How to be a critical thinker

Critical thinking represents the thought processes and guiding principles that may be used when working with complex uncertainties.

Critical thinking modes include:

  • Submission to reason where logic is used to the limits of its potential in order to make informed judgements. All proposals must be challenged and tested.
  • Continuous monitoring against project goals, avoiding preconceptions and conflicts of interest.
  • System thinking where consideration is given to how parts interact to make up the whole. This implies that all relevant issues are considered and that all relevant disciplines are consulted ‘round the table’.

Summaries of sources that relate to critical thinking

1. The Optos Story

    How to manage ambitious healthcare product development projects starting with no clinical or academic links, no staff and no money.

    Douglas Anderson was the first living inductee to the IES Engineering Hall of Fame in 2012

    In the Abstract for his 2016 Journal paper he wrote:

    “Reflecting upon these ventures, I have come to realise there was an underlying philosophy and planning process that delivered success. Where it was not present, failure loomed sooner or later.”

    Critical thinkers constantly seek to identify the ‘underlying philosophy and planning processes’ that will deliver success. In ‘How to…?’ we reflect on these issues.

    For the Optos retinal scanner Douglas developed (a) ‘A very detailed development plan based on tackling risk first’, (b) a sound ‘Value proposition’ and (c) a ‘Simple non-technical (but profound) product specification.’
    Important advice in the paper is to identify the sub-problems and seek to first solve the most difficult ones, i.e. those with the highest risk of failure

    The paper is a ‘must read’ for anyone seeking to develop an innovative product.

    2. Three heads are better than one

    In his 2018 IESIS Journal paper Peter Jones discusses the importance of having ‘conversations’. The title is an extension of the Scottish saying ‘Twa heids are better than yin.

    The abstract is:

    “The paper is about how knowledge is a social phenomenon, achievable not by individuals alone, but only by co-operative endeavours among groups of people who are prepared to revise their opinion, modify concepts and, above all, explore viewpoints other than their own. Competition, underpinned by market goals, may inhibit co-operation and radical experiment but actually makes it all the more essential. The use of a co-operative approach is illustrated by a dramatic example, involving a professional engineer with a philosophy degree – who tried to influence his colleagues: and founded a company which now achieves a turnover of over of £100 million”

    and later:

    “It is still not fully acknowledged that multi-disciplinary enquiry and cooperation are the only ways to ensure that we adopt multiple viewpoints, examine multiple causes and variables, and overcome obstacles generated by obsolete concepts, assumptions, practices and technologies.”

    This epitomises the concept of critical thinking and the multidisciplinary philosophy that underpins the objectives of IES.

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