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Critical Thinking Skills: A Guide for Problem-Solving

Critical Thinking Skills for Problem Solving

Feeling challenged by the problems in your business? Looking for creative and strategic ways of solving problems? Your journey can start with critical thinking and problem-solving training . In a business environment, you are always searching for opportunities. Problems are opportunities in disguise. To become a problem-solver, you are on a mission to learn the art of thinking critically and creatively.

You need to find innovative solutions to your problems which will derive from teamwork and collaboration. Let’s explore the key concepts of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

In this article ....

What is critical thinking, critical thinking and problem-solving: why should you have the skills.

How relevant is critical thinking to your job?

Managers are role models for their teams. As a manager, your ability to analyse problems critically influence your team members in the long run.

Human Resources Specialist

Business analyst, marketing associate.

Marketing associates gather and analyse a wide range of information regarding the target audience for their organisations. The ability to think critically can influence them to work out different solutions for successful marketing campaigns.

Sales Agent and Customer Service Representative

Creative ways of solving problems: the problem-solving method.

Creating Problem-Solving Process

Start identifying your goals, desires or challenges. Don’t make wild assumptions about your problem. Define your objectives clearly for clarity. Gather data about the problem. You can interview people, conduct surveys and collect statistics. Try to understand everyone’s opinions and feelings. Formulate open-ended questions based on your awareness of the problems. Visualise the challenges and opportunities regarding the problem.

It’s time for brainstorming, brain writing, mind mapping or other forms of idea generating techniques. This is where creativity matters. When you get tired of the continuous process, take a break and return with fresh ideas. Problem Solving Skills  discusses elaborately on the preparation for brainstorming.

Now you are moving to the convergent stage of creative problem-solving. Your focus shifts to the evaluation of all the ideas generated before. Analyse the potential solutions, and think of the rationale behind the implementation of the solution.

4. Implement

You have to plan the course of action for the implementation stage. Identify your resources, communicate with the stakeholders and explain everything to the implementer.

Some ways of generating ideas creatively

Brainwriting: Brainwriting is a complementary technique to brainstorming. It can be considered a graphic version of brainstorming. Horst Geschka and his colleagues gave the idea as part of their research on the innovation management method.

Mind mapping: Mind maps are a visual representation of ideas on a piece of paper. You put the central idea in the middle and the associated ideas surrounding the central concept. Afterwards, you connect the ideas.

critical thinking skills vs problem solving

Duncker diagram: A comparative flowchart of the present state and desired state side by side with general solutions, functional solutions and specific solutions in three different levels.

Duncker Diagram

How can a course on critical thinking help you to solve problems?

From our course on critical thinking and problem-solving , you will familiarise with the following concepts:

The modules of the course cover topics like problem-solving methods, information-gathering techniques, defining problems for clarity, getting ready for effective brainstorming, generating solutions maintaining a specific sequence, solutions analysis and planning the implementation phase.

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Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking 

Critical thinking is a scope of various complex skills related to a higher level of thinking. It is a self-directed thinking that produces new and innovative ideas and solves problems. It assumes reflecting critically on learning experiences and processes, and making effective decisions by avoiding common pitfalls, for example seeing only one side of an issue, discounting new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning from passion rather than logic, and failing to support statements with evidence.

In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Problem Solving

Problem Solving is a mental process involving the ability to analyze and find the solution that best resolves the problem. It describes the process where there is a goal that is blocked for any reason – lack of resources, lack of information and so on – that presents a problem. Whatever is done in order to achieve the set goal is problem solving. 

There are routine problems and non-routine problems. Routine problems can be solved using methods familiar to students by replicating previously learned methods in a step-by-step fashion. Non-routine problems are problems for ‘which there is not a predictable, well-rehearsed approach or pathway explicitly suggested by the task, task instructions or a worked-out example’. Everyone needs problem solving skill in everyday life. It assumes a group of skills which, in addition to cognitive, includes social and other skills, helping us to define causes to the problem and to find efficient solutions. We use critical and creative thinking in order to solve problems. 

Benefits of learning critical thinking and problem solving skills

Benefits of learning critical thinking.

Benefits of learning problem solving

critical thinking skills vs problem solving

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Critical thinking & problem-solving skills students need, sponsored post.

critical thinking skills vs problem solving

Do you have children of school age, and currently looking for a school to enrol them? As parents, there are a multitude of factors which need to be considered when searching for a school suitable for your child’s educational needs. Selecting the appropriate school for your children is essential as the role of your chosen institution will be to nurture and guide your child in their developing years with the skills they need in adult life.

According to experts, some of the skills children should develop early in life are critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which help them form a structured base for decisions they’ll make in their working and personal life. Critical thinking is in problem-solving, creating strategic plans, and understanding the effects of your actions. This article discusses the various critical thinking and problem-solving skills students need to develop and help you find the right school to cultivate these skills into your children from an early age.

Table of Contents

What Are Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills?

