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Over several months, culminating with my certification in June, I participated in an online course at Pearson TalentLens’ Critical Thinking University. My intent was to improve my own capabilities and to be a better resource to my clients regarding critical thinking. To me, with such an immense amount of information available to us (overload!) and with so much of it merely “noise,” the ability to think critically and make sound decisions (at work and at home) is more important, yet more difficult, than ever.

The topics addressed by the Critical Thinking University course are captured in the book “Now You’re Thinking…Revolutionize Your Career…Transform Your Life.” The importance of critical thinking is summarized eloquently by Stedman Graham in the book’s Forward:

In our world today, it is important to learn the art of critical thinking. It takes critical thinking to cut through the noise of other people’s opinions swirling around you like the fog of darkness threatening to engulf your soul. Surrounded by pundits and pitchmen purveying mostly ungrounded assertions, you need a disciplined thought style to establish your own authentic identity. Sifting through experiences for the dream of a future uniquely yours is a task for critical thinking and development. When everybody has access to an avalanche of information, becoming a master thinker is very important in your life-long security.

The first part of this book is written as a story about a team of people who take it upon themselves to save the life of a terminally ill two-year-old girl.

Starting in the Middle East, the team, including United State military personnel, must deploy highly effective thinking to transcend rational, emotional, and political challenges along the way. It is an incredible, emotional story of determination, persistence, going above and beyond, and of employing sound critical thinking skills along the way.

The rest of the book focuses on your, the reader’s, thinking styles and abilities, as follows:

Chapter 1. How Your Mind Works-Some Assembly Required

The first thing to understand is that thinking is a skill, not an inherent gift, so it’s something that you can improve. Three important areas of your mind, according to the authors, are dreams (goals, desires), feelings, and thinking, and you want all three to be in sync. Dreams determine the direction of your behavior and so, to fully leverage your thinking skills, you need to know what is important in your life and what’s not.

Feelings create momentum and speed, which is necessary to go forward and take action. Emotions can better help you achieve a dream when they are under control, however, when your feelings and emotions get “amped up,” an imbalance is created which makes it more difficult to make good judgments.

The authors write that “Thinking plays a key role in recognizing and evaluating life-changing opportunities, solving complicated problems, and making wise decisions.” Thinking should also act as an emergency brake when feelings run too fast. Accessing your thinking side during everyday situations will greatly enhance your life, allowing you to be in control, shaping intentional behavior, and moving in a positive direction.

Chapter 2. A New Way of Thinking

An expert in any field learns to organize and group information around principles. That allows the expert to quickly draw information when needed. A novice organizes information in a more random and error-prone fashion. By putting a thinking model in your head, you are organizing important steps and information, which helps you learn more quickly and efficiently. A model, like a recipe, helps you see the ingredients and steps for success. Here are the five steps of a model that can become a valuable part of your own thinking.

Five Steps to New Thinking

1.  Stop and Think: Being able to stop and think is a reflective skill; it is the ability to stop and figure out what type of thinking skill you need at this point in time. By thinking reflectively, you put yourself in a position to identify the real problem, or to put small problems in perspective so that you don’t waste valuable time and energy.

2.  Recognize Assumptions: Assumptions, statements, or beliefs that you assume to be true operate almost automatically, so you take them for granted without checking the facts. They are useful because they save you time but The problem with assumptions is that sometimes they are wrong. So learn to recognize assumption by distinguishing fact from opinion and identifying stated versus unstated assumptions.

3.  Evaluate Information: Before you can jump on an opportunity, you need to evaluate its merits. When you are trying to choose between alternatives, you need to sort through their relative strengths and weaknesses. To make a good choice, you need to evaluate information. Ask yourself (over and over again): “Is the information relevant based on my keys for success?” and “Is the information accurate?” It is also important to look at the source of the information. Finally, ask yourself: “Am I being objective?” Through this question, you are pausing to look more carefully at what you are seeing or hearing.

4.  Draw Conclusions: We would like to think that we accurately evaluate the information and draw a conclusion that logically follows from the information; every time. Unfortunately, mistakes often occur at the intersection between evaluating information and drawing conclusions, including two common mistakes: jumping to conclusions and overgeneralization. Good decision making (or problem solving) is about drawing conclusions that logically follow from accurate and relevant information. Use deductive and inductive reasoning skills to make the connection between information and conclusion.

5.  Develop a Plan of Action: A plan of action helps you anticipate consequences and brings your decision to life. The type of planning needed depends, to a certain extent, on the type of decision. However, when you move from decision to action, three questions will get you off to a good start: What are the consequences of this decision? What plans need to be made to implement this decision? What types of resources are needed to implement this decision?

Chapter 3. Take Stock of Your Style

In this chapter, the authors discuss using the My Thinking Styles assessment to determine one’s preferred thinking styles. They then discuss the various resultant styles: Analytical, Inquisitive, Insightful, Open-Minded, Systematic, Timely, and Truth-Seeking; as well as how to make the best use of one’s own preferred thinking styles.

Chapter 4 is entitled Change Your Thinking… Revolutionize Your Career… Transform Your Life; and provides suggestions for putting the everything together for developing yourself as a great thinker. As the authors write: “Critical thinking is all about you taking charge of your own thinking and owning your life. Totally!”

The book wraps up by explaining some Common Mental Mind Traps, such as fundamental attribution error, self-serving bias, confirmation bias, anchoring, the framing effect, group think, optimism bias, planning fallacy, and sunk cost. If you would like to learn more, let us know and we’ll email you the portion of the book that addresses these Mental Mind Traps.

Note: A New of Way Thinking is based on Pearson’s RED model of critical thinking. The RED model (Recognize Assumptions, Evaluate Arguments, and Draw Conclusions) stems from more than 85 years of research on critical thinking. This program of research is based primarily on the Watson-GlaserTM II Critical Thinking Appraisal, a leading assessment of critical thinking ability.