It began with the digitization of all aspects of business. IT is no longer a function of a greater business, it is everywhere. Repetitive and manual tasks have been automated with humans being replaced by machines in countless jobs, in every industry.
The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was coined in 2015 by Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum to describe the latest breakthroughs in technologies that will take the digital transformation to a new level. Robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, biotech, quantum computing… the list goes on and the transformation is ongoing. IT, manufacturing and operations are converging, driven by technology.
Critical Thinking Skills in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Life as we know it is changing with advances in technology. But mankind continues to play a unique role within this interconnected mass of technology. Throughout today’s workplace employers are unified in seeking employees with an essential skill that is increasingly valued now and in the future. Employees with robust critical thinking skills are in high demand. These are skills that are evident in a person’s ability to solve problems, assess, analyze and prioritize.
Fortunately, this is the stuff that us humans can learn and excel at and how civilizations rose and flourished. It’s the thinking that set our ancestors apart from other animals when we asked and tried to answer four key questions: What is going on? Why did this happen? Which course of action should we take? What lies ahead?
In the changing, digitized workplace – and as the shelf-life of technical knowledge gets shorter and shorter critical thinking has become a universally required skill set. Critical thinking skills, specifically troubleshooting and problem solving, are increasingly applied throughout the life-cycle of a process or product instead of event-based interventions used only when something breaks down or underperforms (call it Kaizen, investigation, post-incident review or other). It is up to people to work effectively alongside automation.
Example: How critical thinking will save your organization
One area where the application of good critical thinking can deliver tremendous value is in risk mitigation. The general growth in the complexity of knowledge-based work—largely technology-driven—and the continued pressure to do more with less is playing out in today’s high-tech environments where new platforms new ecosystems and the speed of innovation creates risk. With so much at stake and few resources available to handle problems that can and will arise, risk management must be handled proactively and continuously. Conducting an up-front risk assessment ensures potential problems are handled proactively, keeping precious resources focused on prevention vs. remediation – with the latter typically being much more costly.
Taking a structured approach to planning ahead to avoid and mitigate potential problems is a high-value application of critical thinking skills. When a costly and time-consuming incident does occur, it disrupts operations and can significantly damage a company’s reputation. Planning ahead to manage risk helps to keep the organization’s operations up and running during fixes, maintenance, and improvements by minimizing productivity loss or damage due to unexpected or unmitigated risks.
Mitigation of risks should be a priority for everybody—not just for specialists. Embedding risk mitigation practices throughout the organization makes the identification and response to vulnerabilities part of the business culture.
Improving risk mitigation can be achieved by improving critical thinking as it applies to risk. Training helps employees understand the key questions to ask to evaluate the level of risk and its possible impact. Employees can learn and apply a practical approach to quickly identifying and mitigating risks and to translate the insights into an actionable plan. This is less a matter of intellectual challenge than personal and organizational discipline. With little time to devote to training in most organizations, a simulation-based, experiential learning approach can maximize practice and reinforce new skills. This approach offers immediate opportunities to apply structured critical thinking to a simulated reality and accelerates the learner’s ability to transition new skills to the workplace.
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