How Good Are Your Critical Thinking Skills?

Critical Thinking

If you can’t think critically, you can’t think creatively. And if you can’t think creatively, you can’t produce compelling content and copy.

To think creatively, we need to step outside the framework of what we see or hear. We have to observe, ask questions and analyze so that we can open up new thoughts and ideas on old matters or commonly-accepted arguments.

Just what is critical thinking? It generally means analyzing statements and determining their validity in support of a conclusion.

Here’s a great example of critical thinking that led to creative exploration:

Some fool once said, “The earth is round!” People shot down that conclusion without even looking at the supporting premises. “Of course it isn’t,” they shouted back. “That makes no sense!” Others tried to refute the claims. “The Earth can’t be round,” they put forth. “The ground is flat. See?”

But the believer pointed out that there was a slight curve to the horizon. The world wasn’t flat. He set aside his biases and opened his mind to analyzing what he’d been told all his life. Why should he believe it? What made it true? What made it false?

He asked questions and demanded proof. He examined the arguments of authorities who made sweeping statements and claims that didn’t hold water. This round-world believer didn’t just refute what others said. He brought up premises to support his own ideas.

He was thinking creatively, and then he took world-changing action after critically evaluating his innovative idea.

Critical thinking and creative thinking go hand in hand. Creative thinking means generating ideas and processes; critical thinking evaluates those thoughts, allowing for rational decision.

So how do you think critically to think more creatively? Here are a few quick tips:

Little Details Matter

Pay attention to words like ‘may’, ‘can’, and ‘will’. There’s a huge difference between something that will [insert marvelous benefit here] and something that might do the same. Never accept anything at face value.

Question the Authorities

If a piece of content quotes an expert to help support the argument or conclusion, ask questions. What qualifies the individual to give advice? What credentials does the person have to make claims? Why is he or she an authority on the subject?

Sweeping Away Statements

Over-generalization usually discredits an argument’s validity from the get-go. Knock down sentences that use words like ‘all’ and ‘everyone’. Not all people do, and not everyone knows. More careful wording such as ‘most’ and ‘some’ pass muster more easily.

Scarecrows and Straw Men

Watch out for fallacies. Fallacies are the tricky smoke and mirrors that divert attention from true critical thinking. There are a ton of fallacies, all built to deflect, detract, divert and discredit arguments without really doing so.

Let Down Your Guard

One of the biggest obstacles to creative thinking is bias, also the enemy of critical thinking. Your values, emotions, desires and experiences influence your beliefs and your ability to have an open mind. Set them aside and take the time to ponder information you receive wholeheartedly.

A last note: Be prepared to accept that someone’s arguments are true. Debating validity can be fun; it doesn’t always mean that you’re right. The guy with the ship and the crazy ideas about a round earth went the extra mile (literally) to test his theories. He sought proof for his own ideas and was prepared to face failure (so we assume).

But the explorer had thought long and hard about a creative idea. He wasn’t acting on a whim. He’d applied plenty of critical thinking before sailing out to discover that yes, indeed, the Earth truly is round.

About the Author: James Chartrand is one of the writing wizards from Men with Pens. Why not subscribe to the MwP feed today?

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Reader Comments (40)

  1. says

    Thinking is just asking and answering questions. Ask better questions and you’ll get better answers. It’s a key part of critical thinking.

    One of the best way to improve your questions is to ask questions based on categories (what, why, how … etc.) For example, when you have a meeting, you can ask – do we have the right people? … is now the right time? … are we focused on the right problem? … what do we want to accomplish.

  2. says

    One of the best ways I have discovered to encourage creative thinking is to cast my mind to the Universe and ask, what’s the wildest thing that can possibly bounce back?

    The ideas that fall in between that extreme and my current thoughts generally imbue that added edge.

