Critical Thinking

Kevin Miller discusses how personal biases and ego can be impediments to critical thinking.

At the heart of addressing our biggest individual and societal challenges–as well as creating and leveraging new opportunities–is critical thinking. Absent critical thinking, it is nearly impossible for a person to achieve their potential, develop the best solution to a challenge, or fully take advantage of an opportunity. The same is true of groups. Without the ability of group members to think critically, the collective outcomes will be compromised.

In another section of Know Power, Know Responsibility, a similar statement is made about integrity. That is because integrity and critical thinking go hand-in-hand. To have personal integrity requires a person to objectively reflect on how their actions align with their personal values and beliefs. To think critically requires being honest with oneself about biases, prejudices, and experiences that are unduly influencing one’s thoughts.

What is critical thinking?

If you want to explore it in depth, visit the website of The Foundation for Critical Thinking (www.criticalthinking.org). You may find the intellectual discussion there to be a bit daunting, so here’s my simpler take. Critical thinking is accounting for one’s biases, prejudices, and experiences in order to objectively consider ideas, opinions, information, and other mental elements and tasks. Further, critical thinking is being able to recognize when information and communication are presented in ways that create actual impediments to true objectivity.

Essentially, when someone is thinking critically, they are open to discovering the unvarnished and objective truth where such exists; where things are not so absolute, a person who is thinking critically will be open to the various perspectives and possibilities that are present. In other words, a critically thinking person is open to hearing and considering all opinions, ideas, and thoughts.

Probably most important of all, a critically thinking person recognizes their own fallibility and is open to admitting personal errors in judgment and wrong opinions and is willing to change their mind.

Why is critical thinking so important?

Critical thinking is such a crucial skill because the alternative is to be accepting of ideas, opinions, solutions, etc. without fully considering other potentially better options. In the scope of pursuing one’s potential–and expanding that potential–critical thinking allows a person to break through the limiting opinions of others or of oneself to see that further growth and improvement is possible.

In the area of solving problems, critical thinking allows one to ensure they are addressing the actual problem, rather than one or more symptoms, and to avoid limiting possible solutions–especially based on biases and prejudices.

As for creating or leveraging opportunities, critical thinking significantly expands the range of possibilities as well as avoiding doubts and pessimism and/or the opinions of naysayers.

All of these reasons also apply to groups, but there are additional reasons for groups. Each group member is affected by the reasons attributed to individuals for needing to think critically. To ensure every member is putting forth their best effort requires that each is thinking critically. Further, group members can become their own impediments to effective critical thinking. Sometimes this stems from members being very similar and so group think sets in. Other times, friction between members may hinder open sharing or raise emotional levels. The ability of all members to think critically allows the group to collectively overcome these challenges and develop significantly better outcomes.

Critical thinking, power, and responsibility