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Published on March 5, 2020

11 Characteristics of a Critical Thinker

11 Characteristics of a Critical Thinker

One of the most valued skills to have in life is the ability to think critically. It’s valued by many employers as it allows someone to sift through information and discriminate between what’s useful and what’s less useful.

Overall, it’s our ability to analyze information and for us to make a reasonable judgement call.[1] But what exactly does that entail? What characteristics of a critical thinker do we need to focus on?

It’s important to know this because a critical thinker has a specific set of characteristics and mindset. After all, a critical thinker isn’t all about gathering information. They’re analyzing it and using it to make decisions and fix problems.

If you want to evaluate your critical thinking, it’s easy. Since this is considered a skill, you can turn to skill tests in this area. Consider the Critical Thinking Test or Wabisabi Learning’s Critical Thinking Assessment, which covers 6 categories: Questioning abilities, Use of information, Keeping an open mind, Drawing conclusions, Communication & collaboration, and Self-awareness.

But one other alternative is comparing your current skill set with the characteristics that I’ll provide below. Now, there are several skills that form the characteristics of a critical thinker, but so long as you are comparing the appropriate skill to the other, you should be able to develop yourself further in this area.

Here you will find 11 characteristics of a critical thinker:

1. Having Curiosity

If you want to be an effective critical thinker, you need to be curious about your surroundings and of the world. Those who are curious begin the learning process as they first ask a question and begin looking for the answer.

But the thing is they do this for a wide range of topics rather than in one niche area. So it’s also fair to say that they have a healthy curiosity about the world and people as well. They have an appreciation and even fascination for cultures, different beliefs and views that differ from their own but also are aligned with theirs.

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2. Being Compassionate

Critical thinking isn’t all about having a lot of intelligence. While it’s important to have those skills, it’s important to remember that we’re still human, and we have emotional and instinctual aspects.

The world today is already full of judgement and segregation, so you’re not helping much if you only focus on the information and parsing it.

Remember, everyone has a story that made them into who they are. We’ve all gone through challenges and trials that have shaped our lives into what we are today. Critical thinkers know this and celebrate the uniqueness of everyone.

3. Having High Awareness

Awareness also plays an important role. This characteristic allows us to know when to use critical thinking.

The more you are aware of everything, the more you begin to see the opportunities to apply these skills. For all of this to happen, you need to be tuned in to the world and be present.

Critical thinkers also have a healthy skepticism. They don’t take things at face value. They will fall onto other skills. Whether it’s asking questions – showing curiosity – or something else.

This characteristic forms the foundation of problem-solving skills as a critical thinker.

4. Being Decisive

Often times, problems that call for critical thinking also demand that we take quick and decisive action. Critical thinking is about weighing our options and imagining the potential outcomes from the decisions, and how fast they can be set in motion.

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To do this, set aside your own fears when making decisions. Sometimes, you have to accept the fact that you’re not going to have all the information you need. Accepting not every decision is the best is important.

5. Having Total Honesty

Honesty is a good policy as they say but, it’s key as a critical thinker too.

Moral integrity, ethical consideration and the actions that we take are all hallmark characteristics of critical thinkers. And it all stems from them being honest.

Honesty also extends to how we look at ourselves and embrace who we are. It requires managing our emotions and controlling impulses, as well as recognizing when we are deceiving ourselves. These things are what make us human, so it’s not something we can remove.

As such, critical thinkers are accepting of not only others around them, but to themselves too.

6. Having Willingness

This is a characteristic that goes hand in hand with flexibility.

Think of this similar to the growth mindset, if we don’t have willingness or flexibility, our attitude towards learning is going to be non-existent. We will also be resist to change and believe whatever we or others tell us. This behavior is similar to a fixed mindset.

On the other hand, when we have these skills, we learn to revise opinions, make changes, and have an eagerness to learn and develop further in other areas. We have a keen eye for growth.

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7. Being Creative

While you wouldn’t think critical thinkers are creative people, they are. Creativity is quintessential for a critical thinker as so many positions demand new and creative solutions.

Think about marketing, building professional relationships, these things require creativity. Consider the idea of innovation which is nothing but taking the norms of a specific industry and rearranging them into something new.

