Published on the 06/06/2017 | Written by Newsdesk
‘Critical thinking’ seems a lot like ‘common sense’. But it’s just as rare…
It may seem like something every one of us uses every day, and it is. But there is an argument for a greater focus on critical thinking in the workplace as it can have the net result of making you a better person, and therefore capable of achieving better outcomes for the organisation where you work.
That’s the contention of Stanford-educated Dr Patrick Girard, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. He is among the presenters at the IT & Enterprise Architecture conference scheduled for early next month, and where matters will take a philosophical turn in addition to the lineup of technology experts.
But like common sense, critical thinking it isn’t all that easily defined.
“Critical thinking is about making the right decisions which are best for us and society, but how do we know if we are making the right decisions,” said Girard.
It’s difficult because the outcomes of decisions not made remain hypothetical. And if it is common sense to which you look, even that rapidly becomes murky – since what is common sense to me, with my cultural background, might not be all that common to you with yours.
“A lot of people rely on ‘common sense’, but what seems obvious to us and what we might expect everyone to agree with varies a lot, just as much as taste [for food, music or anything else] does,” Girard noted.
In workplaces where diversity is valued, he said issues around critical thinking can quickly become muddled, owing to cultural relativity and other factors.
It’s not all bad, though, as he added that there is in fact a lot of cross-cultural commonality with sense. “Critical thinking is a key phrase that people like to use, but tend to mean very different things by it. Philosophically-speaking, it means finding good reasons – justification – for what we believe in. In the workplace, it means identifying obstacles effectively so they can be dealt with.”
He added that there is a distinction between logical thinking and truth. “Truth and logic are related; reasons for any given belief need good logic to underpin them, but good logic doesn’t guarantee truth. You can have perfectly logical arguments for nonsensical things – and that’s a trap, because good logic can make us think that we have it right.”
Conversely, he said having ‘truth’ doesn’t mean good logic – because it isn’t outside the realm of possibility to get to truth by no better means than sheer luck.
As for the outcome for businesspeople, Girard said awareness and the application of critical thinking in the workplace can help make individuals better people. “It means treating other people as intelligent. When they present reasons for their views, you want to assess those reasons as being presented by intelligent people, rather than making a caricature of their beliefs. And even if you don’t agree, you should be able to see their argument in the best light, rather than dismissing it for what it is not.”
The IT & Enterprise Architecture conference takes place in Auckland on 7 and 8 August at the Crowne Plaza.