thinking critically

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.


8 Responses to “thinking critically”

  1. John Hunter

    Critical thinking is tremendously important. I have come to think it might be the most important precursor to management improvement (evidence based management, continual improvement…).

    One of the big issues is for people to understand thinking critically about ideas isn’t an insult to whoever came up with the idea being discussed. This isn’t something I would have thought of as important until seeing so many cases where people are not comfortable discussing ideas (and weaknesses in those ideas) in the workplace.

  2. Harold Jarche


    Critical Thinking:

    1. confirm the facts
    2. debate all points of view
    3. question authority
    4. use multiple hypotheses
    5. don’t get attached to any hypothesis
    6. quantify
    7. look for weak links
    8. keep it as simple as possible
    9. make it testable

  3. Mark Brewer

    Unfortunately it seems that there is less and less critical thinking in society as a whole. The polarized views that people have, unable to hear the other person’s viewpoint, constantly just repeating a mantra without any critical thinking and thoughtful dialog has become the norm.

    Critical thinking needs practice and we need to practice it with our kids, our friends and our work associates and then apply it to our social interactions and thinking across societal issues.

    Love your posts and thinking.


    • Harold Jarche

      I wonder if part of the problem is that we don’t allow critical debate in schools, and this tendency is moving into higher education. There is no safe place to practice critical thinking. Look at all the outrage that is posted online when anyone is ‘offended’ that their ideas are being challenged.

  4. Mark Brewer

    I think you are right Harold. We need to encourage critical debate everywhere. People need to think. People need to learn to listen deeply to what is being said.

  5. Manuel

    Great post. Also consider cultural-historical factors related to critical thinking. Here in Europe, particularly in Spain or Southern Europe, it is not a widespread practice as we are still inmersed in a Catholic perception of the world. France, Germany, England, is another story.

  6. Gary Pavlechko

    My work, in educational development, has merged with the concept of learning space. I am reminded, by everyone’s comments, that the space in which we find ourselves thinking and experiencing, makes a difference. Inspirational thought and work is supported by where we find ourselves and what we have available to see and use. The degree that this affects critical thought is my question?


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