Critical thinking skills students should develop, what are the barriers to critical thinking development in students, problem-solving skills that are essential to students, factors to consider when choosing the right school for your kids.

According to Music First Hand, Founder and Chief Executive Officer Kris Potrafka , people who lack critical thinking skills have reduced promotion opportunities and are more susceptible to manipulation and fraud. And, it’s for this very reason, employers value employees highly with problem-solving skills; these essential traits greatly impact employers during the selection process when hiring candidates.

Critical thinking is the mental process of conceptualising, analysing, evaluating, and applying the information to guide one’s action and belief. Information obtained from observation, reflection, experience, learning, communication, and reasoning become the cornerstone of the decisions we make.

Problem-solving , meanwhile, is the process of defining a problem, finding its cause, developing or finding a solution, and applying the solution to solve it. Excellent problem-solving skills are essential tools for career advancement.

Significant responsibility is placed on schools for developing characteristics in students which prepare them for their working roles, the decisions they make and how they interact with the community. But, what exactly are the benefits of critical thinking?  How does critical thinking serve as a safety net from making poor decisions, and what are the essentials elements which make up the critical thinking process?

Below, we summarised the essential elements which help all individual’s draw conclusions, make decisions and take decisive action at the right time, let’s look at those now;

In teaching critical thinking skills to students, teachers must determine the challenges and barriers that impede their progress. By identifying these barriers, teachers can develop strategies to overcome them. Here are some common educational roadblocks and how to avoid them:

Educators can help eliminate a groupthink perspective in their students by introducing teaching methods which encourage independent thinking. Students can learn how to develop individual thought and critical thinking through constructive arguments and debating activities.

To eliminate egocentric behaviour, teachers should encourage critical thinking activities in the classroom. The educators should assist students in improving their abstract thinking by highlighting the attitudes and opinions of others in social conflict examples. The teachers should develop empathy and understanding of student views and their opinions of others.

In teaching students how to develop their problem-solving skills, teachers should use the theories linked to the psychology of learning. The use of psychology may rouse the curiosity and motivation of students in the learning process.  The Australian Christian College also recently discussed the importance of critical thinking in a recent article, a worthwhile read. Here are some of the problem-solving skills students should develop inside and outside the classroom:

Academic achievements aside, one primary consideration for most parents is the development of your child’s character, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Several other factors need also will weigh into your decision making, they are;

Critical thinking and problem-solving are essential traits in the development of all children.  As parents, actively encouraging your children to engage in discussion about current world events, problems or issues which they are passionate about, whether they be at home, school or amongst friends.  The skills they learn today greatly aids in them in making the right life choices, while increasing their perceived value within the community and to future employers.

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Why STEM? Success Starts With Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving Skills

The robot lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Department of Computer Science. Image: joefutrelle/Flickr

Our educational system is tasked with preparing the next-generation to succeed in life. That’s a tall order and it will substantially fail if it doesn’t teach children how to think critically and solve problems. In a post entitled “ STEM Education: Why All the Fuss? ,” I wrote, “Educating students in STEM subjects (if taught correctly) prepares students for life, regardless of the profession they choose to follow. Those subjects teach students how to think critically and how to solve problems — skills that can be used throughout life to help them get through tough times and take advantage of opportunities whenever they appear.”

I’m not alone in making this assessment. Vince Bertram, President and CEO of Project Lead The Way, Inc., feels the same way. “The United States can no longer excuse its poor academic performance by asserting that students in other nations excel in rote learning, while ours are better at problem solving. Recent test results clearly tell a different story.” [“ We Have to Get Serious About Creativity and Problem Solving ,” Huffington Post The Blog , 7 May 2014] Naveen Jain, Entrepreneur and Founder of the World Innovation Institute, adds, “Please don’t get me started on ‘No Child Left Behind.’ It might as well be called ‘All Children Left Behind.’ This system of standardized, rote learning that teaches to a test is exactly the type of education our children don’t need in this world that is plagued by systemic, pervasive and confounding global challenges. Today’s education system does not focus enough on teaching children to solve real world problems and is not interdisciplinary, nor collaborative enough in its approach.” [“ School’s Out for Summer: Rethinking Education for the 21st Century ,” Wall Street Journal , 27 June 2013] He continues:

“Imagine education that is as entertaining and addictive as video games. Sound far-fetched? I believe that this is exactly the idea — driven by dynamic innovation and entrepreneurism — that will help bring our education system out of the stone ages.”

There a numerous examples of how teachers have involved students in problem-solving activities and, as a result, have excited them about education while teaching them how to better cope with the world around them. As Bertram noted above, Americans can no longer boast that we are teaching our children how to solve problems better than the rest of the world. He explains:

“The latest round of international standardized test results showed American students are lagging behind the rest of the developed world not just in math, science and reading , but in problem solving as well. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test examined 44 countries’ students’ problem-solving abilities — American students landed just above the average, but they still scored below many other developed countries, including Britain, Singapore, Korea, Japan, China and Canada.”

