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Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

What are Critical Thinking & Problem-Solving?

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein

Critical thinking and problem-solving are core skills that teach students to question or reflect on their own knowledge and information presented to them. These are essential skills for students working on assignments or conducting research. They are the ability to actively use reason to analyze issues, make decisions, and ultimately overcome problems.

Developing critical thinking skills in the workplace is important because it helps students, interns, and employees more effectively diagnose problems and identify possible solutions that aren’t entirely obvious at first. It encourages curiosity and is one of the most valuable skills when it comes to working on a team.

Problem-solving consists of using more general or more precise methods in an orderly fashion to find solutions to problems encountered in life or work. The phrase has a varying meaning depending on the discipline it’s acknowledged under. For example, it is a cognitive process in psychology and a computer-operated process in computer science.

Solving Different Types of Problems

There are two types of problems: imprecise and explicit. Of course, different problem-solving methods are required for each. Explicit problems have specific aims and clear solutions, while imprecise problems do not. Explicit problems permit much better planning and preparation than imprecise problems. Solving problems revolves around dealing with pragmatism, the way that context contributes to meaning, and semantics contribute to the clarification and interpretation of the problem.

The ability to understand what the objective is, and what rules must be implemented represents the key to solving your problem. Sometimes, the problem requires abstract thinking or coming up with a creative solution.

7 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

  1. Ask basic questions
    1. Most of the time, seeking a solution becomes more difficult and complex than the question or problem originally is. Keep going back to the root of it all and keep yourself grounded on that original issue for better clarity.
  2. Never assume
    1. When unsure of something, set aside your assumptions and question them. That is exactly where innovation and ground-breaking discoveries happen! Ask Albert Einstein!
  3. Be aware of your mental processes
    1. The human brain naturally uses mental shortcuts to interpret our surroundings. A critical thinker is aware of this cognitive bias and how it evidently influences decisions and solutions that originally appear to be objective and neutral. We all have biases in our thinking process. Being aware of those is precisely what makes critical thinking possible.
  4. Think in reverse
    1. A fun yet efficient way to find a solution to an issue is to try and reverse things. It may appear crystal clear to you that A causes B, but what if B caused A? Even if you end up noticing that the reverse isn’t true, nor is it a solution, considering it can still help you on the right path to discovering a solution.
  5. Evaluate the existing evidence
    1. When trying to solve an issue, it’s always insightful to look at other people’s work previously done in the same discipline or area of expertise. There’s no purpose to start solving a problem entirely anew when the groundwork has already been laid out for you! Mind you, no copying, only inspiration!
  6. Think for yourself
    1. Thinking for yourself is one of your most powerful tools, yet not so easy to do, precisely because of the outer influences we are constantly subjected to. Of course, do rely on outer sources when lost and in need to build up your knowledge, but remember to do your thinking on your own as well: it is essential in order to answer your difficult questions.
  7. Remember: you can’t think critically all the time
    1. You can’t critically think all the time and that is perfectly fine. Critical Thinking is merely a tool you whip out when needed: for difficult problems and important decisions.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

7 Tips for Effective Problem-Solving

  1. Clearly identify the issue
    1. Understanding your problem clearly is the key to solving it. But that’s not all, you also need to consider that your teammates will have different perspectives on this same problem. Your first mission is to be crystal clear on your issue at hand.
  2. Identify and understand everyone’s interests
    1. This is a critical step that is very often forgotten! Interests represent the needs you want to be satisfied by any sort of solution. Hence, the best solution to your problem is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests. The point here is to understand everybody: where they’re coming from and where they’re going.
  3. List your options
    1. This is brainstorming time! Let your creativity run wild and list all the solutions coming to mind. There are no good or bad answers, only solutions that work out or don’t.
  4. Evaluate your options
    1. Now that you’ve listed your options, you’ll need to analyse them. Honestly, review all your proposed solutions but mind not to step on the selection of your options! Here, you are only discussing which option is best and balancing the scales.
  5. Select your option(s)
    1. Scale your elected solutions: which is best? Can they be jumbled together to better solve the issue at hand?
  6. Write it down
    1. While this may seem like a very simple tip, you can’t rely only on memory, as it is a very fickle thing! Better to be safe than sorry and write your solution down. Besides, it will help you finalize the details.
  7. Mind contingencies, monitor, and evaluate
    1. Last but not least, you will need to think up some contingencies because circumstances may change: plan for the foreseeable future. You also need to think up how to monitor the efficiency of your solution, and finally, evaluate this same solution: does it need to be better tailored, or rather widened?

Improve your Critical Thinking & Problem-Solving Skills with a Course!

Skills Course: Workplace Basics for Graduates (Now Available!)

This course is designed to equip all students and recent graduates with the basic skills needed when entering the workplace. There will be a large focus on understanding how to adapt from in-person to remote work in regards to productivity and time management, communication and the use of digital platforms. The course will also provide learners with the skills needed to identify their current skillset, recognise the skills they’re lacking, and provide actionable examples of how to improve these and meet employer’s demands.

Sources & Additional Resources

  1. TEDx Talk: Encourage Critical Thinking with 3 Questions – Brian Oshiro
  2. TEDx Talk: Critical Thinking: The Next Step in Human Evolution – Vegard Møller
  3. TEDx Talk: How Languages Shape the Way We ThinkLera Boroditsky
  4. TEDx Talk: The Surprising Secret that Solves your Problems Quickly – Collins Key
  5. TEDx Talk: Find Problem, Solve Problem – Arian Glantz
  6. TEDx Talk: Working Backward to Solve Problems – Maurice Ashley
  7. What is Critical Thinking?
  8. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Critical Thinking
  9. 3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking
  10. What is Problem Solving?
  11. Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace
  12. The Skills of Problem Solving
  13. 7 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills