How to become a better critical thinker









As people increasingly become politically-polarised and as a result group-think becomes more common, society is losing it’s critical thinking skills.

Never has the need for these skills been greater.

To assist we have listed 7 key pieces of advice to improve your critical thinking*.

1. Don’t believe it just because others do

It’s easy to fall into this trap if you don’t consider that the majority doesn’t necessarily rule intelligently. However, a better critical thinker makes up their own mind after viewing opinions and collecting facts. This is more important than ever in the age of fake news and unregulated Web content. “Yes, there is such a thing as the wisdom of the crowds, but it has limited applicability, especially when the crowds aren’t thinking critically.”

2. Don’t believe it because it has a fancy website, scientific terms, or equations

The Internet is the one place where it’s easy to fall into digital rabbit holes. This happens when we’re enticed by a sparkling presentation of information we can’t ignore. As such, we must learn to cast a more discerning eye on what we consume online. “Too many of us are bamboozled by fancy terms, bold headlines, and testimonials. “Take a moment to look more carefully at the evidence being presented.”

3. Don’t reject a source that’s occasionally wrong

Everybody makes mistakes, even entities whose primary job is to report the facts. We shouldn’t take the occasional item of misinformation as a sign of unreliability. Instead, look at the bigger picture.

“The New York Times is one of the most reliable and rigorously fact-checked news sources in the world. They do make mistakes and they print corrections every day. But on the whole, if you read something there, it has a very high likelihood of being true.”

4. Check for plausibility

If bold and outrageous claims sound to good to be true, they probably are. It’s here that fact-checking comes into play, an essential part of Information Fluency.

“One widely reported statistic was that 150,000 girls in the U.S. die each year of anorexia. That can’t be true: The total number of deaths for girls from all causes in a single year is only about 8,500 … you’d find that out by checking reputable sources, such as the CDC.”

5. Correlation is not causation

Seemingly related events that occur or transform together doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other. “Ice-cream sales tend to increase during months when people are wearing short pants, but you wouldn’t want to conclude that eating ice cream causes people to wear shorts, or that wearing shorts causes people to eat ice cream”.

6. Check that the evidence supports the conclusion

Does the evidence of the claim actually lend weight to the overall conclusion? If not, it’s probably just big talk or padding of information. In such cases, find a way to discern pertinence from packaging. “Fast-talking, loose purveyors of information may flummox you with a whole bunch of data that aren’t related to the claim”. “Sometimes they do this intentionally; sometimes they don’t know that they’re doing it.”

7. Look for a “control condition”

A control condition refers to the group in an experiment that is opposite the treatment group. This is the group that doesn’t receive the application of whatever is being tested. In this way, the experiment has a baseline to use in determining if there is any change:

“A new pill claims to cure headaches within four hours … evidence reveals that people with headaches were given the pill and reported that their headaches got better. What we don’t know is how many headaches would have gotten better on their own … to know that, you’d need an experiment in which a control group of people, randomly selected, get no treatment and are compared with the treatment group.”

The more we challenge ourselves to think critically, the more habitual such powerful mindsets become. In other words, you get to be a better critical thinker the same way you get to Carnegie Hall—practice.

(*These points have been drawn directly from the excellent Wabisabi Learning Blog that in turn based them upon an article by Daniel Levitin on the Psychology Today Blog titled Seven steps to better critical thinking – How to avoid knowing what isn’t so”.)

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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Current clients range from Exxon-Mobil to Government Depts within Australia to Global NGO’s.

Much of his working life has been split between Australia, the South Pacific and Asia where he has trained and facilitated Lateral Thinking techniques, and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.


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