Learn how to upgrade your thinking and find out why it matters!
Can you think your way to a better career? No, we're not talking about manifestation. The way that you think - and, ultimately, approach workplace obstacles - can have a direct impact on how successful you are. If you've never heard of higher-order thinking before, you've come to the right place. In the following guide, we'll take a look at what it is, why it's useful in every part of your professional life, and some of the top skills you need.
What is higher-order thinking?
Higher-order thinking means going below the surface when confronted with new information. While low-order thinking is about understanding and remembering things, higher-order thinking begs you to dig deeper and critically analyse them. So, rather than memorising and regurgitating facts, you can be critical and draw your own conclusions.
Let's take a look at two examples. First up, we have the humble parrot. This bird hears words and sentences and - somewhat miraculously - has the ability to repeat them. That takes two types of low-order thinking: listening and remembering. However, there's no evidence that the parrot understands the words they are saying and, frankly, it's pretty unlikely that they would have any critical or analytical conclusions about them.
For the second example, let's take a look at Albert Einstein. The famous theoretical physicist didn't merely repeat the information laid out in front of him. No, he analysed it, critically examined it, and came up with entirely new concepts. That took a range of higher-order thinking skills including analysis, calculating, critical thinking, hypothesising, and concept creation. You might even say he was the master of higher-order thinking.
Chances are, you're no Einstein. But you're not a parrot either. You're probably somewhere in between. As we'll discuss in this guide, working on your higher-order thinking skills is a smart way to get ahead - and there are many other benefits you can reap, too.
The career benefits of higher-order thinking
Higher-order thinking could help you to advance your career. How? Well, when you start to use these skills, you may find that aspects of your professional life are a cinch. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the main benefits of higher-order thinking:
Solve problems and overcome challenges. Few jobs are problem-free. Whatever your field of work, you will come up against obstacles. Using higher-order thinking means that you can come up with the most effective solution pronto.
Flex your creative muscles. When you engage in higher-order thinking, you open up your mind to new ideas. That could mean that you come up with the next big thing! All of the world's greatest innovators were excellent higher-order thinkers.
Become more efficient. Productivity is the goal for us all. When you hone your higher-order thinking skills, you can find ways to be more efficient. That may mean multi-tasking, getting jobs done faster, or streamlining your processes.
Enhance your workplace skills. As you'll see below, many of the core higher-order thinking skills are valuable in the workplace. Whether it's coming up with a new idea, analysing data, or thinking outside of the box, there's a lot to be gained here. When you boost these skills, you too become a high-value asset.
12 types of higher-order thinking
Now that we've covered how higher-order thinking can help your career, let's take a look at some of the types. It's all too easy to say that you need to “think deeper” about things. But what does that actually mean? Needless to say, there are many ways to become a great thinker. Here are 12 higher-order thinking skills you may want to start working on today.
1. Critical thinking
First up, it's critical thinking. That means not simply taking new information at face value. Instead, you need to consider the source and whether it's valid. You need to use an analytical mindset when you engage in critical thinking. While it's easy to read something and believe it without giving it a second thought, you should take a moment to consider it. Is the information likely to be true? Could the author have an alternate motive? Is the source reliable? Think about all of the above and use your own knowledge, too.
Can you draw conclusions from the information you're given? Now, that doesn't mean simply repeating the information. It means looking at the facts and saying “if X means this, Y must mean that.” Having the ability to look at information from a range of sources, analysing what you see, and coming up with logical conclusions is the name of the game.
Let's look at an example. You're reviewing Google Analytics and you see that the number of website views surged massively on a specific date. You may consider what happened on that day to cause the influx of traffic. Perhaps there was a new product launch on the site or a social media post that directed people to the page. Maybe a celebrity mentioned the brand on TV. You can use your analytical skills to come up with a likely conclusion.
While we're on the topic of drawing conclusions, we mustn't overlook evaluating. When it comes to higher-order thinking, this is often the end point. You may use your critical thinking and analysis skills to evaluate information. To get this right, you're going to need to consider a whole range of arguments and theories. You might take a look at additional information out there to help you build a clear view of the whole situation. This skill is all about taking a look at the evidence available and deciding what you believe.
Of course, you won't always have all of the facts. If we throw back to Einstein, it's safe to say that he didn't have the secrets of the universe. However, he worked with what was available and used his mathematical skills to fill in the blanks. Hypothesising is about working with the available information and coming up with theories for the gaps.
Here's an example. Your business is launching a new product and your boss asks you to project how well it will sell in the first year. It's a tricky one. You don't have a crystal ball and can't predict the future. However, you can look at past trends, analyse any data that's available, and make an informed judgement on things. You may look at previous sale records, consider the time of year of the launch, and external factors. By using all of this information, you can come up with some sound projections to feed back to your boss.
Next up, let's talk about applying. This higher-order thinking skill is one of the most important in the workplace. Whenever you start a new job, you'll have to “learn the ropes.” That means getting to grips with the business processes and making sure that you understand how your role factors into them. It takes time, energy, and deep thinking. It's not simply about listening to what you have to do, you need to apply this information.