Jeevan Vasagar insists that the data shows that countries that teach their children how to solve problems are more successful than those who don’t. It sounds both obvious and sensible; yet, America seems to have turned its back on that approach. “Education is under pressure to respond to a changing world,” writes Vasagar. “As repetitive tasks are eroded by technology and outsourcing, the ability to solve novel problems has become increasingly vital.” [“ Countries that excel at problem-solving encourage critical thinking ,” Financial Times , 19 May 2014] He continues:

“Students from the main western European countries — England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium — all performed above the average, as did pupils from the Czech Republic and Estonia. In the rest of the rich world, the US, Canada and Australia also performed above average. But the laurels were taken by east Asian territories; Singapore and South Korea performed best, followed by Japan, and the Chinese regions of Macau and Hong Kong. That result poses a challenge to schools in the west. Critics of east Asian education systems attribute their success at maths and science to rote learning. But the OECD’s assessment suggests that schools in east Asia are developing thinking skills as well as providing a solid grounding in core subjects. Across the world, the OECD study found a strong and positive correlation between performance in problem solving and performance in maths, reading and science. In general, the high-performing students were also the ones best able to cope with unfamiliar situations.”

The lesson that needs to be learned here is that, if you want your child to succeed in life, teach him or her how to think critically and solve problems. The best way to do that is to provide them with a good foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). As I noted at the beginning of this article, grounding student in STEM subjects doesn’t mean that other social or liberal arts subjects aren’t important , only that STEM subjects teach life-skills that other disciplines don’t. Bertram explains:

“In America, we must make core subjects like math and science relevant for students, and at the same time, foster creativity, curiosity and a passion for problem solving. That’s what STEM education does. STEM is about using math and science to solve real-world challenges and problems. This applied, project-based way of teaching and learning allows students to understand and appreciate the relevancy of their work to their own lives and the world around them. Once they grasp core concepts, students are able to choose a problem and use their own creativity and curiosity to research, design, test and improve a viable solution.”

One of the reasons that I, along with a few colleagues, founded The Project for STEM Competitiveness , was to help get a project-based, problem-solving approach into schools. As an employer of people with technical skills, I am naturally interested in ensuring that, in the future, I will have an adequate employee pool from which to draw; but, as a parent, I want to ensure that our children are equipped to succeed in a changing world. As I’ve noted in previous articles, many of the jobs our children will asked to fill don’t even exist today. Daisy Christodoulou, an educationalist and the author of Seven Myths about Education , explains that students need exposure to a broad array of disciplines so that they are exposed to the problem-solving skills required in each area. She “argues that such skills are domain specific – they cannot be transferred to an area where our knowledge is limited.” She also believes this will help teach students to think more critically. Vasagar explains:

“Critical thinking is a skill that is impossible to teach directly but must be intertwined with content, Christodoulou argues. … Some argue that placing too strong an emphasis on children acquiring knowledge alone leaves them struggling when faced with more complex problems. Tim Taylor, a former primary school teacher who now trains teachers, says: ‘If you front-load knowledge and leave all the thinking and critical questioning until later, children don’t develop as effective learners.’ There are some generic tools that transfer across disciplines, Taylor argues. ‘What is reading if not a cognitive tool? And that is clearly “transferable”.’ … The way to teach generic skills is to be ‘mindful of it as a teacher’, Taylor suggests. ‘You create opportunities to keep that in the forefront of what you are doing – how is this helping us? How can we use this in another context? That is the point of education, to develop a “growth mindset”,’ he states.”

I agree with Bertram that we must foster educational approaches that appeal to a child’s natural sense of curiosity. He explains:

“Children are born with a natural curiosity. Give a child a toy and watch him or her play for hours. Listen to the questions a child asks. Children have a thirst to understand things. But then they go to school. They are taught how to take tests, how to respond to questions — how to do school. At our own peril, we teach them compliance. We teach them that school isn’t a place for creativity. That must change.”

We are all familiar with the adage “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Too often we are feeding our students instead of teaching them how to feed themselves. The disciplines that do that best are STEM-related.

Stephen F. DeAngelis is President and CEO of the cognitive computing firm Enterra Solutions.

critical thinking skills vs problem solving

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Success Skills

Problem-solving with critical thinking.

For most people, a typical day is filled with critical thinking and problem-solving challenges. In fact, critical thinking and problem-solving go hand-in-hand. They both refer to using knowledge, facts, and data to solve problems effectively. But with problem-solving, you are specifically identifying, selecting, and defending your solution. Below are some examples of using critical thinking to problem-solve:

Young man in black jacket looking deep in thought, in foreground of busy street scene

Problem-Solving Action Checklist

Problem-solving can be an efficient and rewarding process, especially if you are organized and mindful of critical steps and strategies. Remember, too, to assume the attributes of a good critical thinker. If you are curious, reflective, knowledge-seeking, open to change, probing, organized, and ethical, your challenge or problem will be less of a hurdle, and you’ll be in a good position to find intelligent solutions.

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