Indian Leadership Academy

The Role of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving as a Soft Skill Today

To change, evolve, and become successful in the modern era of the 21st century, we need soft skills like critical thinking, creativity, cognition, and problem-solving. Socrates aptly stated, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” So it’s significant that we examine, critique, and improve ourselves in our thinking capabilities and decision-making. The term critical comes from the Greek word kritikós meaning “able to judge or discern”; but how do we do that? And first of all, what is critical thinking in its most basic form?
From my understanding, it is the ability to objectively analyze information (course of action), think about it reasonably, and reflect on it to draw a rational conclusion. Critical thinking encompasses a few deep-rooted skills in us to nurture: to clarify the context, question assumptions/source of information, identify logical arguments, analyze these sources and arguments, evaluate others’ arguments, and create your arguments. 
Clarifying designates filtering of our thought and belief process. It is the adeptness of managing ambiguity by stepping out of our cognitive bias. We need to be comfortable in a workplace where change is constant and rapid decisions are welcomed. What is the problem? What is the goal I’m proceeding towards? What different perspectives, viewpoints, arguments, and counterarguments I’m considering? Do I have an unequivocal understanding of the addressed issue? Have I located the evidence?
Question means to look into those assumptions and refute generalizations through deductive reasoning. Critical thinkers are always inquisitive and they scrutinize the what and why behind every hypothesis. Questioning allows us to eliminate erroneous sources of information, look for credibility/relevance, and to sharpen the focus of our study of the problem.  Identify arguments through logic (a sub-discipline of philosophy). e.g. In academic sources, argument summaries can be found in the abstract and in the introduction and conclusion or discussion. In non-academic sources, the summary is usually provided at the beginning or in conclusion. After explicitly finding the argument summary, identify the author’s position and then paraphrase it in your own words.
Analyze the arguments in detail, about what exactly happened or what was the problem all about, and its’ reason? Quite often, ostensibly what seems to be a single problem turns out to be a string of problems at a small scale. The Drill Down Technique prompts you to split your problem into smaller, more manageable parts. It works by noting down the problem on the left-hand side of a paper; and on the right-hand side of each problem, write its corresponding details. Repeat this and drill down to analyze all the factors contributing to the original problem. Moreover, for analyzing multiple sets of problems, mind-maps, matrices, and affinity diagrams can be put to use. Analyze the sources, based on their structure, purpose, use of evidence, anything absurd, and unleash some common themes/patterns. e.g. A mechanic must understand how an entire engine works before he can diagnose a problem. Sometimes, it is vital to deconstruct an engine to figure out the non-working parts.
Evaluate others’ arguments, and debug false assumptions. Evaluation is just like a SWOT analysis: what are the strengths and limitations of the argument, how well are the claims supported? What are some areas that need to be further investigated? e.g.
Evidence Reason Claim
A new wave of COVID-19 is detected in Maharashtra by IIT-Kanpur

Cases will likely surge.

A new wave of COVID-19 is detected in Maharashtra by IIT-Kanpur

Analysis: The author has used the link to Deptt of Sci & Tech, Government of India and IIT Kanpur’s model display. It shows new positive cases of 1,00,000 per day in the state.

Analysis: The author assumes that coronavirus will mutate in a predictable pattern, and predicts that cases will rise. ‘Likely’ indicates that he/she is more than 50% sure, but not 100%.

Analysis: A deduced proposition is made that following social distancing, carrying masks and sanitizers will prevent the spread of the virus.

Evaluation: The argument is based on a solid ground (research model of a public higher education institute). The author could have used some matrix for estimating the death rate as well which would strengthen the overall argument.

Evaluation: The writer’s judgment on arising of new cases is almost correct. One shortcoming could be not defining a specific percentage of the upsurge. It could have consolidated the reasoning.

Evaluation: Overall, this is a valid claim. The evidence and reasoning do lead us to an apt conclusion.

Overall Evaluation: This is a well-grounded argument with a basis of reasoning, logic, and rational conclusion that new cases will emerge from every district in the state.
Create your argument i.e. formulating an argument that involves the main claim, a logical structure, clear reasoning, analysis, and clear writing. Developing precise vocabulary and communicating succinctly. Though we need to be cautious at times for certain loopholes like using the same reasoning approach for similar arguments, describing our emotions/feelings about the problem in the argument, and incorporating any kind of bias. It is imperative upon us that we use our potential for the benefit of society and our nation to the best of our abilities.