These days, I’m practically obsessed with the topic of critical thinking. This drive led me to the vast shores of critical thinking in the workplace. We’ll go through why this skill is essential for your advancement in your career (and work life in general) and also explore some examples. Let’s begin…
If browsing through job applications or LinkedIn makes you feel uneasy these days, I don’t blame you. Not only do employees demand that junior staff members should be versed as senior ones, but seemingly people all around you are getting promoted all the time.
When I accidentally open the popular professional network full of “self-help-like “prose” littered with clichés and vague blanketed statements” – also called broetry. (Yes, I’m talking about LinkedIn). Certificates of accomplishments are being shared more than the all-time favorite cat memes. It’s crazy.
And while it’s surely great that people are investing in themselves and learning new skills. I think that the skill of thinking, good thinking, critical thinking is often overlooked.
In the context of the regular job dynamics. Acquiring Excel skills, various programming skills, and marketing skills are all, of course, helpful to thrive and advance in your career path.
But if we look at things from the top of the corporate ladder. The people who call all the shots, get recognized in magazines and earn the most. Are not the ones who know how to code, how to set up marketing campaigns on social media, and how to build websites. Not at all. These people are master critical thinkers and are well-versed in the field of decision-making.
Or in other words, your boss probably doesn’t know how to automate jobs with macros in Excel. But does that mean that he is in a worse condition than you – the Excel master? I don’t think so.
Not that your boss can’t learn Excel. He simply doesn’t have to. He has the means to hire dozens of people who know how to use this tool.
Plainly, people at the top of organizations are not good at clicking buttons. Absolutely not. They are good at critical thinking and problem solving. They see the big picture. They see how things connect, which in turn, allows them to determine the direction of the company.
This realization got me thinking about the skills someone needs to operate in the workspace.
Is it better to learn Python to get better at data analysis? Or, is it better to learn about mental models, so you can understand how people think and behave?
I share my conclusion at the end of this article – it will probably shock you.
Now, based on the above realization about the type of skills someone needs. I’ve categorized them into two buckets:
In bucket one, you have skills that will help you become a good employee.
And in bucket two, you have the skills that can help you become a good employer.
Why Critical Thinking Skills Are Essential In The Workplace?
Critical thinking in the workplace is your ability to successfully orient yourself around a task, even when basic instructions are provided. The mental stamina to not collapse when the project stalls. The intellectual strength to always find elegant solutions to the ever-emerging problems.
People with critical thinking skills are considered good employees because they don’t need a lot of nurturing and can handle problems on their own.
People with critical thinking skills are considered good business owners because they can spot trends and “ride” them.
After these definitions, let’s get back to the skills I mentioned above.
So, we have two buckets of skills.
Bucket one will probably help you get a raise, while bucket two will help you become a person who gives raises.
Let’s showcase how things look to better understand the idea…
People who focus on bucket 1 type of skills are often doing the following:
- Programmers learn new programming languages.
- Designers learn the newest design trends.
- Social media experts learn how to better optimize their campaigns for 0.7% more clicks.
Conversely, people who focus on bucket 2 types of skills are often doing these:
- Programmers read psychology books to understand how people think. From there, they can, for example, create an app that is aligned with the core motivations of people.
- Designers read sales books to better sell their art.
- Social media experts read business books to start their own business, not work endlessly to help someone build theirs.
When you solely focus on bucket 1 type of skills, you create a huge toolbox full of various tools. You become a craftsman. Not harm there.
But if you want to move ahead. You can only do this by getting bucket 2 types of skills.
For example, if you have the skills to build a house. When your thinking is upgraded, you now have the skills to create a business around building and selling houses.
Learning yet another programming language can help you earn more money in your current job. But learning how people make decisions, and how people think, can help you create jobs for others.
How Not Learning Critical Thinking Can Hurt Your Life
Since you are reading this, chances are that you are already a critical thinker.
One doesn’t end up accidentally reading about the types of thinking.
But to showcase why it’s needed. Imagine it like this: If you don’t think critically about your job, you won’t realize that it’s your fault that your job sucks or that your salary is not what you wish.
Yes! It’s you. After all, if you are not happy with your current state. You’ll do something to change it – change jobs, acquire new skills to get a new job or start a business.
As Carl Jung once said:
“Thinking is difficult. That’s why most people judge.” Carl Jung
When we don’t think. We judge others. We find faults in others instead of in ourselves.
We blame others for our misfortunes and our problems.
The examples of critical thinking in the workplace I’ll share below are aimed to illuminate gaps in your current thinking. Thus, help you adjust your trajectory, so you can end up doing the type of work you adore.
