Graduate College of Drexel University
Critical thinking versus problem solving.
Many people lump critical thinking and problem-solving together into one basket, and while there are similarities, there are also distinct differences. Critical thinking utilizes analysis, reflection, evaluation, interpretation, and inference to synthesize information that is obtained through reading, observing, communicating, or experience to answer the following questions:
- Is this information credible?
- Is the purveyor of the information credible?
- What is the issue?
- How do I feel about this information and how will it inform my decisions?
- Where does this information lead me?
Problem-solving uses many of the same skills, such as observing, analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting, but it takes the process a step further to identify obstacles and then to strategically map out a set of solutions to solve the problem.
So, how can you develop these skills to be a better critical thinker and a better problem solver? You cannot train yourself to be a critical thinker or a problem solver overnight; you should start slow. Work on one sub-skill at a time. Let’s look at each of these sub-skills:
Regardless of position, you can develop analytical skills by analyzing issues, programs, experiences, etc. to break them down into easier to digest chunks to gain a better or deeper understanding. To do this:
- Be more observant
- Ask questions such as who, what, where, when, how, and why
- Learn as much as possible about the given topic
- Map out the topic or issue to gain a visual understanding
- Figure out the difference between fact and opinion
Learning to be reflective is something you can do with nearly every aspect of your professional and personal life. Start a journal and continually ask yourself questions and explore the answers honestly. This experience will open your mind to reflection, which is the process by which you look at your role in a given situation or experience. The best part of journaling – you can go back and re-read and see your progress over time. To begin the process:
- Ask yourself why you did something or reacted in a certain way
- Be open to look at yourself through an honest and critical lens
- Explore your experience through writing
- Ask trusted colleagues for feedback on your findings
We evaluate things all the time without realizing it – products, services, etc. Begin by being aware of this act. Similar to deepening your analysis skills, you can evaluate any issue, topic, program, procedure, policy, etc. through the means listed below to enhance your evaluation skills.
- Compare different issues, topics, programs, etc. – how are they similar, different?
- Look for trends
- Look for conflicts or barriers
- Don’t make assumptions, ask questions to gather information
The act of interpreting something is using a combination of analytical and evaluation skills, but it is a little more difficult to learn on your own. It is best to partner with someone to hone these skills – a trusted colleague or even a mentor, with whom you can put the following into practice.
- Understand your own biases or opinions
- Understand any cultural input, barriers, etc.
- Look at the situation, experience, issue, topic, etc. through different lenses
- Educate yourself about the situation, experience, issue, topic, etc.
- Synthesize the information, data, etc. to develop a deeper understanding
One of the best ways to begin to develop strategic thinking skills is to do some long-range planning. You can start with your own professional goals, think about short-term goals and how those will help you get from point A to point B, and more importantly, how they lay the groundwork for longer-range goals. Keep practicing by employing these tactics.
- Obtain the perspective of others & brainstorm
- Educate yourself about the situation, experience, issue, topic, etc.
- Be forward-thinking in both the short-term and the long-term
- Think about all parties involved and how decisions, etc. will impact them
- Be creative and innovative
We utilize many of these skills each day, even multiple times a day; however, often we do it without realizing it. The first step to enhancing your critical thinking and problem solving skills is to think about them, become aware of them, then you can actively practice to improve them. Critical thinking and problem-solving are two important “soft” or essential skills hiring managers are looking for. According to a Linkedin survey, 57% of business leaders say soft skills are now more important than hard skills. Abby Guthrie, a communications team leader at Findcourses.com argues, “Every soft skill that you develop will be something you will eventually draw on in your career.” These skills are anything but soft, they are essential to your career.
Anne Converse Willkomm Assistant Clinical Professor Department Head of Graduate Studies Goodwin College Drexel University Sources:
Skills You Need
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Political Finance Questions
Is problem solving and critical thinking the same thing?
Problem-solving is a set of techniques you specifically use to find effective solutions, as opposed to critical thinking , which is a lifelong practice you use to improve your thinking process.
What is the main difference between critical thinking and thinking?
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Critical thinking requires logic and accuracy, while thinking sometimes occurs in the form of faith and personal opinion . The former requires evidence and further actions of examination and analysis, while the latter does not.
Examples of Critical Thinking A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated . A plumber evaluates the materials that would best suit a particular job. An attorney reviews evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.
