyse and evaluate ideas and arguments and to show how these skills can be transferred to other studies and everyday life. A new chapter covers getting reliable information from the internet and examples and passages have been replaced by completely new material. The book is also suitable for the independent learner.
What other books should we add to this list?
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Date: Thursday, April 17th, 2014 at 3pm ET
Description: One of the best resources for Senior Operations Leaders, Leadership Development Experts and HR professionals, the 2014 Trends in Executive Development Research Report is the product of a collaborative partnership between Executive Development Associates and Pearson’s TalentLens. Inside you will find leading organizations weighing in on the trends, growth and evolution of executive and talent pipeline development in today’s ever?changing corporate environment. The report includes a complete analysis of the research, including cutting edge ideas and organizational anecdotes from some of today’s most recognized organizations.
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Bonnie Hagemann is principal consultant at Executive Development Associates, a 28-year-old internationally known boutique consulting firm in custom executive development. In addition to leading the firm, Hagemann has a unique background and assessment expertise. She specializes in leadership development, executive assessment and executive coaching. To date, Hagemann has conducted full coaching programs for over 65 leaders in medium and large organizations including 7 organizational presidents. She has delivered over 250 presentations and speeches on leadership, teambuilding, communication, conflict, and behavior. She has 13 published works and a new book by HRD Press released in 2010 “Decades of Differences: Making it Work.”
Have you ever experienced a situation at work where someone has made a bad decision and the company decides that a new policy is the solution? What if companies could focus on teaching their employees to be better thinkers rather than providing more rules, regulations, guidelines and procedures? Often these new policies result in a costly domino effect when implemented because the organization doesn’t work through the details and the potential impact to all of the key stakeholders.
A woman works at a company that has decided to save money by implementing a new travel policy. The assumption here is that the employees were not making good decisions about their travel and the unnecessary expenses and costly hotels was expensive to the company.
Her company decided that in order to save money on expenses that they would implement strict travel guidelines. One change to the travel policy was that the lowest priced airfare must be booked. Additional approvals were required for any exceptions.
From a logical standpoint, these rules appear to make sense and would save the company money. But is this true? What are the other ramifications of this type of change?
The employee, a sales representative, needs to fly to meet with a customer. The cheapest flight includes a layover in Chicago during the winter. Assuming that the flight is on time, the sales representative will have a 4-hour layover in Chicago. The next cheapest flight also has a connection but it costs $25 more. The employee wants to take the flight that will be shorter but it is out of policy due to the higher airfare. She needs to call the travel agent to purchase the tickets because the online portal will not allow for the booking outside of the stated guidelines. At this point the employee learns that she must receive approval from management before this flight can be arranged. Assuming she has to travel on this date and these are her options she can:
1. Reach out to management to obtain approval for the additional $25 fee then call the travel agent to book the more direct flights. Hidden costs: time of the sales rep to call the travel agent and manager, time of the manager to review and approve the change, risk of losing the seat if this process takes too long.
2. She could choose to go with the travel policy as stated. She would save $25 but she looses 4 hours of productivity due to the layover. There will be additional fees for a meal due to the extra time as well as additional risk of further delay due to weather.
An actual cost could be determined by factoring in the time of the sales representative, manager and travel agent. But I am curious about how often the cost of this time is overlooked? Do we disregard the extra time that the sales rep is stuck in an airport and dismiss the opportunity costs of not having her meeting with clients during that time? Or the manager, who has many business decisions to make but is focused on approving a $25 charge instead?
I think this is a prime example of where teaching employees how to make good decisions can eliminate the need for such strict policies. A formal policy with little room for judgment could be altered to empower the employee to make the decision that is best for everyone involved. The end result would most likely impact the bottom line as well as have a positive impact on employee morale.
What do you think? Have you seen this happen in your world?
The end of the year is such a busy time. You’re probably trying to find an Ugly Christmas Sweater to wear to a party, staging the Elf on the Shelf again, searching Pinterest for the perfect holiday appetizer recipe, making sure you spent all of your flexible spending account, pulling in last minute sales and prepping for your performance review at work. It’s exhausting. And while your mind is a jumble with all of the end-of-the-year to-do’s, it’s also the perfect time to reflect and plan.
