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Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ but What Is That?

An Important Skill for Young Workers Has a Variety of Definitions

❶We can work on this skill.

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Critical thinkers go beyond initial perceptions and take into account the perspective of others as well as their own. While a wide array of jobs can be better performed by a critical thinker, this ability is necessary in some positions. Few jobs requiring a higher degree of critical thinking than that of a court judge.

As the moderator of a courtroom or trial, a judge must critically assess various requests and maneuvers of lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants. Judges must also made decisions on sentencing in many criminal trials. To abide by the fairness required of them, judges must be critical thinkers rather than emotional responders.

Accountants use critical thinking to decide the best methods to record and report financial records for a company or clients. While generally accepted accounting practices, called GAAP, serve as a guide, many accounting techniques are used to fit unusual circumstances, or to benefit the client or company legally and ethically. Auditors critically evaluate the accounting records of companies to determine how effectively and accurately the company has maintained them. Teachers at all levels use critical thinking to plan lessons, assess student performance, and make in-class decisions on activities.

In schools, for instance, we saw the rise of standardized testing during the last decade or so. Companies relied and still rely heavily on standardization and neat processes which every employee is expected to follow: I recently ranted about it on Twitter:. All three are examples of the same underlying thinking: As we crave for pseudo efficiency, we teach people that following the protocol will lead to the intended results. Of course, there is one precondition to finding your own solutions: Whatever problem you are trying to solve, the better you understand it, the closer you get to a solution.

This, however, is not what we are being trained to do. There are other issues. Standardized methods train us to believe that every time a similar problem occurs, the same approach is going to work. Something that worked yesterday might not work today.

Back to my main point: If you look at our world today, you are going to find many examples that underscore my point. We systematically teach people to follow standard procedures. This, in turn, results in people who yearn for standard procedures.

Even in my job, business consulting, I frequently met and hired people whose first impulse, when presented with a new case, was to ask for manuals, check-lists or other stuff you produce in order to create standards. They can be useful tools to avoid unnecessary redundancy.

Some things you can standardize with reason: Creating standards became a standard itself. Thus, we mistake one thing for another and implement standards almost as a reflex. Because coming up with one yourself is tough. It demands a lot of focus, thinking and mental energy to do so. Everybody uses routines and standards, myself included. That is, we need to avoid auto-piloting and naively following our rules.

Not as individuals and not as organizations. The good news is: We can work on this skill. Our systems are really, really bad at teaching it. Following the standard is usually incentivized. All of this might have been suboptimal in the past. But it worked reasonably well for the most part. Change progressed at a slower speed than today. Technology develops quicker than ever. The site, which combs job ads from several sources, found last week that more than 21, health-care and 6, management postings contained some reference to the skill.

Only in interviews could she tell what a company meant when it sought those traits. In late-round interviews, candidates must show how they would tackle business problems, such as whether it makes more sense for a company to make or buy a product, and why. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Critical thinking may be similar to U. You know it when you see it, says Jerry Houser, associate dean and director of career services at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.

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