8. Thinking Analytically

Of course, being able to analyze information is another important aspect of critical thinkers. Critical thinkers look at various forms of information and analyze it; be it reports, statements, business models, or relationships.

Good use of analytical skills is being able to break information into sections and evaluating them alone and collectively.

9. Drawing Inference

Not all information is spelled out for us. There’s a lot of things that are inferred. It’s important to be able to assess information and base conclusions on the data and evidence.

However, there is a difference between inferring something and making assumptions. For example, if I told you I weigh 230 pounds, what would you think?

An assumption would be that you determine that I’m overweight or am unhealthy. But inferring would be looking at other data points like height and body composition in determining what a healthy weight for a person is.

10. Communicating Clearly

Critical thinkers communicate clearly. They are able to explain and communicate in a concise manner. As a result, they are also attentive and active listeners.

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Critical thinking is the tool to build thoughts and express them; this means explaining the line of reasoning and the thought process.

11. Determining Relevance

One last characteristic of a critical thinker is determining what is and isn’t useful. This comes down to determining the relevance of information.

To grow this skill, piece together what information is the most important, meaningful and relevant to your situation. There are so many cases where information may seem important but isn’t important in this particular situation. On the other hand, the information could be meaningful and relevant, but it might not be important in solving the current issues.

All in all, you’ll need to be able to look at the source information and determine if it’s logically relevant to what you’re dealing with.

Final Thoughts

The characteristics of a critical thinker is vast and there is no particular bath of skills that make critical thinkers. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Henry Ford and many others were critical thinkers. But how they approached their problems and challenges were all completely different.

Remember that we don’t need to be like them; rather, focus on some of the traits that defined them as great thinkers. The characteristics I mentioned above should help you in this journey.

More Tips about Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person

How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person

There are several perspectives on the term systems thinking. The discipline goes beyond a collection of tools and techniques. A lot of individuals are fascinated by tools like brainstorming tools, structural thinking tools, dynamic thinking tools, as well as computer-based tools. They believe the system thinking tools can make them smarter and productive. However, it goes beyond that as systems thinking is more strategic and sensitive to the environment we find ourselves.

So what is systems thinking and why is it good for you?

What Is Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is a diagnostic tool that can help you to assess problems before taking action. It helps you to ask questions before arriving at conclusions. It prevents you from making an assumption, which is the lowest level of knowledge.

A systems thinker is curious, compassionate, and courageous. The systems thinking approach incorporates the act of seeing the big picture instead of seeing in parts. It recognizes that we are connected, and there are diverse ways to solve a problem.

Characteristics of Systems Thinking

Systems thinking can help you in analyzing the connections between subsystems and understanding their potentials to make smarter decisions.

In a soccer team, the elements are the coach, players, the field, and a ball. The interrelationships are strategies, communications among players, and game rules. The goal is to win, have fun and exercise. We all belong to several systems and subsystems.

Some characteristics of systems thinking include:

  • Issue is important
  • The issue is familiar with well-known patterns
  • Attempts have been made to resolve the issue.

Given these characteristics, systems thinking goes beyond an operational tool; it is a strategic approach and a philosophy.

How to Use Systems Thinking

Here’re 3 ways you can use systems thinking:

1. Understand How the System Works and Use Feedback Points

The first task is to know what system is all about and identify the leverage points or feedbacks that influence its functioning. This is what will help in adjusting the system.

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If you want the system to be productive, enhance the feedback points. If you want it to be less productive, exhaust the same points.

A good example is that of a bathtub. The leverage points are the faucet and the drain. If you forget to close the drain, having turned on the water, the water will never stop flowing, and the tub will never overflow.

If you want more water, close the drain while you turn the water. If otherwise, turn the faucet off and open the drain. You can apply this to your personal development.

Once you discover the feedback points in your life, find your leverage or feedback points, then enhance those points. If you want to be fit, get a trainer, find a mentor, or eat healthy foods.

2. Discover the Patterns, Structure, and Events

Trends and patterns could be compared to clues for a crossword puzzle. As you aspire to enhance the system, trends and patterns offer you hints and cause to shift your paradigm. Usually, they can direct you to unusual and unexpected aspects, to ideas, people, or places you have never thought about.

