Critical thinking – the questioning of underlying assumptions, including our own – is becoming all-important as we have to make our way in the network era. Critical thinking can be looked at as four main activities:
- Observing and studying our fields
- Participating in professional communities
- Building tentative opinions
- Challenging and evaluating ideas
Critical thinking must be practiced. It should be encouraged in the workplace by freely sharing what I call ‘half-baked ideas’. In this way, professionals can engage in problem-solving activities at the edge of their expertise, where they should be in order to deal with complex issues. One way to build a cognitive toolbox would be to start with each of the four critical thinking categories described above, through the applied use of social media
Social media are tools that can help us develop emergent practices. They enable conversations between people separated by distance or time. Social media can facilitate the sharing of implicit knowledge through conversations to inform the collaborative development of emergent work practices. Conversations that push our limits enable critical thinking, and the questioning of our assumptions.
Critical thinking takes practice. Living in such a state of perpetual Beta can be uncomfortable. The key is to be engaged in your learning. It requires strong opinions, loosely held. That means going out on a limb knowing you may criticized. It also means putting forth your half-baked ideas, which over time and exposure may develop into something more solid.
Finding and weaving our knowledge networks is getting easier with billions of people connected by the Internet. This scale and diversity is an advantage, not something to be concerned about. There is no such thing as information overload. I have yet to see someone completely filled with information. The real challenge is finding the right information. The more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn even more. Our networks can help us think critically: if they are are open, transparent, and most importantly, diverse.
From our external social networks we can discover new ideas and opinions, though in a chaotic, unstructured, and random way. This is where serendipity often beckons. In our communities of practice, which comprise a mix of strong and weak social ties, is the ideal liquid space for mixing learning and work while sharing advice and knowledge. Social media are the enabling technologies that can connect external networks, communities of practice, and project teams. Social learning flows on these networks, which is how critical thinkers seek, make-sense, and share their knowledge using frameworks like PKM.