In practice, problem-solving tends to focus on the identification and resolution of a problem, whilst critical thinking goes beyond this to incorporate asking skilled questions and critiquing solutions.
What is another word for critical thinking?
Critical Thinking means: the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you. Which basically means objective, unbiased or disinterested in one’s thinking and analysis. The opposite of it could be biased, subjective or emotional thinking .
Top 5 critical thinking skills
- Observation. Observational skills are the starting point for critical thinking. …
- Analysis. Once a problem has been identified, analytical skills become essential. …
- Inference. …
- Communication. …
Developing a critical thinking means questioning, identifying different point of view, and evaluating arguments made by others. On the other hand, problem solving is about using logic and imagination to understand a situation in order to find a solution.
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.
Critical thinking skills are important because they enable students “to deal effectively with social, scientific, and practical problems” (Shakirova, 2007, p. 42). Simply put, students who are able to think critically are able to solve problems effectively. Merely having knowledge or information is not enough.
The key critical thinking skills are identifying biases, inference, research, identification, curiosity, and judging relevance . Let’s explore these six critical thinking skills you should learn and why they’re so important to the critical thinking process.
Examples of Problem Solving Scenarios in the Workplace
- Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else.
- Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication.
- Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer.
Some key problem-solving skills include:
- Active listening.
3 Modes Of Thinking: Lateral, Divergent & Convergent Thought .
Critical Thinking Can Be Defined As Ask questions . Gather relevant information. Think through solutions and conclusions. Consider alternative systems of thought.
We can distinguish between critical reading and critical thinking in the following way: Critical reading is a technique for discovering information and ideas within a text. Critical thinking is a technique for evaluating information and ideas, for deciding what to accept and believe.
Critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the true value of statements and seeking errors whereas lateral thinking focuses more on the “movement value” of statements and ideas . A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to new ideas.
Thinking and reasoning are two mental processes between which a key difference can be discerned. Thinking encapsulates a large arena of thought production that can be either conscious or unconscious. On the contrary, reasoning is limited to the conscious production of mental thought with the use of logic.
How does critical thinking differ from ordinary thinking? Rather than thinking about something at random, critical thinking is directed and purposeful and requires skills such as effective reading, writing, listening and communicating. Involves an open mind and looking at things from a different perspective .
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
Critical thinking involves asking questions, defining a problem, examining evidence, analyzing assumptions and biases, avoiding emotional reasoning, avoiding oversimplification, considering other interpretations, and tolerating ambiguity.
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Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Analytical Reasoning Skills Sought by Employers
In this section:
- Critical Thinking
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Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and problem-solving skills are required to perform well on tasks expected by employers. 1 Having good problem-solving and critical thinking skills can make a major difference in a person’s career. 2
Every day, from an entry-level employee to the Chairman of the Board, problems need to be resolved. Whether solving a problem for a client (internal or external), supporting those who are solving problems, or discovering new problems to solve, the challenges faced may be simple/complex or easy/difficult.
A fundamental component of every manager's role is solving problems. So, helping students become a confident problem solver is critical to their success; and confidence comes from possessing an efficient and practiced problem-solving process.
Employers want employees with well-founded skills in these areas, so they ask four questions when assessing a job candidate 3 :
- Evaluation of information: How well does the applicant assess the quality and relevance of information?
- Analysis and Synthesis of information: How well does the applicant analyze and synthesize data and information?
- Drawing conclusions: How well does the applicant form a conclusion from their analysis?
- Acknowledging alternative explanations/viewpoints: How well does the applicant consider other options and acknowledge that their answer is not the only perspective?
When an employer says they want employees who are good at solving complex problems, they are saying they want employees possessing the following skills:
- Analytical Thinking — A person who can use logic and critical thinking to analyze a situation.
- Critical Thinking – A person who makes reasoned judgments that are logical and well thought out.
- Initiative — A person who will step up and take action without being asked. A person who looks for opportunities to make a difference.
- Creativity — A person who is an original thinker and have the ability to go beyond traditional approaches.
- Resourcefulness — A person who will adapt to new/difficult situations and devise ways to overcome obstacles.
- Determination — A person who is persistent and does not give up easily.
- Results-Oriented — A person whose focus is on getting the problem solved.
Two of the major components of problem-solving skills are critical thinking and analytical reasoning. These two skills are at the top of skills required of applicants by employers.
