Wouldn’t it be cool to have a superpower? People think that the ability to be invisible, to fly, or to have super strength like the Marvel heroes or the X-Men is something to aspire for. But one superpower that isn’t imaginary and anyone can develop is thinking critically. Thinking critically is the ability to actively engage with information rather than receiving it passively. It helps a person analyze facts, reason through arguments, evaluate data, solve problems and make decisions.
The reason why this is a superpower is that no matter who you are or what you do, you need to be able to think critically and you don’t need to be a mutant or a superhero to develop it. Thinking critically is a skill among leaders in any field or industry, from billionaire investor Warren Buffet to fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
So how can you become a critical thinker? We have five easy steps that can put you on the path:
In today’s day and age, there’s a barrage of information you have to deal with. Information comes at you from everywhere—friends and family, media, the internet. While this allows you to be better informed, it also leads to the possibility of believing fake news or falling prey to misinformation. To prevent this, develop a habit to cross-check what you read or hear rather than accepting it at face value. Are you reading about market trends from an astrologer or receiving political news from a biased publication or TV channel? Always look at the source of the information and see if it is relevant and unbiased.
Once the source is validated, ask questions before you conclude. Doing so will help you gain a clearer understanding of the situation and check the validity of any decision or conclusion. One way to do so is to follow the CAFE framework of Clarifying, Adjoining, Funneling, and Elevating questions. You can begin with Clarifying questions that shed light on something that wasn’t clear to you or where you needed more information. You can spark creative thinking by Adjoining questions to see if any uncovered aspects could lead you to different conclusions. Funneling questions help dive into the details and identify any loopholes. Finally, you can ask Elevating questions that will help you move beyond the details and see the bigger picture.
You may be a very knowledgeable person who is well-read. But no one can know everything. That’s why it’s important to seek expertise in fields you have limited knowledge of. Take the current scenario of COVID-19 as an example. You can do a quick web search and find endless information around COVID-19—about the precautions one should take, or the medicines for treatment. But when someone shows symptoms of COVID-19, they consult with a doctor. This is because a doctor has the relevant expertise to employ critical thinking in this situation, validate the information presented and then come to a conclusion or a diagnosis on whether it is COVID-19 or not. Similarly, a critical thinker seeks expert advice on the subject they have little or no information to be confident about their decisions.
Challenge your views
You may believe you are a critical thinker because you carefully think things through before making decisions. But more often than not, most of us are limited by our views and biases. The most prevalent of these is the confirmation bias, where we only seek information that supports our views and ignore anything contradictory. To be a critical thinker, you must learn to overcome this. Seek contradictory information whenever you’re nearing a conclusion, or get an opinion from someone who disagrees with you or read something that says otherwise. Seek opposing viewpoints to make the best possible decisions.
Whether you’re a professor, an industry expert, a successful entrepreneur, or a student, the mark of a critical thinker is being humble and knowing that your knowledge has limits. Even if you are the foremost expert on a subject, you might not always be right. Accepting this fact allows you to be more open to the world around you and consider information that you might otherwise ignore. Humility allows a person to be a lifelong learner and further develop the ability to think critically.
Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You need to constantly push yourself to validate information, ask relevant questions, seek help when you need it, challenge your views and most importantly, remain humble. With enough time and practice, you’ll soon become a habitual critical thinker.
(This article was first published in the Higher Education Review.)
Vrinda Prahladka is a graduate of the University of Southern California and the London School of Economics. A senior curriculum manager at Harappa Education, her claim to fame is that she’s met the Kardashians!
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