    Data points, Barbara

  3. says

    I find a good tactic to use is to note when you are violently opposed to an idea or a suggestion, if you’re sufficiently self-aware you will be able to spot these moments and really reflect on why you are so violently opposed.
    This doesn’t mean that you automatically subscribe to the idea, but you do give it due consideration. If it still has no merit in your eyes after you critically examine it, you can continue to violently oppose it.
    Of course this only works as a responsive critical thinking technique, it will not help you when it comes to coming up with original concepts and ideas of your own.

  4. says

    Hi there, I very much enjoy your copybloging. Particularly the one on Creative & Critical thinking. At 84 years old I started writing on a blog my son set up for me 6 months ago. I!m not a trained writer, but love writing.I enjoy reading anything that makes me stop and think and reading your copybloging frequently does.wondered what an expert like you would say about a novice writer like me. In six months I have almost 100 articles posted & type with 2 fingers. I would be so grateful if you checked me out and left a comment. Thanks Anne Cleveland

  5. says

    Good Morning James,

    Great thought provoking article. That is what gets my creative juices flowing – thought provoking theories. Questions to contemplate. I would rather “chew” on something for awhile and really expand on the possibilities. And you are so right about the words people choose. It is amazing how people usually hear what they want to hear not what was said!

  6. says

    This is a great article! I’m the senior web developer and graphics designer for a company here where I live, so I have to think creatively and outside the box when it comes to standing out from the crowd.

    But I also play another role in our company and that is one of the project developers. I play one of the lead roles in coming up with creative ways for a new product we’re working on to work differently than our competitors and go against the way everyone does it.

    As far as feedback goes, so far, this product is all the talk amongst our target market and is growing virally.

    You have some realy great tips on helping someone to think outside of the box.

  7. says

    I try to bifurcate the critical and creative thinking process as much as possible. Creative thinking is all about numbers, the more ideas you produce the higher the probability of having a successful idea. The number of ideas you generate plummets when you allow critical thinking and creative thinking to take place in tandem.

    Instead of this:
    Idea -> Evaluate
    Idea -> Evaluate
    Idea -> Evaluate

    Do this:
    Idea -> Idea -> Idea -> Idea -> Idea -> Evaluate

    I come up with as many ideas as I can and don’t think about why they may fail. I then take all of the ideas and evaluate each on their own merit.

  8. says

    I think that dude who said the earth was round got into some trouble for that with the authorities, if I remember correctly. Be prepared for your critical thinking to get you in trouble, too, when your conclusions go against commonly held beliefs.

  9. says

    I’m a little nervous in reading this superbly written post, in that so much of the qualities suggested seem innate. I wonder how much a person can actually train themselves to question authorities, test accepted wisdom for fallacies and yet still be confident enough to let down one’s guard.

  10. says

    @Ted Murphy. Your system is called “brainstorming”, Ted, and has been around for several decades. And you’ve got it right!

    @Michael Martine. If I recall my history correctly, by the time Chris got around to scamming Isabella out of her jewels, it was pretty much accepted that the earth was round. Although the first folks to come up with the idea did, indeed, suffer greatly for it, which supports your conclusion.

    For instance, suppose you come up with a blog that shows that the concept of Global Warming is “full of it” (it IS, by the way). How much of a firestorm do you think you could spark. Probably as much as if you espoused “global warming” back in the 60’s when “global cooling” was the disaster de jeure.

    “If everyone knows such-and-such, it probably isn’t true” -Lazarus Long

  11. says

    The idea that critical thinking is about sweeping aside past generalizations, and considering any and all possible paths/explanations/ideas should resonate deeply with all creative folks in particular. As a writer, we’re inundated with ideas of what will make it in our career, in our media-crazy world. We have to look outside these rules. Rebel. Only then can something great commence.

  12. says

    It is hard not to be biased with anything. However, it will really help you out if you begin not to be biased when you are critically thinking. Too many times we all let our emotions get in the way kind of like a lot of people do when they are trying to pick someone to be our president. What we actually should do is pick someone we know will just do a good job and not let our emotions get in the way.

