Everyone knows that being a critical thinker is important, but what does that really mean? These practical critical thinking examples will demonstrate what it means to make informed choices, analyze information, and solve problems.
The internet is a great place to practice critical thinking, since readers are constantly inundated with information and others' viewpoints. Deciding what to think and why you think it means you must analyze what you see and determine its source. Is it fake news? Consider these examples.
On social media, a friend shares a photo of a political candidate standing over a dead elephant. Your friend is outraged at the idea that this politician killed an elephant. It's tempting to take the picture at face value and share in your friend's emotional reaction.
However, as a critical thinker, you ask some important questions:
- Is this an opportunity to avoid groupthink, the tendency for a group of people to lose objectivity and think as one mind?
- Is this photograph manipulated? You know it is easy to change a photograph these days.
- Is there a reason someone would want you to think something negative about this politician?
- Does your friend usually check the validity of things before posting them?
A quick web search reveals that the photo was manipulated by the opponent of the political candidate. Your critical thinking saved you from spreading misinformation.
You open your email and discover a desperate letter from a friend you haven't talked to lately. In the letter, your friend says she was on vacation in Africa and ran into legal trouble. The authorities there are holding her prisoner, and if she can't find the money to pay the bail, she risks lifelong imprisonment. She begs you to help by sending money to a certain address.
Fortunately, you are a critical thinker and ask some questions before rushing to her aid:
- Is your friend even in Africa? You can easily call her or her family to find out.
- Does this email look like your friend's writing style? When you analyze it, you see there are many grammar errors and other mistakes.
- Who owns the address where you would send the money?
You search online and find out this is a phishing scheme to get money and personal information from people. Your friend isn't in Africa at all. Because you were a critical thinker and analyzed the email, you avoided losing money.
At work, critical thinking is essential for solving problems. Whether you work alone or with a team, you need to observe and analyze the issues you encounter. Then, you can come up with ways to improve the situation. These workplace critical thinking examples can show you how.
Your small company makes custom notebooks for bird watchers with inserts designed for specific parts of the country. You promote your product as a great gift idea, and your holiday orders break your previous sales record. The problem is you don't have enough materials to fulfill your orders. You ask yourself some questions:
- What information is important here? You realize you are only missing the dividers for the notebooks.
- What can you infer? You remember that you heard about another supplier for the dividers.
- Will communication help? You call the other supplier.
After calling the other supplier, you find you can get the dividers you need to fulfill your holiday orders. You used critical thinking skills to solve the problem.
You're a project manager at a pharmaceutical company, and you are managing the launch of a new product. The new equipment for producing the medication needs to be ready for production in a week, but the regulatory group doesn't want to sign off on the documentation until you do more testing. You're getting pressure from the directors to make sure everything is ready for the launch. You apply critical thinking practices:
- What is the root problem? The regulatory group wants more testing, but the team doesn't have time to get everyone to sign the documents again.
- Will communication help? You talk to the regulatory group and figure out exactly what kind of testing they need.
- How can you save time? You could call a meeting to have everyone sign the documents at once after the testing has been done.
You conduct the testing the regulatory group needs, call a meeting for everyone to sign, and meet your goal of launching the product on time. Your critical thinking skills helped you overcome this challenge.
Teaching critical thinking is especially important, and these examples can also function as lesson plans. There are lots of opportunities to help students learn to think like problem solvers.
Throughout time, people have chosen to follow fashion trends. Work with the class to list some of the crazy fashion trends that have come and gone, such as corsets, hoop skirts, poisonous makeup, and outlandish hairstyles. Ask them some important questions to encourage critical thinking:
- These trends seem silly now, but why did people engage in them at the time?
- Can students think of any trends like this that might be happening today?
- What are some ways to decide whether a trend is dangerous, harmful, or simply inconvenient in some way?
Fashion trends are a great example of bandwagon fallacy, the tendency for people to believe something is a good idea just because it is popular.
Play a popular soft drink commercial for the students. Give everyone a sample of the soft drink in the ad and encourage them to think about how drinking it may or may not have changed their lives. Then, encourage critical thinking:
- What did the commercial say directly about the soft drink? What did it imply?
- Did the soft drink live up to the expectations laid out in the commercial?
- What is the main purpose of the advertisement?
As students answer these questions, they learn to be critical thinking consumers. They can also apply these skills to make informed decisions about news stories and other information they encounter.
Take an Active Role in Decision-Making
Critical thinking involves stopping to consider a situation before acting or forming a judgement. This can include problem solving, recognizing your value in a situation, and even healthy skepticism. People who practice critical thinking skills are taking an active role in the decisions they make.