Examples of Critical Thinking In The Workplace:
1. Realizing What Are The Values Of Your Organization
The definition of good is different in different organizations.
Some companies might be fine if you consistently show up late. Others, in contrast, might shut the door if you often end up oversleeping.
If you are not actively monitoring what your company values. What the people you closely work with see as important. You’ll soon be displaced.
Critical thinkers have the skills to look behind the exaggerated careers page where everything looks fun. They can spot what the senior members want from their employees, and they adapt based on these wants.
This doesn’t mean that they are bootlickers – acting politely in order to get an advantage for themselves.
They simply detect how others work so they can find the best way to work together.
2. Not Letting Past Successes Cloud Your Thinking
Masterfully executing a project. Being awarded for the best employee of the year. Getting promoted. These are all good things.
Yet, being good once doesn’t mean anything if you are not consistently producing good work.
It’s easy to fall for the overconfidence bias – our tendency to overestimate our abilities.
It’s hard to show up every day and do your best work – even if you are tired and don’t feel like working.
Critical thinkers don’t rely on past fame and reputation. They realize that to be perceived as great, you must constantly perform well.
3. Not Letting Your Emotions Rule You
Where there are people. There are emotions.
Emotions are part of us. There is no escaping our feelings.
And while they can pleasurable. They can also be displeasurable.
The problem with feelings is that they displace logic. Or also called emotional hijacking – from the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman – the reasoning part of the brain gets paralyzed. Thus, you react irrationally and destructively.
If someone in the office offends you in some way, the usual response is to strike back. But this is hardly the best way to react.
Critical thinkers recognize that their feelings can cause more harm than good. That’s why they take a step back when hostile thoughts infiltrate their minds and wait for them to disappear.
4. Distinguishing Between The Different Skill Buckets
As I pointed out earlier, there are two major types of skills.
Bucket 1 types of skills will help you get promoted and find a better job.
Bucket 2 types of skills will help you start your own business.
Critical thinkers can competently differentiate between the two and search for jobs that are better for their long-term growth.
For instance, if you work as a bike courier. The skills you gather during this job are hardly transferable in the tech bubble. Meaning that if your goal is to become a programmer. You’ll want to “escape” this type of work as soon as possible, so you can start working something more in line with your desired future position.
All of this leads to the 5th example…
5. Having a Long-Term Goal And Actively Pursuing It
Regardless of what type of work you are doing right now. It’s of major importance to have a long-term goal in relation to where you want to be 5, 10, or 20 years from now.
Do you want to work in the same company doing the same work?
If you do, that’s great. It means that you’re financially and emotionally satisfied.
But if you want to retire early. Start your own business. Or change careers. Your day-to-day life should include time for learning.
Nearly two years ago, my wife wanted to change careers. Before, she worked various odd jobs. When nearing her 30s. She decided that it was time for a change.
After tapping into her wants. She decided to pursue a career in graphic design – something she always wanted to do.
It took her a year to complete a series of courses on the subject, and a couple of months after that to actually start working as a graphic designer.
And while she’s satisfied with her current position. She is working to expand her knowledge in the area of 3d design because she thinks that the demand for this type of design will significantly increase in the future.
Some Closing Thoughts
Let’s return to the question from above:
Is it better to learn Python to get better at data analysis? Or, is it better to learn about mental models so you can understand how people think and behave?
Of course, it depends on what you want to become in the future.
If you search online, the career path of a Data Analyst is to become a Senior Analyst and then potentially Chief Technology Officer.
Conversely, if you learn about the mental models. You’ll become better at reading people. You’ll be better at understanding how they think. And when you know how people think. You’ll be in a better position to influence them.
The second part might seem too abstract.
Reading people? Influencing them? How exactly?
As I mentioned earlier. People on top of the corporate ladder. People who call all the shots. Are not the ones who know how to click buttons. But know where the company should be heading and what means are required to get there. And always, to move a company from one position to the next, you need to possess skills to inspire the people around you.
The reason the title is labeled Thought-Provoking Examples of Critical Thinking in the Workplace is to challenge you. To make you think about what path you need to take.
Improve your skills in relation to getting a job. Or acquire skills to create your own job.
It’s up to you to decide.
Add to your critical thinking knowledge by reading the following:
- Intriguing Examples of Critical Thinking in Everyday Life
- The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking
- 7 Powerful Critical Thinking Quotes – Deconstructed
- Critical Thinking Process (Or Acting Wisely Even If You’re Not Very Bright)
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