We all experience problems in our lives. Issues to solve. Decisions to make. Options to weigh up. Some are big problems, some are small. Some take time to resolve, others are quick. Whether our problems are big or small, we need to deal with them constructively and properly.
Having the necessary skills to identify solutions to problems is one of the future skills employers have tagged as vital.
Problem-solving and critical thinking refers to the ability to use knowledge, facts, and data to effectively solve problems. This doesn’t mean you need to have all answers immediately. It means you have to be able to think on your feet, assess problems, and find solutions. The capability to come to a well thought out solution within a reasonable time frame, is a skill that employers value greatly, and one that we need to develop in the youth from early. The rate at which the world is changing and the speed at which we need to adapt, means that we have to be able to make decisions, and solve problems quickly and effectively.
By now you know that this series of articles has focused on vital future skills. Employers say we need a workforce fully equipped with skills beyond the basics of the traditional three Rs (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) to have successful and competitive businesses.
Critical thinking and problem solving are the vital skills I am going to highlight today. We know that employers want employees who can work through problems, individually and in teams. “Perfect” employees can think critically and creatively, share thoughts and opinions, use good judgment, solve problems, and make considered decisions.
Employers want fresh perspectives and ideas on problems. They appreciate finding new, better, and more efficient ways of doing things. Unfortunately, for various reasons, not everyone can make decisions and solve problems easily. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be developed.
Traditionally, old schooling methods did not encourage this at all. Learners were passive receptors of information, and taught to spew that information back, verbatim. Nowadays we have an excess of information available to us, and unless we know how to critically appraise the material presented, we will passively drown in the sea of incorrect, inaccurate, and often downright deceptive information that has exploded out there.
So how do we nurture this skill?
Critical thinking involves questioning. We need to teach people to ask good questions. When my children throw some bizarre new information at me that they found online, or were told by a friend, I ask them to consider the source. Heaven knows there are enough fools out there who can now create a digital platform to spew verbal vomit at the world. (And enough foolish followers to believe it and make it seem true.) I challenge them to question the information.
Critical thinking involves research. Gather data, organise it, question it, analyse it. Being passive is no longer an option. You need to do the work. You need to find the valid sources and reliable information.
Become observant. Take notice of your surroundings, pay attention to potential problems and opportunities and solutions.
Have discussions. The sharing of information is powerful. Communication of your own ideas, as well as receiving information from others is an invaluable part of developing critical thinking. Discussions open our minds to other opinions. They are important.
Be open to new things. New ideas, new experiences, new genres, new languages, new foods, new cultures, new concepts. Exposing yourself to new things helps you gather unbiased research which is crucial for effectively evaluating situations and problems. You don’t have to like or agree with the new information, but exposure is so great for critical thinking and problem-solving. It opens your mind.
When you don’t know, ask yourself what you would do if you did know. Sounds daft, I know, but it encourages deductive reasoning, where you can learn to make inferences and draw conclusions from other information that may be similar. This agility is a helpful skill to have.
Ask. Consult with others. Learning is continuous. If you need more information to make decisions and solve problems, ask. You can ask others in the know, professionals, peers, teachers. Asking others is a great way to understand other points of view or gain more information and increase your critical thinking.
Critical thinking goes hand in hand with good problem-solving. People with good critical thinking skills tend to have a methodical approach to problem-solving. They ask good questions, use data they have gained, analyse it, form judgments, and make decisions based on rational information.
When problems are tackled using this step-by-step methodical critical thinking approach, good decisions are often reached.
In today’s fast-paced world, people are faced with new challenges and problems every day. There is so much information available to us, and not all of it is accurate, so to be able to actively work through problems on our own and to come to clear-cut, efficient decisions and sensible solutions are the ideal in every environment and aspect of our lives.