Thinking comes naturally. You don’t have to make it happen—it just does. But you can make it happen in different ways. For example, you can think positively or negatively. You can think with “heart” and you can think with rational judgment. You can also think strategically and analytically, and mathematically and scientifically. These are a few of multiple ways in which the mind can process thought.
What are some forms of thinking you use? When do you use them, and why?
As a college student, you are tasked with engaging and expanding your thinking skills. One of the most important of these skills is critical thinking. Critical thinking is important because it relates to nearly all tasks, situations, topics, careers, environments, challenges, and opportunities. It’s a “domain-general” thinking skill—not a thinking skill that’s reserved for a one subject alone or restricted to a particular subject area.
Great leaders have highly attuned critical thinking skills, and you can, too. In fact, you probably have a lot of these skills already. Of all your thinking skills, critical thinking may have the greatest value.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is clear, reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do. It means asking probing questions like, “How do we know?” or “Is this true in every case or just in this instance?” It involves being skeptical and challenging assumptions, rather than simply memorizing facts or blindly accepting what you hear or read.
Imagine, for example, that you’re reading a history textbook. You wonder who wrote it and why, because you detect certain biases in the writing. You find that the author has a limited scope of research focused only on a particular group within a population. In this case, your critical thinking reveals that there are “other sides to the story.”
Who are critical thinkers, and what characteristics do they have in common? Critical thinkers are usually curious and reflective people. They like to explore and probe new areas and seek knowledge, clarification, and new solutions. They ask pertinent questions, evaluate statements and arguments, and they distinguish between facts and opinion. They are also willing to examine their own beliefs, possessing a manner of humility that allows them to admit lack of knowledge or understanding when needed. They are open to changing their mind. Perhaps most of all, they actively enjoy learning, and seeking new knowledge is a lifelong pursuit.
This may well be you!
No matter where you are on the road to being a critical thinker, you can always more fully develop and finely tune your skills. Doing so will help you develop more balanced arguments, express yourself clearly, read critically, and glean important information efficiently. Critical thinking skills will help you in any profession or any circumstance of life, from science to art to business to teaching. With critical thinking, you become a clearer thinker and problem solver.
|Critical Thinking IS||Critical Thinking is NOT|
|Examining assumptions||Group thinking|
|Challenging reasoning||Blind acceptance of authority|
The following video, from Lawrence Bland, presents the major concepts and benefits of critical thinking.
Critical Thinking and Logic
Critical thinking is fundamentally a process of questioning information and data. You may question the information you read in a textbook, or you may question what a politician or a professor or a classmate says. You can also question a commonly-held belief or a new idea. With critical thinking, anything and everything is subject to question and examination for the purpose of logically constructing reasoned perspectives.
What Is Logic, and Why Is It Important in Critical Thinking?
The word logic comes from the Ancient Greek logike, referring to the science or art of reasoning. Using logic, a person evaluates arguments and reasoning and strives to distinguish between good and bad reasoning, or between truth and falsehood. Using logic, you can evaluate ideas or claims people make, make good decisions, and form sound beliefs about the world. 
Questions of Logic in Critical Thinking
Let’s use a simple example of applying logic to a critical-thinking situation. In this hypothetical scenario, a man has a PhD in political science, and he works as a professor at a local college. His wife works at the college, too. They have three young children in the local school system, and their family is well known in the community. The man is now running for political office. Are his credentials and experience sufficient for entering public office? Will he be effective in the political office? Some voters might believe that his personal life and current job, on the surface, suggest he will do well in the position, and they will vote for him. In truth, the characteristics described don’t guarantee that the man will do a good job. The information is somewhat irrelevant. What else might you want to know? How about whether the man had already held a political office and done a good job? In this case, we want to ask, How much information is adequate in order to make a decision based on logic instead of assumptions?
The following questions, presented in Figure 1, below, are ones you may apply to formulating a logical, reasoned perspective in the above scenario or any other situation:
Learning to analyze situations applies to all aspects of life. When it comes to the workplace, employers want to know that you’re able to think on your feet, solve complex problems and gather information to make rational decisions and consider your next step. There are several methods you can take to sharpen your analytical skills, but choosing which is most effective and preferable for you will yield greater results. In this article, we will define analytical skills and learn how to improve them.
