Honing Our Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

The image shows a huge Bengal Tiger standing in a bamboo forest. Your mission is to look for “The Hidden Tiger” in the image below.

bengal tiger

Its been a while since I have been trying to create a training game on ‘Critical Thinking and Problem Solving’. When I started, it actually looked easy – infact, that’s one of the reasons I chose this topic (You think through and solve problems everyday – whats the big deal!). But as I dig deeper, I realise how complex and layered this skill is. And getting one program or one game to take care of the intricate web of learnings is really a challenge.

I guess we’d all agree that everyone needs critical thinking and problem solving– be it a vegetable vendor deciding which street to sell on which day and at what price, or a little baby crawling and trying to reach a toy out of the many sprawled on the floor in front of him, or a forex trader deciding when to exit the dollar or the yen. Yet, it is one of the most ignored and under-emphasised skill sets that gets developed in us. Typically, we are a bunch of traditional problem solvers – using past data to solve current problems. Infact, in a lot of cases, we do not spend time understanding the problem and simply go ahead and “solve the symptoms”.

After having struggled with this concept for long enough, I believe that critical thinking based problem solving involves at least the following inter-related skill sets

  1. Clarity of thought (to look at the big picture and segregate the problem from its symptoms)
  2. Creativity (to go beyond the obvious but not losing sight of the problem itself)
  3. Poise (not getting overwhelmed by the problem or its ramifications)
  4. Analytics (breaking down data and identifying not-so-obvious trends)

Look at the seemingly simple problem I posed to you at the beginning of this post. The mission was to look for ‘The Hidden Tiger’. Solving this problem needed all the skills mentioned above –

  1. Clarity to understand the problem and not be coloured by the perception that ‘The Hidden Tiger’ was necessarily the image of a tiger
  2. Creativity to look for non-traditional solutions (step 1 too needed elements of creativity thus reinforcing my point about the skills being inter-related)
  3. Poise to not give up too soon
  4. Analytics (the data is in the form of this picture and there is basic analytics required to break the pic into parts to look for the hidden tiger)

Each one of the aforementioned skills are complicated enough themselves. Its but obvious that developing oneself as a ‘critical thinker’ requires a pretty deep learning journey interspersed with a lot of practice. The good part though is that this is one skills which once learnt is not easily forgotten!

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