The World Economic Forum’s Third Annual Future of Jobs Report says that 50% of all employees will have to be reskilled by 2026 or risk misplacement.
Advances in automation and technology are certainly contributing factors (per usual), but the economic impacts of COVID has ramped up the mayhem. Judgment cometh and that right soon.
Yikes! So what must we do World Economic Forum? Learn to code? Build Tesla batteries? TikTok dances?
Not exactly, though I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt.
According to the Forum, critical thinking and problem solving will top the list of skills required in the future. You heard that right. Learning how to ramble around a plaza like Socrates will be the most valuable skill by 2026.
“scio me nihil scire,” I know that I know nothing.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is about “carefully analyzing, processing, and making sense of information.” The ability to choose not with intuition but through absorbing all bits of data and looking at a problem from multiple perspectives. Basically, the plot of the movie Moneyball.
The demand for critical thinkers makes sense. For one, software applications and communication tools are continually evolving. Employees must learn new systems on the fly and pick up on trends faster than the competition. And thanks to automation, there are fewer employees asked to perform more of these tasks.
The market needs generalists with the patience to learn and tackle a problem from multiple angles.
What can we do?
Anyone can learn how to think critically, that’s the good news. It takes time, and it’s a lifelong journey, but it’s not reserved for geniuses or the financially fortunate. No need to sink money into college or online courses. Critical thinking can be learned anywhere. All you need is an open mind.
But I should warn you, that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
Here’s what you can do to improve critical thinking.
When we read, we flex and strengthen our cognitive muscles — like weight training for the brain. Professor Keith Oatley from the University of Toronto compares reading to being in a flight simulator: “you experience a lot of situations in a short span of time, more so than if we went about our lives waiting for those experiences to actually happen to us.”
Professor Oatley found that individuals who read short stories showed a “lower need for cognitive closure,” or the urge to make irrational split decisions. The reason? Reading literature forces us to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective. In other words, reading forces us to slow down and think critically.
Books open our minds. They are the stonemasons of learning. The basis of our opinions. The foundation of skill. We know it to be true, yet we fill our free time with Netflix and video games. It is a wonder why critical thinking finds itself in low supply?
Let’s be the generation that changes that.
Writing is not about perfection, style, or long sentences that make the reader’s heart race. There’s a beautiful book from the 1930s called “If You Want To Write” about how aspiring writers sound “pretentious,” “lying,” and “dull” because they’re programmed to think writing is special. That’s not writing, folks. At its core, writing is a thinking process; an exercise of learning.
William Zinsser wrote, “clear thinking becomes clear writing.” A good article happens when the writer can take two disparate ideas and transfuse them to form a new argument. If that’s not critical thinking, then I don’t know what is.
It’s hard work, but I found article writing to be the purest form of critical thinking available to us. Here’s my suggestion, start a blog, a newsletter, or post on Medium. I promise you will see a dramatic shift in your thinking process.
Whenever I hear anyone talk about critical thinking or problem solving, I think to myself, “hey, that’s just a healthy dose of hustle.”
Hustle describes one’s ability to figure it out and get it done. When a problem becomes complicated or overwhelming, a hustler knows not to give up without a fight, for the answer lurks right around the corner.
Hustle means quieting the ego. It requires mental toughness, patience, and a stick-to-it spirit. You cannot give up at the first sign of adversity. Leave that behavior for the dilettante, not the hustler.
In Aesop’s Fables, the hustler is the tortoise finishing the race while the hare procrastinates. The hustler is Elon Musk learning how to build a rocket from an old Russian textbook while his friends are at the bar pouring shots. She is Angela Merkel, who leads by example and acts deliberately while other world leaders grandstand and tweet about their accomplishments.
The world needs more hustlers.
“If there is time to reflect, slowing down is likely a good idea.”
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, wrote a book about critical thinking and how to think about critical thinking. “Thinking Fast and Slow” examines the boneheaded mistakes humans make because of biases: preset beliefs of how we should act and decide — our “gut feelings.”
Bias helped the Chicago Bears select Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL draft. A gut feeling told Captain Smith to ignore warnings of large icebergs along their route to New York Harbor.
Kahneman says our brain operates on two systems. System one wants to make quick decisions with our intuition. System two wants to analyze and take in all available information. Here’s the problem: system two can be lazy, and system one likes to take the driver’s seat. Why? Because it’s easier.
System one uses local information, what’s immediately in the peripheral. But we all know there are other factors at work. So, what does Kahneman suggests? Slow down. Give yourself time for system two to set in and work its magic.
Critical thinking takes patience.
Calling all critical thinkers
When employers of the future place ads calling for critical thinkers and problem solvers, what they’re asking for is dispassionate people who are ready to learn and adapt to a fast-paced world. As a friend recently told me, “college is irrelevant because you pick a study, but by the time you graduate, an entirely new set of skills hits the market.”
Let’s think about what it means to learn and adapt. Learning anything takes hard, arduous work, not to mention a tremendous amount of patience — a premium virtue in an ever-expanding attention economy. But a virtue available to anyone.
Reading, writing, hustle, and flow will train your brain to learn and adapt. Take it into 2021, use it, and love it.