I am convinced that one of the keys to success in the 21st century depends on well-developed critical thinking skills.

We talked a couple of weeks ago about active listening, one of the stumbling blocks to effective interviews if not done well.  We need to hone those active listening skills. I stated that I wanted to address two others that if not done well can sabotage our interviews.  Those two are critical thinking and ensuring understanding.  So, let’s look at critical thinking.  If you believe others should be on my list, please let me know.  In the meantime, let’s start thinking critically.  Are you ready? 

It’s no secret that the digital revolution has greatly impacted both our private and professional lives. And it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon. The arrival of 5G, advancements in AI, and the expansion of innovative digital platforms that have come to redefine business models are only just the very beginning of this exponential growth. In a world of such unprecedented advancement, how can one take the reins, make a change, and succeed?  I know for me it is a huge challenge, because technological I am not, nor am I really interested in it, but so to succeed, we must adapt.

As frustrating as it is to watch, I see way too many that take whatever “the screen” says and adopt it as their own.  I see it in business, government, politics, just about everywhere.  And once they take their position, they often become rabid about it, with little thought or analysis.  “I don’t care, that is what I think.”  I guess that is how things get to be trending with millions of views and likes and celebrities dictate trends they have no knowledge or insight about.

We, human beings possess the amazing ability to think critically, which allows us to look at and analyze things objectively. Skepticism must play a role, too. Thanks to critical thinking, we can refuse to accept things at face value and examine and verify anything before declaring it true. It also helps us go beyond our first impressions of any given subject to form rational, unbiased judgments.  However, critical thinking is like a muscle we must exercise and it shouldn’t be like the exercise bike we’ve stuck in the closet.  And when we consider the dynamic of investigations, audits, interviewing, etc., we better be Cross fitting to be ready.

In recent pieces written about having success in the digital age it comes down to critical thinking. We see two reasons for this:

First off, critical thinking is what distinguishes us from machines. Technological tools are becoming increasingly powerful and have already surpassed us in many ways. But with all of these skills, we possess something they will never have. We dominate the machines, thanks to our unique ability to critical think.

These skills are also important because they allow us to pick out the pertinent information from the constant flow that we receive. Machines drown us in data, but it’s up to us to analyze, evaluate, and judge its pertinence and accuracy. Critical thinking therefore helps us from being manipulated and misled.  Or it should.  Are you exercising that muscle?

And the good news is, these skills can be achieved, developed, and strengthened, much like the skills of interviewing that I speak about all the time.   Critical thinking experts have identified several good habits and tips that are easy to implement into our lives. Time management, for example, is crucial, due to the rate at which our digital society is going. Refusing to succumb to the hectic pace of various digital distractions helps us maintain our analytical skills and therefore control our environment. (I spoke to this a couple of weeks ago regarding distractions in this technological age).

Another piece of advice for each of us? Stop multitasking.  This behavior has become commonplace with the dominance of “screens.”  We are constantly jumping from one app to another.  At work, we also tend to manage many tasks at once.  Because of this, we lose our ability to be efficient and accurate.  Concentrating on one task at a time frees us from the tyranny of new technology.  And those of you that believe you do everything equally well when you multitask; you don’t!   We do not possess the cognitive ability to make that happen and to make that a successful reality.

There are so many resources on critical thinking that go even further and draw on philosophy. Since ancient times, philosophers have pondered how the human mind can comprehend the truth. They came up with tools and methods that are highly useful in the digital world of today, which has distorted how we view reality and reason.

Some things to be aware of and consider, for example:

  • That we be wary of our unconscious biases. We tend to believe our vision of reality, though this is often much deeper and more complicated than we may think. Pay heed to deeply entrenched beliefs!  (I just wrote on the issue of biases a couple of weeks ago; that are extremely damaging to good interviewing).
  • It is important we examine our convictions from multiple angles to fully grasp what’s true. The best way to do this is by refuting our beliefs rather than defending them. Don’t focus on what appears to be true, but on what cannot be proven false.  Learn to do the devils-advocate approach on those beliefs. (Learn more on employing this technique in interviewing in a future blog.)
  • Clarify preconceived notions from our reasoning.  What notions are hidden in our logical sequence of thought?  If we reject particular notions for being false, we’ll realize our reasoning is also and needs to be worked through, addressed, and modified.

Much like every other area we talk about we must effectively evolve and perform in this digital world.  This critical thinking must be applied across the board in our professional life, but also is essential to our personal lives, raising a family, and caring for others.  It applies to how we do planning, how we interview, how we ask questions, how we listen, and so many other relevant areas.

One area I am asked to instruct on that is also suffering from a lack of critical thinking and application is the written word.  Writing well is a must in this digital age, and in our business, we know it is our main bread and butter of conveying our work product.  Honing writing skills is a good way to succeed in a world that has gone digital.  Good writing and clear critical thinking are closely related.  Writing helps us clarify our thoughts and allows us to reflect on the best way to win over our audience, and promote our product, which is truth.  Delivering short, concise thoughts is a priority in today’s world.  However, it’s also important to take time to research, analyze, and properly structure ideas.  As a result, the message will be more effective and much more powerful.  Writing that is articulate and polished is more likely to gain the support of decisionmakers.  Finally, by focusing on our readers rather than ourselves, we wield the most influence over the product we produce.

So in this series we have looked at active listening, today we have examined critical thinking, and next week we will look at the importance of critical thinking when planning your interview progression.  After that we will finalize the series examining the importance of ensuring understanding, another critical component often lacking from the interview landscape.

Anderson Investigative Associates is positioned to custom tailor training to your specific needs.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss the issue of critical thinking or any training need, please reach out to me.  Additional issues pertaining to interviewing and investigations can be found in other blogs that I have written and are contained in most blocks of instruction that our company presents.

If you have additional questions, comments, or have an interviewing topic you would like me to address, give me a shout.  In the meantime, be well and stay safe out there.

Mark A. Anderson

Director of Training and Development

Anderson Investigative Associates, llc

114 Loucks Avenue

Scottdale, PA 15683