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7 Skills in detail – Part 1, Critical Thinking

In 2009 when Dr. Tony Wagner was co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, (now he’s Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, founded by Linda Darling-Hammond in 2015) he promoted the 7 Skills Students Need for Their Future, which are:

  1. Critical thinking & problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading with influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication (persuasive writing)
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Innovation – more better ideas

The 7 essential skills needed for today’s workers, as evolved from these student lessons, are: 

  1. Mindset (#3 agility and adaptability)
  2. Context (#5 effective oral and written communication, persuasive writing)
  3. Critical Thinking (#1 critical thinking and problem solving)
  4. Judgment (#6 accessing and analyzing information)
  5. Re-imagination (#7 innovation – more better ideas)
  6. Trust Building (#2 collaboration across networks and leading with influence)
  7. Leadership (#4 initiative and entrepreneurialism) 

The 8th superpower skill needed is emotional intelligence which is essential for high performing teams. 

Critical thinking and problem-solving need to be re-emphasized in today’s workforce. In 3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills by Helen Lee Bouygues’ in Harvard Business Review (May 2019), for critical thinking she emphasizes:

  1. Question assumptions
  2. Reason through logic 
  3. Diversify thought

Questioning assumptions requires questioning how things have always been done, as well as breaking through internal and external cultural norms and biases. Encouraging people to challenge everything they thought is true is easier for people who have not grown in homogenous environments. People who perceived themselves as outsiders to the norm can also find it easier to challenge the norm. 

Logic should be dynamic, not static. Dynamic logic is a formal system of reasoning. This works as well for programming as it does for systems thinking. Using logic requires breaking down processes and mechanisms (both real and conceptual) into the smallest parts and appreciating the sum of parts are greater than the whole. Additionally, it enables questioning at the most basic level. 

Diversity of thought comes from having a diverse group for collaboration. People from different cultures, age ranges, belief systems, and work experience bring diverse thought to groups. As important as diversity of thought, the most successful groups share ideas equally, have social perceptiveness, and have a good proportion of men and women, as demonstrated in the study Collective intelligence and group performance, by Woolley, A. W., Aggarwal, I., & Malone, T. W. (2015). 

So the question is, how are you promoting critical thinking in your teams? Do your teams have the right mix of people for critical thinking to occur at its deepest level? Lastly, how are your leaders encouraging critical thinking?  

Bouygues, H. L. (May,2019). 3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills. Harvard Business Review.    

Harel, D., Kozen, D., & Tiuryn, J. (2001). Dynamic logic. In Handbook of philosophical logic (pp. 99-217). Springer, Dordrecht.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY, Random House. 

Wagner, T. (2009). 7 Skills students need for their future. Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, Asia Society. Retrieved from

Woolley, A. W., Aggarwal, I., & Malone, T. W. (2015). Collective intelligence and group performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(6) 420-424.