What are analytical skills?
Analytical skills refer to the ability to research, collect and analyze information to form more complex ideas about it. Using analytical skills is a great way to develop solutions for complex problems and interpret data to gain more knowledge about the subject.
How to improve your analytical skills
Because being analytical provides us with more in-depth information about a topic and helps us make more rational decisions, having this skill can be beneficial in the workplace. Employers want to know that you’re not only able to gather information, but articulate it and solve complex problems. Here are several ways you can improve your analytical skills:
1. Read more
An important part of being analytical involves being alert and remaining stimulated. Try joining a book club or picking up more books. Reading on a more frequent basis will help keep your mind running, force your brain to think in new ways and encourage you to view ideas differently as it pertains to the various characters in your novel or reading material.
2. Build your mathematical skills
Mathematics involves solving an equation step-by-step to reach an answer. Because all forms of mathematics are highly logical, sharpening your mathematical skills is a great way to refine your analytical skills. Practice various forms of math problems that will help build your logic and problem-solving capabilities. Often, solving these equations is trial and error. Enroll in an online or college-level math class. Reasoning with others will also help you build your analytical skills.
3. Play brain games
Brain games challenge you to think deeply and logically. Because they are seen as entertainment, brain games are often a preferred method used to sharpen your analytical skills. Playing Sudoku, solving crossword puzzles or playing board games are great examples.
4. Learn something new
As obvious as it may seem, expanding your knowledge can improve your analytical skills. The more you learn, the more ways and information you’ll have when it comes to solving problems and analyzing situations. After completing their required education, many people become passive learners. Boost your cognitive abilities by learning something new each day. To make sure you stay motivated, learn about something you find interesting or that you have a passion for. Opt for an online course in a subject you aren’t familiar with. This will allow you to expand your knowledge in subjects you did not know.
5. Be more observant
Paying attention to detail and being observant is a great way to improve your analytical skills because it allows you to process the way things work and interact. Using your senses and actively engaging in the world around you will help you hone your analytical skills. Try going for a walk and observing the birds and how they interact. Consider the connections and patterns in the outside world. Being more attuned to the small details in life will help you bring this set of skills into the workplace.
6. Join a debate club
Working in a group setting allows you to come together with others to discuss ideas, problems and various situations. Understanding how others process information and interpret the world will help guide your own worldview and develop your own analytical skills.
7. Take an exercise class
Exercising more frequently can help improve your cognitive abilities. Regarding exercise classes, memorizing the next steps in a workout routine is a great way to help develop your analytical skills. Knowing the sequence will help keep you focused on the task at hand while also helping you prepare for what’s next.
8. Keep a journal
Recording your day’s events gives you time to reflect. When things don’t turn out as planned, you can learn from these mistakes and take them into account for your future actions. A large part of analyzing involves trial and error. Keeping a journal to remind you of your past is a great way to hone your thinking and analytical skills in considering your future.
9. Ask questions
When someone asks questions, they’re often asking for clarification and understanding. Expressing curiosity provides you with different viewpoints and allows you to compare your own opinion with someone else’s. Sometimes your questions will lead you to a different answer than initially expected. This is commonplace in any problem-solving situation and actively wires your brain to think more analytically.
10. Download apps
While not all apps can help improve your analytical skills, many brain game and organizational apps can. Recording what you’re eating each day through food diary applications, for example, allows you to track and analyze your caloric and nutritional intake each day. These apps allow you to interpret the data and take the necessary steps to adjust and improve the next day. In the same way, using apps to track your budget can help you see your past spending habits to determine how to proceed with your future ones. Analyzing these types of data will help you sharpen your analytical skills.
While improving your analytical skills takes practice, there are several methods you can take to ensure you stay motivated. It’s important to stay open to the process to adequately allow for knowledge consumption. The more you experience, the more you can analyze and add to your value in the workplace.