If your manager explains a process, you need to listen to what they have to say and figure out how you can follow it. Now, there may be a level of trial and error here. Few people in this world are perfect. What's important is that you can make the leap between firstly understanding what the process is and then doing it yourself without any assistance.
Fancy yourself as the next Steve Jobs? Invention means creating something entirely new. That may be the next technological advancement, an epic air fryer recipe, a piece of art, or even a work of fiction. To be a creative person, you need to have a level of higher-order thinking. Everyone has their own unique creative process that works for them. You may take inspiration from the world around you, or build on what others before you have started.
You need the perfect cocktail of higher-order thinking skills to be a creative person. You should understand what's out there, be able to think critically, consider new ways of doing things, have the ability to come up with new ideas, and also test them. It's essential to give yourself time and space to think creatively and flex this important muscle.
7. Abstract thinking
Can you “think outside the box?” While it may be a cliche, there's true power in abstract thinking. Rather than taking a linear or logical approach when coming up with solutions, this means taking a step back and trying something different. Often enough - especially in the business world - people get stuck in the same old habits and processes.
When you apply abstract thinking to any scenario, it allows you to start from zero once again. You can look at things from an entirely new perspective and try something that you wouldn't have thought of before now. While some people are naturally gifted in this department, abstract thinking doesn't come easily to us all. If you're a stickler for rules, you may need to practise breaking them now and then. Go on… try something different!
8. Identifying patterns
Put simply, you can't analyse information without identifying patterns. One of the most valuable higher-order thinking examples is the ability to spot trends. In the commercial world, this talent gives you the upper hand over the competition. You can see what's about to be popular long before it happens. That means that you can plan your upcoming projects accordingly. However, there are other ways that identifying patterns can be used.
If you work in any research-based job, many of your activities will centre around this task. You may find yourself evaluating data and looking at patterns that occur. You can use them as a general rule when you are predicting future outcomes. Learning how to recognise patterns - and, of course, what may be causing them - is a versatile skill.
Problem-solving is one of the first higher-order thinking skills you will have learned. When you were in school, your teachers put a whole load of emphasis on this one. While you may closely associate this skill with maths class, chances are you used it in all subjects. Your teacher would present you with a question, and you'd have to come up with an answer.
Now that you've entered the working world, you need to take that skill and apply it to every area of your life. When you're commuting, for example, you use this talent to figure out the quickest route to work. If you are trying to deal with an unsatisfied customer, you work with them and problem-solve together to come up with the best possible solution.
10. Counterfactual thinking
You know the facts. You know what happened. That will never change. But, what if things were different? When you use counterfactual thinking, you imagine what would have happened if things had played out in some other way. It's all in the word itself: “counter” means against and “factual” means the facts.
This skill is about using your imagination to develop hypotheses for a variety of scenarios that didn't happen. For example, let's say that a client meeting went poorly and you didn't manage to land the sale. How could you have changed that? Can you imagine what would have happened if you had prepared better in advance? What if you had given the client more information about the benefits of the product? You can use these imagined scenes to help you understand what went wrong and how you can adapt your approach in the future.
Trusting only one source is a bad move. To gain a full understanding of any topic, you need to gather a range of information and review it. That's where synthesising comes into play. This part of higher-order thinking means looking at a range of resources when you're making important decisions. You synthesise the material by putting it all in one place.
An easier way to understand this skill is to call it building a knowledge base. Whenever you need to overcome a problem or make a decision, you start with this foundation. Take the time to do your research, find resources that are helpful, and store them somewhere. When you've done that, you can review all of the information and come to a conclusion.
And finally, have you ever caught yourself thinking about thinking. You're doing it right now. As you read this guide, we're encouraging you to take a close look at the way your mind works. Spoiler: that's a type of higher-order thinking known simply as metacognition.
When you hone this skill, you can improve the way that you think. Sure, it takes a level of introspection, but that's all a part of the process. Reviewing how you approach problems and come up with solutions can only help you. By reading this guide and taking stock of your skills, you've taken the first step here.
How to develop higher-order thinking skills
Want to further develop your higher-order thinking skills? You'll already have some of the talents outlined above - we all do. However, one of the biggest problems when it comes to honing and maintaining these skills is living on autopilot. If you're bored with your job or have become complacent, you may start to do things automatically without much thought. When that happens, you're not using your higher-order thinking skills.
To overcome that problem, aim to be more engaged in the work that you do. Don't simply get the job done. Instead, look for ways that you can improve your approach and learn new things. That may mean taking on more projects, gaining more qualifications, or developing existing skills by working with the people in your team. When you make a genuine effort to do all of the above, you'll start to boost this valuable skill-set.
Higher-order thinking is a must if you want to get ahead in today's busy working world. Luckily, you have plenty of opportunities to work on these skills. Consider how you can start to strengthen each of the talents we've covered in this guide. Taking the time to focus on professional improvement is a surefire way to elevate your career.
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