    So we all need to learn to not let our emotions get in the way. I know I have had to work really hard to do that but once you do your thinking process is so much more clear.

  13. says

    Interesting post. However, your references to Christopher Columbus are incorrect — he was actually wrong, and the people who tried to stop him going were right.

    Everyone in that period in history believe the world was round, and had done for some time (it was later Victorian historians who convinced us otherwise). People even had an accurate idea of how large the world was.

    Columbus had the mistaken idea that the world was much smaller than it was; the powers that were knew it was much too large for him to be able to reach the Orient by sailing west. What neither of them knew was that there was an intervening land mass in the way, which kind of saved the day all round really. There’s a great treatment of all this in an essay by Umberto Echo in his collection “Serendipities” if you’re interested.

    Having said that, your argument still stands, of course!

  14. says

    @ Rob – I didn’t mention Christopher Columbus because there is controversy about who did what when and I wasn’t getting into *that* argument. But I do know that someone in a boat set out to discover a round world at some point!

  15. says

    My favorite critical thinking question is “Why told you that and why do you believe it?” Asking that question is an amazingly useful mental habit to develop.

  16. says

    Reasoning is the foundation of persuasion — after all, copy is one long argument. The most important step of my entire writing, marketing, fill-in-the-blank was competitive high-school debate. Learning to think makes life so much easier. 😉

    I’m actually in the middle of an article on the forgotten art of rationality. It should prove to be interesting.

  17. says

    its funny because people only want to believe what they want to. As a philospher, I know that anything is possible. Who would have ever known that gravity exists? Or that the earth is round instead of flat unless someone use some common sense and critical thinking skills? One time, I mentioned a theory and people automatically shot it down without investigating or analyzing the situation.

    If everyone would use critical thinking skills, the world would be a better place! :)

    • Aristoli says

      Just to counter you a bit Sajae… you said that “anything is possible.” That’s not true. Just like the article said, be wary of making sweeping statments such as that. There are physical laws that dictate us in this universe, therefore some things are possible and some things are not possible.

      …and there are some things whose possibilities that we have yet to discover yet…

  18. says

    @Ted – thanks for the new meme.

    @ Anne Cleveland – wow! you are an inspiration.

    Other question hints:
    Eliminate “why” since it sets up a defensive response.

    Use “Tell me about” to expand information.

  19. says

    Sometimes when problems arise at a meeting I propose solutions that are totally opposed or different to those on the table. I guess I play the role of the devil’s advocate. I find these “What if?” scenarios make me people think and question existing habits.

  20. Tom. F says

    What I don’t feel from reading some views is that there is no understanding that this is a SKILL and not a way to look upon and question the authorities upon. As a student taking a AS level in Critical Thinking, there is a lot more to critical thinking than what is posted on the site. There are many complications that follow after looking past the APPEALS TO AUTHORITY or the WEAKNESSES IN EVIDENCE. It is really about peeling away what is the flaws in the argument and then making your own conclusion on whether the argument is good or not. Just looking at the appeals and flaws are not enough though. You have to look at other parts in the argument also such as hypothetical evidence, analogies and even the assumptions that the reader has to make for the argument to work as a whole. The article is very good but those are only the basics. The rest of Critical Thinking is A LOT more on top. Tom F. aged 15

  21. Greg Hart says

    I liked Tom’s reference to the rest of the iceberg of critical thinking. Many people are confused by creative and critical thinking or see them as being exclusive. I was very pleased to come across a blog entry that understands their interdependence. I think one of the hardest components of critical thinking is the analysis. The part where you are trying to understand what is going on WITHOUT drawing any judgments. If you can do this well, your judgments about what is relevant or accurate or important or whatever will be much more complete.

  22. says

    Creativity is the encounter of the intensively conscious human being with his world. Critical thinking as “reasonable, reflective that is focused on deciding what to believe or do…Thinking is “reasonable” when the thinker strives to analyze carefully, looks for valid evidence, and reaches sound conclusions.

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