Students learn by connecting new knowledge with knowledge and concepts that they already know, thereby constructing new meanings (NRC, 2000). Research suggests that students connect knowledge most effectively in active social classrooms, where they negotiate understanding through interaction and varied approaches. Instructors should be aware that students, as novice learners, often possess less developed or incomplete conceptual frameworks (Kober, 2015). As a result, it may take time to learn how to “chunk” knowledge into similar, retrievable categories, grow larger conceptual ideas, and interconnect ideas. They may also harbor misconceptions or erroneous ways of thinking, which can limit or weaken connections with new knowledge (Ambrose, et. al, 2010).
Instructors can build approaches that help students develop and learn pathways to becoming expert learners whose conceptual frameworks are deeply interconnected, transferable, rooted in a solid memory and skills foundation, and easily retrieved (Ambrose, et. al, 2010). Students build strong conceptual frameworks when instructors: help them assess and clarify prior knowledge; facilitate social environments through active learning activities that interconnect ideas and vary approaches to knowledge; and invite students to reflect, co-build course road maps, and pursue other forms of metacognition.
- Biology – A classic example of a misconception, students often believe that seasons change based on the earth’s proximity to the sun. In reality, seasons change as the earth tilts toward or away from the sun at different times of the year. To counter this misconception, an instructor implements a Think-Pair-Share activity. First, she asks students what causes the seasons, in order to assess their prior knowledge and potential misconceptions. Students then pair with a partner to discuss answers and share as a class. The instructor then presents a well-organized lesson on this topic directly addressing the misconception. Students again pair and explain the seasons. Students harboring the misconception may experience cognitive dissonance during the activity as they learn. Further activities continue to restructure and confirm their knowledge.
- Public Health – An instructor assigns a case study for advanced epidemiology students that walks them through the assessment of a disease, development of most effective treatments, and in depth study of its transmission and likely impact if not controlled. In the nature of case studies, the assignment has students perform a variety of different skills, from microbiological analysis to population impacts. As such, it provides a real-world example of the ways that different chunks of knowledge interconnect, with challenges that may ask students to connect new knowledge to preexisting understanding.
- English Literature – An instructor opens a seminar on Renaissance literature by asking students to share their knowledge of the period. He learns that students took an introductory course in previous semesters that focused on theological contexts. He decides to assign some period readings on belief and religious history, and takes the class to a local museum with English sacred texts, in order to expand his students’ knowledge of the period. At the same time, he cultivates an understanding of religious symbolism and themes in drama, to help students develop a deeper conceptual understanding of the relationships among religion, drama, and literary criticism.
- Provide scaffolding – Instructors can open lessons with content that students already know, or ask students to perform brief exercises like brainstorming that make the class’s pooled knowledge public. Instructors can then gradually introduce new information, allowing time for making connections and clarifying issues to help students build their conceptual frameworks. This model can work on the level of the individual class or a whole course, and a variety of learning frameworks and techniques for beginning / ending class exist for scaffolding content.
- Visibly organize course content – To help students organize information in a logical way, instructors can provide a roadmap or outline for each class, invite students to help build a roadmap based on their knowledge and desired gains, and make explicit how topics connect with one another. Lecturing can build knowledge more effectively when a roadmap and clear transitions are provided, while the simple use of a whiteboard or chalkboard to list topics, a schedule, or connected ideas can help students build tighter conceptual understanding.
- Allow students to make predictions and encounter phenomena – Rather than tell students information, instructors can encourage them to discover ideas on their own by making predictions and encountering phenomena. This strategy leaves open, and should in fact encourage, the possibility that students will offer incorrect, inaccurate, or misguided responses at times. Instructors can build a learning culture that values thinking over answers, and connection over ‘rightness’ (follow link for Harvard Instructional Move, “Developing a Learning Culture”).
- Show students how experts with more developed conceptual frameworks think through problems or topics – Students by and large enjoy watching how their instructors think. Instructors can demonstrate to students how they think through problems or scenarios in their field by performing problems on the board, thinking out loud through a social dilemma, tracing the ways they link words and images to form a literary interpretation, or sharing how they undergo research in their field. Additionally, instructors should be bold in expressing doubt if they are unsure about a student’s question. Because students are still building conceptual frameworks, they will often respond when they are able to visualize another person’s framework.
Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., Lovett, M., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research – Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kober N. (2015). Reaching Students: What Research Says About Effective Instruction in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
What exactly is critical thinking? It’s a very business-speak title, so you’re forgiven for not knowing. Critical thinking is a group of soft skills which you use every day. These are leadership skills, so you’re already honing your expertise without even knowing. Awesome!
When you break critical thinking down, it’s the ability to think clearly and rationally. It’s being able to understand logical connections between ideas. It’s using your ability to reason. It’s questioning things in a way that’s active rather than passive. As a critical thinker, you identify, analyze, and then solve problems rather than tackling them with instinct and intuition.
What are the 8 elements of critical thinking?
A good way to polish your critical thinking further is to work on these eight core components.
- Analysis: being able to break information down to gain a better understanding of it
- Interpretation: to form an opinion on the information you have analyzed.
- Inference: to be able to draw conclusions based on the evidence available to you.
- Evaluation: the ability to make decisions based on the available information.
- Explanation: clear communication of your findings, reasoning, and/or hypotheses.
- Self-regulation: the ability to monitor and manage your ways of thinking.
- Open-mindedness: considering other options and opinions.
- Problem-solving: defining what the problem is, its cause, generating ideas, and choosing a solution.
Why critical thinking is important
Crucial to any business? People who can analyze vast amounts of information and draw conclusions that make better decisions for the future. While machines can gather and interpret massive amounts of information, the ability to analyze and act on this data is still a skill only humans possess.
Both while studying at Hult and in your career, you’ll put your critical thinking skills to the test across multiple real-world scenarios. You might find you need to analyze things like if an existing firm is operating at optimum efficiency or not. Or perhaps which demographics should you target in your marketing? Which is the best direction for you to strategically innovate your product or service? Critical thinking is part of your everyday business.
Also, it’s not just the creativity to invent new things that disrupts industries. It’s the ability to critically assess the opportunity—and the risk—that these new developments offer to society. Take the societal changes brought on by the invention and expansion of the railroad. What were the new business opportunities and challenges? How can we apply these learnings to the emerging technology of today? These are all critical thinking examples.
#2 Critical thinking is the second most important skill in the workplace, according to the World Economic Forum
And 60% of companies think that new grads lack critical thinking skills.
How to be a critical thinker
There are three simple habits you can work on to strengthen your critical thinking skills. The first? Question assumptions: yours, your firm’s, and your colleagues. Test things out. Do surveys, engage with consumers–whatever it takes to get data to validate any hypotheses.
Second, reason through logic. There are plenty of ways you can do this. For example, you might be considering becoming a buyer or merchandiser. When factoring in what to sell, you need to reason through logic. For example, rather than selling the same things globally, it would be wise to do your research on each territory and its consumers’ tastes. What sells in the US may not sell in Europe. And that product may differ altogether to what flies off the shelves in the UK.
Third, collaborate with others to seek out diversity of thought. Listen, discuss, and explore different beliefs. Widen your professional and social circles. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can both help you learn valuable and different perspectives and broaden your open-mindedness.
Don’t forget the idea that practice makes perfect. Start practicing your critical thinking skills with greater awareness. You can learn and build on these each day.
Gain your critical thinking skills and leadership experience at Hult
Hult’s MBAs have leadership skills, like critical thinking, baked into their curriculum. Take, for example, the Financial Management MBA, where you’ll develop the knowledge, skills, critical-thinking abilities, and behaviors required of any manager.
Hult’s Global Strategy MBA also covers critical thinking. The MBA teaches you to be able to think and act strategically without losing agility. Strengthen your critical-thinking skills and develop the business acumen to be able to assess key challenges and opportunities in a global environment.
Master more leadership skills to stand out even more
Amazingly, 60% of companies think that new grads lack critical thinking skills. That alone should have you off studying! There’s plenty more you can do to convince those future employers differently. We’ve identified seventeen more leadership skills you can learn with ease and practice.
Better still, these are all straightforward to learn. Think skills like communication, active listening, creative thinking, and team building. These are all things that you can apply to your everyday. Speaking with family, friends, and the people you meet gives you a chance to try things out. Think of every project as an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership skills–you’ll be an expert before you know it.
Hult offers a range of highly skills-focused and employability-driven business school programs. Get the right skills to succeed in any business environment with Hult.