How to develop your workplace’s critical thinking capacity

How to develop your workplace’s critical thinking capacity

Critical thinking is a regular feature in most job advertisements. The capacity for, and ability to demonstrate critical thinking adds to the strength of a candidate, and is a frequent term used in most resumes and applications.

Over a three year period between 2012 to 2015, employer demand across all industries in Australia for critical thinking increased by 158%. Being able to demonstrate this skill was also linked to higher potential income, with employers willing to pay up to AU$7,745 more per year for workers with critical thinking.

The New Work Smarts report shows that critical thinking will be even more important by 2030 as technology begins to do more of the routine and manual tasks at work, workers will spend 41% more time on critical thinking than they do today.

But for a skill that is essential in the future of work, there’s no singular definition for it, or definitive way to demonstrate and measure it.

In the Australian Curriculum, critical thinking is referred to as “…students thinking broadly and deeply using skills, behaviours and dispositions such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation in all learning areas.” At the OECD level, critical thinking is divided into two components, the capacity to reflect on information (cognitive), and being open to unconventional thoughts (emotional).

This lack of clarity on what critical thinking is, can make it challenging for any young person today trying to articulate their critical thinking capacity in a job interview or apply critical thinking in their daily work. But there are techniques and resources to help current and future employees embed critical thinking in the way they work and teach them to be aware of when critical thinking is required.

One approach to critical thinking at work is using a structured (critical) thinking process. By using this process in the initial stages of a project, employees proactively approach issues that might arise later on. As an employer, you can encourage each of your staff to ensure their projects and tasks follow the structured thinking framework, and get them into the habit of using this to understand the scope of the work and the potential challenges in delivering that work.

Another way to build critical thinking at work is by applying the reflective urgency technique. This approach balances critical thinking with the need to make decisions quickly, and there are a number of ways to do this including:

  1. Acknowledging when work needs to be completed without interruption (where multi-tasking needs to be put on hold in order to achieve the best outcomes);
  2. Adding an extra time to meetings to allow space for problem solving;
  3. Avoiding focussing on completing smaller, administrative tasks (creating the sense of work accomplished but obstructing significant progress on bigger pieces of work).
  4. Asking critical questions about the work, but also the resources/team such as Who is in the room and why? What impact do I want to have in this space? What are the best outcomes and how can I achieve them here?

Using resources like TEDEd’s 5 steps to improve your critical thinking, can help develop a guide for applying critical thinking to problems and decisions in the workplace. Formulas like this are a great tool and can assist young people in navigating an unclear or abstract concept like critical thinking.

These simple steps to develop critical thinking are easy ways to support and empower our current and future workforce with the critical skills needed to thrive in a changing world of work.

To find out more about enterprise skills like critical thinking read FYA’s New Basics here.