Reflect on what you did well this year. What big decisions did you make? How did they turn out? What would you do differently the next time around?
And it’s a time to plan for 2014. What will you do in 2014 to make it a great year? Here’s my New Year’s Resolution challenge for you. Think big!
That’s easy to say, right? What does “Think Big” even mean? To me, it means not saying no to crazy ideas. It was only a month ago that I wrote about Make a Wish Foundation’s BatKid project. If that wasn’t a case study on Thinking Big, I don’t know what is. Today I saw another great example of Thinking Big. This time, the project was carried out by WestJet, a Canadian airline, who wanted to spread a little Christmas cheer to their customers. Words won’t do the project justice, so watch this video: http://youtu.be/zIEIvi2MuEk
When I see something like this, I immediately wonder what the brainstorming session looked like. ”What if we create a kiosk where people can tell a live-via-webcam Santa what they want for Christmas? And then in the short flight between airports, we will actually fulfill those requests and deliver the presents on the baggage carousel.” What?! How could that even be possible? How would Santa know the passenger’s names? How could we buy the presents and wrap them in time? What if we offend someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas? What if someone doesn’t scan their badge and tell us what they want from Santa? What if someone boards at the last minute and misses out? What if someone wants something outrageous like a new car?
There are so many reasons to shut this idea down. Honestly, the entire idea is a logistical nightmare. But what if you said yes? Would it turn into an epic feel-good piece of marketing genius? It sure did for WestJet. In only 24 hours, their video has had over 2 million views on YouTube.
I’m sure there were serious critical thinking questions raised along the way as they planned this surprise. But critical thinking does not mean saying no. It takes creative AND critical thinking to pull off an event like this…and a lot of guts…and a big budget.
Kudos, WestJet and Make-A-Wish Foundation! You’ve pulled off two of the most exciting and inspiring viral events of the year and inspired my personal 2014 New Year’s Resolution- THINK BIG!
How will you Think Big in 2014?
How many times a day do you hear the phrases “it will never work,” “that will never get approved,” or “we can’t?”
What if, for just one day, you suspended judgement on a few crazy ideas and considered what it would take to make it happen?
That’s exactly what the Make-A-Wish Foundation does every single day! Today, they’re transforming San Francisco into Gotham City so that 5-year old Miles can save the day as BatKid. Miles has been battling leukemia, but so far today he’s already saved a damsel in distress, stopped the Riddler from looting the financial district, and soon he will rescue a San Francisco mascot from the Penguin.
Can you imagine what the brainstorming session looked like for this operation?
We have a kid who loves Batman. How can we make his wish come true? Could we turn San Francisco into Gotham City for the day? Could we get the Police Chief to assign special crime fighting tasks to BatKid? Could we assemble thousands of volunteers to play the role of Gotham City citizens? Could we get the San Francisco Chronicle to publish a special Gotham City Chronicle edition? Could we get the Mayor to give BatKid a key to the City? In nearly every boardroom in America, the immediate response to ideas like this would be “NO WAY!” But at Make-A-Wish, the process is different. Their job is to make the impossible a reality. The level of creative thinking they employ in every one of their projects is inspiring.
Why couldn’t the brainstorming process in your organization take the same approach? You may not always have the budget or manpower to pull off some audacious goals, but you can certainly consider them as worthy ideas instead of shutting them down. Who knows where that path will take you!
If you didn’t say no today, what could you accomplish?
Note: At the time of this post, BatKid’s adventures are still unfolding in
San Francisco Gotham City. Check here for updates on this amazing, heart-warming story.
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It’s nearing Halloween, so it’s time for a story that will chill you to the bone. It’s the story of how a group of hackers turned one man’s life upside down. And here’s what’s even more disturbing- he asked for it.
Adam Penenberg reached out to Nicholas Percoco and his team and asked them to see what kind of damage they could do to him via hacking. It’s a scary thought, right? You think you’re pretty safe. You choose unique passwords, you have your wifi locked down, you don’t have your ATM pin written down anywhere, but how safe are you really? Percoco is the Senior VP of SpiderLabs which tests your IT Security via ethical hacking in order to identify your vulnerabilities.
Please go read Penenberg’s article on what happened next. I can’t do his story justice with a summary of everything Percoco’s team accessed, but if it doesn’t scare you then nothing will. As someone who’s own baby monitor was hacked this week, I read every sentence of this article like a horror story. The threat is real and everyone is vulnerable in some way. But what I want to highlight here is the amazing critical thinking behind every step the SpiderLabs team took.
Let’s be clear here- you don’t have to be a technical genius to get a lot of the info that Percoco found. A good recruiter, sourcer, or thief can ask the right people the right questions to get started accessing your personal information and even steal your identity.
What Percoco’s team did was look for pathways. The same way a thief rarely comes through your front door, these ethical hackers started with the points of least resistance and they devised a plan. Their plan actually accounted for multiple entry points and back-up plans in case those methods failed.
Here’s the plan:
Without breaking into Penenberg’s home or stealing any of his physical possessions, the team quickly accessed his home computers, phone, financial information including credit cards and bank account passwords, social security number, iCloud account, Amazon credit card, and Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The thinking it took to devise each step in the plan fascinates me. It’s like a mental chess game. There are so many ways to win. It’s just a matter of making the right moves, anticipating the response, and planning 3 steps ahead. These individuals employed critical thinking, strategic thinking, problem solving, and creative thinking skills in the most unbelievable way!
The plan to have someone enroll in a Pilates class and leave a thumb drive behind is particularly interesting. A Good Samaritan could have easily plugged that thumb drive in to find the owner. When that failed, they relied on a nice person who would be willing to plug in the thumb drive to print a resume. They believed people would want to be helpful, and they were right. And that’s what most of these hacking/identity theft stories boil down to– one person wanting to be helpful who unknowingly provides key private information.
Earlier in the article, Penenberg talks about a private detective he once hired to see how much information he could glean about him. The techniques he used were less technical, but took just as much critical thinking. Who has information? Where is it stored? In what circumstances would that information be released? How do I assert myself as someone with the authority to have access to this information?
What we do online is never private. That’s a reality. You might think “What’s the harm in mentioning my dog’s name on a random Twitter post? I’m just an Average Joe, no one would want to steal my information.” Well, most people create passwords they can remember using personal information such as a spouse’s name, pet’s name, anniversary, birth date, favorite sports team, etc. So, what you share about your personal life online, although seemingly innocuous, could be all the breadcrumbs a thief needs to lead himself into your financial records.
Perhaps we need to start thinking like a thief. Before you post, ask yourself “What could someone do with this information?” The same way you look around your house and think “If someone wanted to break in here, how would they do it?” You need to take the same approach to the information you share and data you store. If Percoco’s team had been open to breaking laws, they could have probably done all of the same damage within a few hours. For example, if they broke into Penenberg’s home, chances are the password to his wifi network would be listed on his router. Why cable companies do this, I’ll never understand. Once they’ve accessed your wifi or broken into one computer, you may as well waive the white flag. You’re toast.
And don’t forget, you aren’t the only gatekeeper of your personal information. As mentioned in the article, anyone you have an account with can be an entry-point to identity theft. Your bank, your cell phone/cable provider, your gym, your employer and your mom. The critical thinking thief would ask himself “who is the most likely person to give me personal information?” These days, it’s probably not a professional working at the bank, but it could easily be the distracted front desk worker at the tanning salon or your mom who just wants to help you out.
Are you scared yet? I am. Take some time today to take stock of your physical and online life. What are the vulnerabilities? If you were a thief or fan of mischief, how would you cause trouble?