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Critical Thinking 4
“Mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to an analysis by career-search site Indeed.com.” 5 Making logical and reasoned judgments that are well thought out is at the core of critical thinking. Using critical thinking an individual will not automatically accept information or conclusions drawn from to be factual, valid, true, applicable or correct. “When students are taught how to use critical thinking to tap into their creativity to solve problems, they are more successful than other students when they enter management-training programs in large corporations.” 6
A strong applicant should question and want to make evidence-based decisions. Employers want employees who say things such as: “Is that a fact or just an opinion? Is this conclusion based on data or gut feel?” and “If you had additional data could there be alternative possibilities?” Employers seek employees who possess the skills and abilities to conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information to reach an answer or conclusion.
Employers require critical thinking in employees because it increases the probability of a positive business outcome. Employers want employees whose thinking is intentional, purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed.
Recruiters say they want applicants with problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They “encourage applicants to prepare stories to illustrate their critical-thinking prowess, detailing, for example, the steps a club president took to improve attendance at weekly meetings.” 7
Employers want students to possess analytical reasoning/thinking skills — meaning they want to hire someone who is good at breaking down problems into smaller parts to find solutions. “The adjective, analytical, and the related verb analyze can both be traced back to the Greek verb, analyein — ‘to break up, to loosen.’ If a student is analytical, you are good at taking a problem or task and breaking it down into smaller elements in order to solve the problem or complete the task.” 9
Analytical reasoning connotes a person's general aptitude to arrive at a logical conclusion or solution to given problems. Just as with critical thinking, analytical thinking critically examines the different parts or details of something to fully understand or explain it. Analytical thinking often requires the person to use “cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, associations between things, inter-relationships between the parts, the sequence of events, ways to solve complex problems, steps within a process, diagraming what is happening.” 10
Analytical reasoning is the ability to look at information and discern patterns within it. “The pattern could be the structure the author of the information uses to structure an argument, or trends in a large data set. By learning methods of recognizing these patterns, individuals can pull more information out of a text or data set than someone who is not using analytical reasoning to identify deeper patterns.” 11
Employers want employees to have the aptitude to apply analytical reasoning to problems faced by the business. For instance, “a quantitative analyst can break down data into patterns to discern information, such as if a decrease in sales is part of a seasonal pattern of ups and downs or part of a greater downward trend that a business should be worried about. By learning to recognize these patterns in both numbers and written arguments, an individual gains insights into the information that someone who simply takes the information at face value will miss.” 12
Managers with excellent analytical reasoning abilities are considered good at, “evaluating problems, analyzing them from more than one angle and finding a solution that works best in the given circumstances”. 13 Businesses want managers who can apply analytical reasoning skills to meet challenges and keep a business functioning smoothly
A person with good analytical reasoning and pattern recognition skills can see trends in a problem much easier than anyone else.
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Critical thinking and problem solving represent two abilities or competences for innovation in the 21 st century. Developing a critical thinking means questioning, identifying different point of view, and evaluating arguments made by others. On the other hand, problem solving is about using logic and imagination to understand a situation in order to find a solution.
So, contrary to popular belief, critical thinking and problem solving can be learned and implemented in any classroom in order to develop students’ thinking skills for comprehensive and autonomous learning.
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Critical Thinking vs Problem Solving: What’s the Difference?
In our blog “Importance of Problem Solving Skills in Leadership ,” we highlighted problem solving skills as a distinct skill set. We outlined a 7-step approach in how the best leaders solve problems.
Critical thinking vs. problem solving
But are critical thinking and problem solving the same? Also, if there are differences, what are they? Although many educators and business leaders lump critical thinking and problem solving together, there are differences:
Problem solving uses many of the same skills required for critical thinking; e.g., observation, analysis, evaluation, interpretation, and reflection. Critical thinking is an important ingredient of problem solving.
Critical thinking vs. problem solving: Not all problems require critical thinking skills
Not every problem-solving skill is a critical thinking skill. That is because not every problem requires thinking. A problem like opening a stubborn pickle jar could simply require brute strength. On the other hand, it becomes a thinking skill when you remember to tap the edge of the pickle jar lid to loosen the seal.
Also, some problem-solving skills are the exact opposite of critical thinking. When you follow directions or use muscle memory or rote (memorization) thinking, there is no critical thinking required. Likewise, skills of persuasion or public oratory are thinking skills, but aren’t necessarily critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking vs. problem solving: The role of emotional intelligence
In our blog “ What is the role of communication in critical thinking ?” we highlighted one author’s argument that critical thinking and problem solving is not always a purely rational process. While critical thinkers are in great demand in the hiring marketplace, employees who are emotionally intelligent bring even greater value to an organization.