Smart people watch out for trends and patterns so they can be conversant with changes.

You can view the world from 3 different perspectives:

i. The Event Perspective

If you consider the world from an event perspective, the best you can do is to be smarter is ‘react’. You tend to be smarter by reacting quickly, becoming more lighter on your feet, and flexible as you advance through life.

So how do you view the world from an event perspective? You ask a question like, ‘What happened?’.

There is the possibility of becoming more aware and seeing more at this level. An excellent technique to achieve this is by telling a story to a group. If you can see beyond each event, see beyond patterns and trends, you will be empowered to anticipate, predict, and plan.

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ii. Pattern Perspective

To view the world from a pattern perspective, you need to ask, ‘What has been happening?’

It is most times difficult to see the actual size of an iceberg (underlying structures that are the causes of events). The waterline dissects what’s visible from what’s not visible.

A systems thinker does not assume from what’s visible only; he or she seeks to know what has been happening.

Take a look at this video to understand more about the Iceberg Theory:

 

iii. The Structure Perspective

To view the world from a structure perspective, you need to ask, ‘what is causing issues?’ The answers will be the factors and forces responsible.

If you find yourself in a traffic jam, you don’t blame the next driver as a smart person; you could ask, ‘what’s been causing the traffic jam?

The usual answers could be a decaying road surface, careless driver, or high speed, but that would be the same things identified as trends. What makes the structure perspective different from others.

The structure is what propels your energy. It is what affects happenings. A systems thinkers make deductions based on internal structures to arrive at a conclusion

3. People Problems vs System Problems

Several issues ranging from security breaches, product flaws, poverty, to transportation inefficiencies are systemic.

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Even when you misbehave, there is usually an internal system to blame.

If you are not productive in your business, it may not be caused by you. There may be a system that you need to enhance.

Do you remember our feedback points? As soon as you assess the system, you can focus on people. Is a new hire causing lag in the packaging process? Is poor communication affecting the team’s performance? Reallocating job roles may be a perfect leverage point.

In the traffic jam example, there could be a system-based solution such as installing traffic lights and subsequently enforcing traffic laws in the area to penalize reckless drivers.

How to Foster Learning with Systems Thinking

Systems thinking helps you to appreciate the interrelationships of people, organizations, policies, decisions, ideas, and relationships.

Peter M Senge propounded five disciplines that foster learning in your DNA- whether you are leading an organization, starting a venture, or working as a freelancer.[1]

1. Gain Mastery

You can take online courses, attend conferences, read blog articles and books, listen to podcasts, converse with leaders within and beyond your industry, watch documentaries, learn from your team, and stretch yourself by improving your skills.

2. Discover Your Assumptions and Biases

There was this parable of four blind men who made different assumptions about an elephant. Their assumptions and biases hinder them from understanding how the animal looks like.

Biases can rob you of innovation and prevent you from experiencing personal growth. To become aware of your biases, you have to take an internal trip and engage breakthrough thinking.

3. Establish Your Vision

Systems grind to a halt when the goal or mission is not defined. You will not have the motivation to complete the online course if you don’t know why you subscribe in the first place.

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Is it for career advancement? To up your game or to gain general knowledge? Vision inspires you.

4. Learn in Groups

There is power in shared learning. There is a solidification of understanding when you learn in a group. You can have the lessons etched in your long term memory.

For instance, you can join learning groups where information is shared weekly.

5. Think in Systems

Systems thinking is about lifelong learning and improvement. It has also been linked to the Iceberg principle, which affirms that visible events are insignificant compared to what’s visible. There’s more ice below the waterline than what you can see with your physical eyes.

Anytime you are battling with a challenge, think in systems. Understand the details of the issue. Discover your leverage points. Assess, adapt, and keep improving your models.

After all. If you meet a lion in the wild, you need to understand what you are facing.

Final Thoughts

You can foster systems thinking by modeling your own environment. Participate in training, watch TED Talks, and create time to connect with others.

Also, practice critical thinking instead of making assumptions before you make a decision. The more you think systems, the more you will become smarter and productive in every aspect of your life.

More to Help You Think Smarter

Featured photo credit: Olav Ahrens Røtne via unsplash.com

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