An individual recently contacted me asking my opinion on an effort to create critical thinking clubs in high schools. It sounds like a great idea, and I was excited about the concept as I began reading through the Club Manual. But then one particular section labeled “Common Misconceptions about Critical Thinking” stopped me dead in my tracks. It said:
“People often think of debaters as master critical thinkers and think of debate clubs as cultivating critical thinking. Debate clubs force the participants to argue for a position whether they agree with it or not. Thus, the participants learn verbal trickery and manipulation and further strengthen the natural human desire to win any and all arguments regardless of the actual objective merits of one’s position. Debate clubs cultivate sophistry, something deeply antithetical to critical thinking. In this way, debate clubs actually encourage the intellectual traits characteristic of the uncritical thinker, such as intellectual arrogance, intellectual callousness, and intellectual hypocrisy. Debate clubs help people believe what they want to believe through providing participants with the tools to persuade, which the participants will then go on to use to persuade others as well as themselves. “How could you possibly persuade yourself?” you may ask. Well, we may be faced with an inconvenient truth and use our persuasion skills to justify to ourselves taking the convenient option. Sophistry is a very dangerous monster.”
As someone who participated in Cross Examination Debate (now called Policy Debate), Extemporaneous Speaking, and went to Nationals in Student Congress (now called Congressional Debate), I was shocked by this negative characterization of debate teams. Certainly every debate team is different, and relies mostly on the guidance of the debate coach, but my experience on the debate team was fundamental in developing me as a critical thinker.
I don’t know what debate club this individual was exposed to, but I can definitively say that his characterization of the skills taught in debate is completely false based on my personal experience.
That made me think about all of the critical thinking skills I learned and practiced in high school debate. Here are a few of the most important ones:
1) Research- Each year when the National Forensic League released the resolution for Policy Debate, the debate team would camp out at the library and begin feverishly researching every detail of the topic. Certainly, the method of researching debate topics has changed since I was in high school, but the fundamentals are the same. My team always went to local colleges to do research because they had access to more resources and databases like Lexis Nexis. Today, I’m sure all of the research is done from home very easily. Regardless, we started by researching everything we could about the main topic and then drifted into all of the sub-topics that would inevitably make up the opposition’s affirmative case. We looked for evidence that would prove the affirmative and evidence that would support the negative. We had to ask questions about what we read like “What does this mean?” ”What do the experts say?” ”What is missing from this argument?” We printed thousand and thousands of articles in order to “cut cards” and identify key evidence to support our arguments. Learning what and how to research is a critical thinking skill that continues to help me be an informed citizen today.
2) Source and credibility- In addition to the research questions I mentioned above, another big question we always asked was “Says who?” Who wrote this? What is his/her experience? What is his/her motivation? We were taught not only to listen to what was being said, but to dig into the credibility of the source as well. For example, my assumption is that the individual who wrote the excerpt above clearly has very strong negative opinions on high school debate clubs. He writes about high school debaters in a very general way, and seems to speak with authority. So I would be inclined to ask “Were you a member of a high school debate team?” ”How many high school debaters have you known?” ”How many high school debate classes have you attended?” ”What experience with high school debaters, debate coaching lessons, and debate tournaments has brought you to this conclusion?”
3) Logical Fallacies- Evidence is only half of the equation in debate. Developing and delivering an argument is where the real skill of a debater can be found. In debate, I learned not only to avoid making logical fallacies when I structured my argument so that I would have a strong case, but I also learned how to identify the logical fallacies and persuasive techniques used by others. I think of debate as inoculating me against these kinds of rhetorical devices or sophistry. I can easily identify a Red Herring, Slippery Slope argument, False Dilemma, and am a much more critical listener when I hear things such as an Appeal to Emotion. When I hear a logical fallacy or persuasion technique, I stop and dig deeper into the actual content of the argument so that I can find out why such a technique is being used. This, again, is a very important critical thinking skill.
4) Argument Structure- Much like how English classes in high school teach you how to structure an essay, high school debate taught me how to structure an argument. To this day, I go back to these basics. You start by stating the topic. Define the premise, present and interpret evidence, and draw a conclusion. Does this sound familiar? It mirrors Pearson’s RED Model of Critical Thinking.
