Being critical for a moment

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc


The ability to think critically is a skill that we wish to encourage in our children.  In An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Creativity: Think More, Think Better, Joe Lau highlights 6 core elements that critical thinkers do. Critical thinkers:

  1. Understand the logical connections between ideas.
  2. Identify, construct, and evaluate arguments.
  3. Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
  4. Solve problems systematically.
  5. Identify the relevance and importance of ideas.
  6. Reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values.

These 6 elements can all be learnt, taught, trained, (insert your word of choice here). Simple question – how many L&D professionals create the environment where these skills and abilities can be created, honed, developed and practiced in the workplace?

I asked a question on Twitter:

Do we assume people in the workplace are able, and encouraged, to critically think?

The always excellent Sukh Pabial replied:

Very few roles require critical thinking capability. Most need problem solving and customer service attitude.

Isn’t it a little bit sad? What are we doing when we recruit people with the promise that they’re joining an open organisation where innovation is encouraged?

It feels like a role design issue – are we designing from behind competency frameworks and appraisal systems because it makes things easier to control?

What do you think?  Are we encouraging critical thought in the workplace?  Should we? If we are, how are L&D supporting it?

All comments gratefully received.

18 thoughts on “Being critical for a moment

  1. I think that L&D isn’t responsible for everything.

    I do think that it’s a design issue; managers have become disconnected from a core part of their role; mentoring and guiding their people. Recruitment has been streamlined and accountability distanced from the line so the design flaw starts there. Your points 1-6 surely form the fundamental basis of any dialogue between managers (from CEO onwards through the org) and yet, I constantly meet with people – at all levels who have very limited 1-1 time with their manager, and for whom team meetings are a chore.

    What L&D do to support it? Perhaps employing these six elements….?


    1. Thanks for the insight Meg; if L&D is changing to a performance support function the 6 points would be core to the function’s practice. However, as you say, they should also form part of the DNA of the organisation. And if it doesn’t exist in the organisation? Should we be letting the CEO know?


  2. I train a lot in the US, mainly middle managers with c 10 years’ or so experience in the same hi tech company. Sadly I have to report that the majority of them have given up on innovation and critical thinking, and have slipped into a rut of treading the easiest path.

    They are in survival mode, and going with the flow even when they know there is a better way is the only way they can see of getting through their working day.

    As a result, by their own admission, they estimate (using a simple diagnostic that I have developed) they are wasting up to 3 days per week doing things they recognise they shouldn’t be doing.

    Unfortunately one reason they keep doing this is that their company’s annual revenues are $50 billion plus, so the impetus for change is weak.


  3. Our problem (if there is one and I think there is) with critical thinking is the word. Critical might imply negative – criticism of course is the word but I feel it could be partly responsible – and there’s a lot that shy away from the conflict negativity brings. It is also not that popular to be negative or critical as it implies dour, sour and rejecting possibilities.

    Critical also means must have. Not so negative now. It is critical we make more money…however we feel a pressure to deliver on critical aspects so we might demonise the word even more.

    So can we consider re labelling (not in a made up word trite way) critical thinking so it becomes more the uber useful skill you portray above?

    Maybe part of L&Ds help for organisation success through skillful people, is to repackage this and build more belief and positive feelings about critical thinking?

    Not being critical, or highlighting a criticality but perhaps we can be more discerning about our use of the “critical” word.

    Great blog BTW.


  4. Great post, Andrew and great comments too. It is sad that people do not do this as a part of their work, whatever that might be. It is this process that keeps the neurons firing. Surely the best thing L&D pros can do is start putting all 6 elements into action, or learn how to if they can’t currently.

    @perry – I don’t think this concept needs to be repackaged. Critical thinking is a hugely positive and necessary part of what humans do. Maybe L&D and other colleagues in the org need to understand it first?


  5. Thanks for a great post Andrew. Sadly, I don’t believe critical thinking is integral to organisations especially where teams need to deliver quickly against targets. Quick wins are preferred. It’s a rare moment where we have the time to sit down, reflect, discuss, evaluate or consider options – we just do. It’s also political and the ego gets in the way.

    In my experience, critical thinking is not valued as it’s seen as obstructionist and misaligned with populist view in organisations.


  6. And I think as l and d practitioners too often we spoon feed people. Z digest concepts and ideas for them and present them to be picked up uncritically. On the leadership development programme I am currently running I’m turning this on their head and getting them to seek content for their peers and to endanger discussions about the ideas others are finding. It feels unfamiliar to them but they are getting into it with enthusiasm. Is this the only way to look at x or think about y is the kind of thinking I am encouraging.
    Thanks for your blog!


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