Can Critical Thinking Keep Your Company Competitive?
Organizations everywhere are upskilling employees with corporate training that focuses on emerging technologies. But essential skills—what some call “soft skills”—can be equally important in many professional contexts.
One such essential skill is critical thinking, the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate information to form a judgment.
As lead instructor for MIT xPRO’s online course, Critical Thinking and Decision Making, MIT Professor Dan Frey has valuable insights into why critical thinking for teams and individuals is pertinent in the modern workplace and what participants can expect from his course.
Why are critical thinking skills so important in today's organizations?
Professor Frey admits that critical thinking isn’t always vitally important. For example, when work is moving along productively by means of routine procedures, organizations benefit from simply implementing the workflow without too much critical questioning.
It’s when there is a disruption that critical thinking becomes necessary. In these instances, “critical thinking provides a way to snap out of the routine,” explains Professor Frey.
Additionally, as the relatively routine mental tasks that historically made up the bulk of people’s workloads are increasingly automated, critical thinking is key for anyone who wants to continue adding value beyond what can be handled by machine learning.
“In the past, there have always been some special people who excelled at critical thinking, and those people had an outsized impact,” he says. “The difference today is that critical thinking will have to become far more widely practiced than it was by our predecessors. Ask yourself, ‘Was this blog post written by ChatGPT?’ If you’re not sure, why did you pay a person to write it?”
What is at risk for organizations that don't prioritize critical thinking for teams and individuals?
“It’s always difficult to put a value on the activities that prevent horrible losses. But the organizations that don’t value critical thinking for teams and individuals will keep sleepwalking right into disasters,” says Professor Frey.
He proposes a thought experiment: “Think of the scenarios that pose an existential risk to your organization in the future. If that’s hard to do, think instead of the events that destroyed great organizations in the past. How much critical thinking would have been necessary to foresee and avoid those events?”
What industries do you see most represented in your course participants?
According to Professor Frey, learners from the aerospace, software, and medical technologies and services industries are most prevalent in his critical thinking course.
“Aerospace is an especially interesting sector to consider,” he says. “People tend to think of aircraft and satellite launches as bold and daring. But this is a sector where you can’t afford to have anything less than the best available procedures for risk mitigation. I think aerospace continues to demonstrate leadership in understanding that necessary balance. We still see remarkable risk-taking and also the creation of fantastically reliable systems.”
What can learners expect from MIT xPRO’s Critical Thinking and Decision Making course?
When asked about the pedagogical methods and tools he uses to get learners comfortable with the topics covered in his course, Professor Frey says he tries to bring the lessons of the course alive through stories. “You should be able to appreciate the tools and the value they can add because you know how they were used in a meaningful context,” he explains.
“There are some really concrete takeaways that learners can expect to leave with after completing the course,” he adds. For example, course participants will be equipped with reliable countermeasures to avoid logical fallacies like base-rate neglect.
While corporate leaders who take the course will encounter many concepts and materials that give them a competitive edge in the marketplace, Professor Frey reveals that the most exciting concept to him is “the harnessing of innate human capacities that can move people from innumeracy to insight.”
What are some of the highlights of teaching this course?
A significant highlight for Professor Frey is when students reach out to him to convey personal anecdotes demonstrating that the course is making a difference in their professional lives.
“Maybe they were in a meeting, and they spoke up and said something like, ‘Wait—have you considered this other possibility?’ These moments can have major impacts,” he says.
There’s no better time to prioritize essential skills like critical thinking in your organization’s corporate training initiatives. Learn more about MIT xPRO’s Critical Thinking and Decision Making course, and enroll yourself or your employees in the next session!