5) Understanding multiple points of view- While the author of the Club Manual I mentioned above feels that arguing both sides of an argument creates sophistry and intellectual hypocrisy, I believe this is both false and illogical. One of the greatest life skills I learned in high school debate was that any topic can be argued from both sides. This helped me build the mental flexibility necessary to not only seek to understand, but also respect multiple points of view. I learned that the world is not black and white, but many shades of gray. I learned that people who oppose my personal values, beliefs, and opinions were not necessarily wrong, but used a different set of life experiences, evidence, and values to draw their own conclusions. I believe that learning how to argue both sides of the same topic, regardless of my actual beliefs, was one of the greatest critical thinking lessons high school debate taught me.
6) The value of asking questions- One of my favorite parts of Policy Debate was the cross examination. I loved asking questions. I loved being forced to think on my feet. I loved working to determine which questions were the most important questions to ask. When you only have 3 minutes to ask key questions so you can fully understand the opposition’s case and also find holes in their arguments, you must choose your questions carefully. So many critical thinking techniques boil down to asking the right questions.
7) Distinguishing Fact from Opinion- Distinguishing Fact from Opinion may not seem like a difficult exercise, but when opinions are stated as facts it becomes more difficult. High school debate taught me to be a critical listener. It is easy to hear a statistic and believe the statement is fact, when often the statistic is wrapped in an opinion. You have to be able to parse out the fact from the opinion in a sentence. For example, “XYZ Company’s Q4 earnings rose by 7%, so they are having a good year.” There is a mixture of both fact and opinion in that sentence. Breaking down the structure of sentences and arguments in order to separate fact from opinion has become a key critical thinking and business skill I still use today.
8) Separating debate from personal feelings- High school debate helped me learn how to converse and debate a topic without taking the opposition’s arguments personally. It is so easy for passion to turn into finger-pointing, accusations, and personal attacks. How many times have you seen someone unfriend a Facebook friend because they can’t handle the friend having an opposing point of view? It takes critical thinking skills to be able to separate emotions from a rational argument.
There are so many other important things I learned on the debate team such as the importance of dressing professionally, note-taking, teamwork, communication skills, healthy competition, and being a good winner and loser. But the greatest skill I learned, practiced, and refined every weekend was critical thinking. Additionally, because these skills were practiced in a competitive setting with a judge present, I received constant feedback about what was and was not effective so that I could continue to improve my critical thinking skills.
Again, not every debate team, debate coach, or high school debater is the same. My experience on the debate team helped me become the critical thinker I am today. Certainly some debaters use verbal trickery over creating a well-reasoned case. There are great debate coaches and assistant coaches like mine who didn’t allow us to entertain lazy thinking. There are also poor debate coaches who only teach the strategy to win and not critical thinking. There will always be people who take shortcuts in this world. However, arguing that the skills taught in debate clubs are antithetical to critical thinking is an unsubstantiated claim.
Were you a member of a high school debate team? How did that experience impact your critical thinking skills?
Have you seen the movie World War Z?
If not, then you might not want to read the rest of this post as it will contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.
But really, you should go rent the movie soon. Even if you think the popularity of zombies has gone way too far (much like bacon and nutella these days), you will likely still find value in the movie in terms of it’s critical thinking lessons. Not only is the ending of the movie a great lesson in the critical thinking technique of deviation analysis, but I was particularly impacted by the discussion of the Tenth Man Strategy.
In World War Z, there was only one country that was surprisingly well-prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Shortly before the zombie apocalypse virus started spreading, Isreal built a giant concrete wall to keep zombies out. That begs the question….how did they know?! Why were they the only country that was prepared for something that seemingly no one expected? They built the wall because of the Tenth Man Strategy.
