The Only Job Skill That Matters

19 Oct

Critical thinking isthe mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion; Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.” – – Definition of Critical Thinking by Dictionary.com

I’ve always been fascinated by what makes some people more successful than others. Why do some employees excel and others struggle? How do we hire an employee that doesn’t just look good on paper and scores appropriately on a behavioral test? Bottom line, there is only one job skill that really matters: the ability to be a critical thinker.

My fascination with critical thinking skills started at a young age as the child of two school teachers. Our opinions and answers to questions needed to be supported by reason, evidence, and a progressive, logical analysis. Both sides of an argument must be considered; alternate responses must be acknowledged; and a conclusion drawn through processing and interpreting that information. In other words, all the dots needed to connect.

Dr. Robert H. Ennis at the University of Illinois conducts ongoing research in this area. In an effort to simplify understanding, he developed “A Super-Streamlined Conception of Critical Thinking.”

Dr. Ennis describes the critical thinker:

  1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives
  2. Desires to be, and is, well-informed
  3. Judges well the credibility of sources
  4. Identifies reasons, assumptions, and conclusions
  5. Asks appropriate clarifying questions
  6. Judges well the quality of an argument, including its reasons, assumptions, evidence, and their degree of support for the conclusion
  7. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position regarding a belief or an action, doing justice to challenges
  8. Formulates plausible hypotheses
  9. Plans and conducts experiments well
  10. Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context
  11. Draws conclusions when warranted – but with caution
  12. Integrates all of the above aspects of critical thinking

The fact is these characteristics are what we should also look for in our national leaders, corporate CEOs, employees, and citizens. With the 2012 Presidential Elections just around the corner, I can’t help but wonder how many voters will apply critical thinking skills to their ballot choices? How many will vote emotionally rather than critically? How many of us make decisions in our personal and professional lives without critical thinking through our choices and the consequences of those choices.

Yes. The only job skill that matters is critical thinking. Just about everything else can be taught. What do you think?

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