Writing for Business News Daily , editor Chad Brooks describes emotional intelligence as “the ability to understand your emotions and recognize the emotions and motivations of those around you.”
So, when looking for star performers, research shows “that emotional intelligence counts for twice as much as IQ and technical skills combined in determining who will be a star performer.”
Further, in today’s collaborative workplace environment, “hiring employees who can understand and control their emotions – while also identifying what makes those around them tick—is of the utmost importance.”
Finally, one expert notes that dealing with emotions is an important part of critical thinking. Emotions can be at the root of a problem. They are frequently symptomatic of problems below the surface. Problem solving when dealing with emotions requires openness to authentic emotional expressions. It requires the understanding that when someone is in pain, it is a problem that is real.
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Critical thinking and problem solving: A deeper dive
A recap of the distinct differences between critical thinking and problem solving.
Critical thinking, according to an article on Drexel University’s Graduate College webpage “utilizes analysis, reflection, evaluation, interpretation, and inference to synthesize information that is obtained through reading, observing, communicating, or experience.”
The goal of critical thinking is to evaluate the credibility of both the information and its source. It questions the central issue and how the information will inform intelligent decisions. Finally, it asks the question, “Where does this information lead me?”
Problem solving , as previously mentioned, uses many of those skills, but “it takes the process a step further to identify obstacles and then to strategically map out a set of solutions to solve the problem. That extra step in problem solving is identifying obstacles as well as mapping out a strategic set of solutions to resolve the problem.
How to develop critical thinking skills to become a better problem solver
1. develop your analytical skills..
Pay attention and be more observant. Ask the questions “who, what, where, and why” and learn as much as possible about the topic or problem. Map everything out to imprint or gain a visual understanding and focus on the differences between fact, opinion, and your own bias.
2. Learn the skill of evaluating
As a subset of analysis, you can become skilled in evaluation by:
- comparing similar and related topics, programs, and issues. How are they different, and where are the similarities?
- looking for trends that support (or refute) what you intuitively feel is the solution
- recognizing barriers or conflicts to successful problem resolution
- asking questions and gathering information—assuming nothing, ever.
3. Interpretation with the help of a mentor or someone more experienced
Interpreting a problem accurately employs both analytical and evaluating skills. With practice, you can develop this skill, but to hone your interpretation skills, it is advisable to seek the help of an experienced mentor.
You’ll need to do the following:
- know how your own biases or opinions can be a roadblock to the best decision making
- recognize that cultural differences can be a barrier to communication
- look at the problem from the point of view of others
- learn as much as you can about the problem, topic, or experience
- synthesize everything you have learned in order to make the connections and put the elements of a problem together to form its solution
4. Acquire the skill and habit of reflection.
Being reflective is applicable to almost every aspect of your personal and professional life. To open your mind to reflection, think back to your educational experience. Your instructor may have asked you to keep a reflective journal of your learning-related experiences. A reflective journal requires expressive writing, which, in turn, relieves stress.
Perhaps you have just had a disagreement with a coworker, who became abusive and personal. Not everyone can come up with those instant snappy comebacks on the spot, and it is usually best to disengage before the situation gets worse.
Here’s where reflective journaling helps. When you’re in a calmer state of mind, you can journal the incident to:
- gain deeper insights into your thought processes and actions—How do you feel about not defending yourself from the colleague’s accusations or personal abuse? What was the perfect response that eluded you in the stress of the moment?
- build a different approach to problems—It could be that your co-worker perceives you as unapproachable or unreceptive to suggestions and criticism. Maybe it’s time to have a frank discussion to help you see yourself through the eyes of the coworker.
- get closer to making significant changes in your life—Your journal entries may have displayed a pattern of your behavior on the job, which elicits consistent negative reactions from more than one co-worker.
- When evaluating critical thinking vs. problem solving, the elements of both appear to blend into a distinction without a difference.
- Good problem solvers employ the steps of critical thinking, but not all problem solving involves critical thinking.
- Emotional intelligence is an attribute that is a hybrid skill of problem solving and critical thinking.
- You can hone your critical thinking skills to become a better problem solver through application of analysis, evaluation, interpretation, and reflection.
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