As a way to stop being unprepared for surprises and tragedies, the leadership in Israel instituted the Tenth Man policy, where if 9 men agreed on something, then it was the responsibility of the 10th man to disagree and plan for that situation…no matter how unlikely it may seem. So, when Israel saw an email that talked about zombies, even though 9 men scoffed at how preposterous it seemed, it was the responsibility of the 10th man to take the possibility seriously and create a strategy around it. Hence, the wall.
This strategy isn’t particularly novel or extraordinary. After all, it is really just a formal way to avoid groupthink, but as we all get wrapped up in our day to day activities at work, how often do we really consider and prepare for the unlikely? Almost never. In fact, it might even be discouraged. In the World War Z example, can you imagine the 10th man explaining that Israel needed to spend millions of dollars to build a giant wall just in case an unheard of zombie virus was real? How easy is it for you to get budget to start projects that are likely to be profitable? Probably pretty difficult in today’s economy.
But the results can be incredible. It’s like applying a Disaster Preparedness Strategy across everything you do. As a team, get together this week and talk about the value of differing opinions and the danger of groupthink. Make a decision that as a team, one person will always serve as Devil’s Advocate (or the Tenth Man). See how just considering the impossible opens your mind up to new ideas and makes you more prepared for the worst case scenario.
Does your team use a technique like the Tenth Man? How has it worked for you?
How To Use Mind Mapping In The Critical Thinking Process
Guest Post by Virginia Cunningham
Generating new ideas can be a challenge. Writer’s block can hit you like a ton of bricks just when you need to develop some new concepts and ideas for work or personal use. Whether you are trying to write an essay, come up with some ideas for work, or just be a better critical thinker, mind maps have been proven as a successful tool to engage your brain in an analytical and artistic manner.
What Is Mind Mapping?
A mind map is a creative and visual way to outline information. It’s a diagram of sorts, which is used as a rough draft for whatever particular goals you are working on. Your main focus will be in the middle, and from there, it branches out with different words and connected concepts. Mind mapping can turn one lonely, central thought into a fully formed idea, making it the ideal way to fight writer’s block.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is the process of analyzing information and evidence to decide whether a conclusion is true or not. If the world was without critical thinking, we would still believe many outdated things that aren’t true, such as the world being flat and the Earth being the center of the universe. By using observation, analysis, evidence, context and inference, you can decide whether an assertion is true or not. Critical thinking is essential for students, those in the scientific and medical field, psychologists and educators of all kinds.
How Does Mind Mapping Relate to Critical Thinking?
It can be difficult to think critically about an idea or concept without putting it down on paper. Sometimes, when we think, our thoughts fly out too quickly to think coherently. A mind map can ensure that you get all of your thoughts about an issue down on paper in a lucid and organized manner. With the use of a mind map, you can use the evidence and information to make connections you might not have been able to make without it.
How Can You Use a Mind Map to Think Critically?
A mind map can be used in a myriad of ways to think critically about an idea or subject. First, you can take notes using a mind map to keep all the ideas organized and at hand. It can also be used in planning and brainstorming ideas. If you are using multiple sources for your critical thinking, a mind map can organize and consolidate that information is a useful way.
Creativity is often fostered when using a mind map. And, in the end, you can use a mind map to present your critical thinking information to a second party.
How Do You Mind Map?
The process of mind mapping is simple. Begin in the middle of a blank page with a central idea and connect that idea with associated subtopics with a line, like a branch from a tree. Repeat that process as long as you need– it’s helpful to use different colors to connect different ideas.
Using as few words as possible to get across your idea on paper is the best way save space and keep your map simple. Drawings and symbols add creativity to any mind map as well. If you feel more comfortable using a computer to mind map, there are plenty of paid and open source mind mapping software programs you can use.
If you are struggling with a new concept for either personal or business use, creating a mind map can help push you in the right direction as your creativity has the chance to flow freely. Whether you create a mind map the traditional way or online, you will be able to better organize your thoughts– you will likely be surprised at how effective this process truly is!
Virginia Cunningham is a health writer for Northwest and mother who uses mind maps on a daily basis. When it comes to brainstorming new concepts, she likes to meditate as well to organize her thoughts prior to starting a new mind map.