Across all fields of work, work-based learning experiences allow youth to see how creative and critical thinking are balanced and used in all aspects of professional jobs. Creative thinking expands possibilities — creativity is used to generate new ideas, “break out of the box” and think of new ways to do things. New ideas may be small or large, radically different or just a slightly fresh approach. Critical thinking shapes effective action — critical thinking is used to assess new and existing ideas and strategies, gather and weigh evidence, and sharpen insights into your goals and work. Like creativity, critical thinking can be described as “thinking outside the box” — looking at information in several different ways in order to draw good conclusions.
Part I of this post focuses on creativity; Part II provides a focus on critical thinking.
What is critical thinking and how is it applied in a workplace? Critical thinking may be defined as making decisions based on objective information, decision making criteria, logical thinking and common sense.
To be an effective critical thinker you must understand:
1.) Goals – what are you trying to achieve?
2.) Criteria for success – what factors are important? (such as considering safety, cost, environmental impact, customer satisfaction, etc.)
3.) Available information – What information can you gather? Are there any measurements or data collection methods that can you develop? What background information is available? What can you infer based on previous experiences?
4.) How can I systematically and logically consider all these factors to evaluate various ideas, approaches or projects?
Like creative thinking, critical thinking can be applied in “smaller” everyday decision making and in “bigger” decisions about projects, policies, business ideas, etc.
For example, you are working in a culinary arts program, and have thought of several creative new ingredients that you might add to a recipe. Now you will apply critical thinking to assess the ideas, considering your goals and criteria for success, including taste, visual appeal, cost, safety (including potential food allergies) and likely customer satisfaction.
Or, for example, you are working on park maintenance during the summer and you have limited time to spend working on a particular section of the park. In order to prioritize projects, you need to identify the criteria for decision making, such as the time needed to do a task along with the potential benefit to the long-term health of trees and plants, positive impact on the environment, or benefits to park visitors.
Or, for another example, as interns in a public health program, you may be asked to work with your team to develop a public information campaign to educate students about health topics. Your group has generated a variety of creative ideas and you are now ready to evaluate the ideas and develop a plan. Your ultimate goal is to improve students’ healthy behavior, and your immediate goal is to increase students’ knowledge about health topics and build healthy attitudes. Criteria for success might include any time and budget considerations (the campaign must be completed in one semester within a certain budget); respect (information must be respectful of the feelings and maturity of the audience); quality of information (information must be accurate and useful); and effectiveness (the campaign should be effective in increasing knowledge and changing attitudes and behavior). Information to support your decision making might include research about similar campaigns done in your community or in other communities; your own experiences and perceptions about similar public information campaigns, and, once you start the campaign, possible surveys or pre/post tests of student knowledge and attitudes.
Youth may be involved in some or all aspects of critical thinking in their summer jobs and internships. For example, a student intern may be entering data for a research project and may help to analyze and interpret data as part of the larger project. Or a youth may be doing background research to help an organization with a future event or marketing project, and may help to gather information and to identify the factors that are important to a successful project.
Examples of critical thinking in recent summer job and internship placements include the following:
- Teaching Assistant: Intern will review and reflect upon lessons to identify strengths and areas for improvement.
- Program Research Intern: Intern will research youth program models and will identify features of successful programs.
- Physical Therapy Intern: As the physical therapist performs the evalution, the therapist develops a diagnosis and treatment plan specific for the patient. Intern will be instructed in the thought process and theory that helps the therapist come to a conclusion.
- Public Affairs Intern: Intern will will be involved in social media, assisting with a contest during the fall on Facebook and working on strategies for future Facebook projects.
- Research/Data Entry Intern: Entering data for a research project, sorting and analyzing the data; interpreting data.
- Office Intern: Developing a healthy critique of specific office operations. Recognizing and learning from varying leadership styles.
- Development Office Intern: Intern will be expected to develop a framework of understanding of our industry, and to contribute to and participate in discussions in a constructive manner that demonstrate awareness of our work and of work within fund-raising and external affairs.
- Project Coordinator: Review records kept and make recommendations for future activities.
- Admitting Officer: Assessing the department needs and reacting to those needs appropriately. Understanding the flow and needs of the work environment and working to meet the changing needs of the environment.
- Co-op Student Apprentice Machine Operator: Recommend process changes to optimize machine production and improve quality.
- Landscaping / Park Maintenance Summer Staff: Deciding what tasks to do and setting priorities; decision making about work projects.
- Athletic Department Intern: Develop new and quicker ways to put on soccer and field hockey nets.
- Interior Design Intern: Learning how to evaluate a situation and properly problem solve according to all available data. Looking at a project from many angles and deciding what decisions will work best.
What are the specific skills involved in building critical thinking skills? And how can you evaluate critical thinking skills?
- Do I allow myself time to explore and evaluate various ideas and approaches in my work?
- Am I able to “let go” of an idea if necessary (or save it for another project)?
- Do I feel like I have sufficient background knowledge about the work I am doing?
- Do I know how to gather information to support good decision making?
- Am I comfortable looking at and interpreting data (if it is available to help with decision making)?
- Can I list three or more criteria that I should consider when making decisions in this workplace?
- Can I describe one or more times that I had good conversations with my supervisors or co-workers to explore and evaluate ideas?
- Can I describe one or more examples of a good, logical decision that I made based on my critical thinking skills?
Share your thoughts! Do you see a connection between creativity and critical thinking? How do you define critical thinking? What tips can you share for teaching others how to use critical thinking skills? Post a comment….