The quality of our decisions will influence our lives, but if we use sub-standard reasoning processes we may end up with results we do not want. The 21st century has been described as an age of information, or perhaps an age of information overload; depending on your school of thought. As the Internet has created a global village and made it quite easy for information to be accessed. But our ability to synthesize and utilize information may not be working in tandem with the availability of information.
Critical thinking is central to problem solving, decision-making and novel developments in our various practices as professionals. It sits at the core of the accurate evaluation of information and may underpin a sustainable educational system. But certain cultural norms may impede the expression of this soft skill.
Systems where the pedagogical approach subscribes to learning by rote, with little input via experience can create restrictions around the mental framework of individuals, allowing for little or no evaluation of ideas. Such environments may also encourage mental lethargy, impeding growth and development. We also do this when we consume information via visual (eyes) or auditory (ears) sources. Where we do not or perhaps, cannot take the time to sift ideas before accepting them. While those sources of information can be helpful when multi-tasking, we must acknowledge their limitations.
For a long time, philosophical debates centered on decision-making have presented evidence suggesting that the value of information assigned to a particular concept may be significantly influenced by systematic and unsystematic biases. These biases, unbeknownst to us, are subconscious and more common when we are required to make decisions with little or no time, influencing the quality of our decision-making in predictable ways. Taking this further, the media informs most of the ardent perspectives we subscribe to. But the media itself is biased.
It tends to report prevailing concepts gleaned from public opinion. Therefore, what we have is a cycle of conscious and unconscious biases that persist, increasing the risk of poor judgment. We regurgitate what the media feeds us, some to individuals within this sector, which reinforces prevailing mindsets.
Interestingly, this phenomenon has not only been identified among laypersons, but within academic institutions as well. For example, a shy, detail-oriented, meek, introverted male may be stereotyped as a librarian, rather than a farmer. This, however, disregards the fact that a significant proportion of males work in physically demanding roles and only a small number in libraries.
So where do we go from here? What is the future? Artificial intelligence? I think not, as such tools should support decision-making and not replace it. Please, feel free to disagree with me, this is the essence of critical thinking; to create room for diverse perspectives to be considered, refuted or accepted. Can we confidently present a business case for designing programs that address this deficiency? Maybe.
But first, we must acknowledge the deficit in our approach to judgment and choice. I’d suggest starting with embedding digestible and appropriate forms of critical thinking into our routine. Define parameters that can be manipulated to improve our ability to carefully think through concepts before forming judgments that become harder to unseed. Perhaps we could start with water cooler conversations or over tea, mostly because we are better at recognizing other peoples mistakes than ours and see where the road leads us. Think fast, then not so fast.