I read an article recently on the decline of critical thinking skills in organizations (what leader doesn’t long for employees with critical thinking skills). The article came from Pearson and was linked to Pearson’s assortment of critical thinking materials and workshops (which seemed like a good tool).

What struck me though about the article (and the material) was the individualistic nature of the approach. To be fair, I will say right here, I’ve not done a deep dive into Pearson’s critical thinking material. Nor do I have any axe to grind or stake in Pearson’s success or failure.

The material was all about the development of individual critical thinking skills. There is no doubt that individuals within a tribe that possess critical thinking skills (with a dash of emotional intelligence) are highly valued. So yes, developing individual critical thinking skills is a good thing.

But, where’s the emphasis on the the tribe?

Think about it.

How do we learn critical thinking skills? We don’t learn critical thinking in a vacuum. We learn these skills from our tribal experiences. We learn to think critically by interacting with others who are (and maybe who are not) thinking critically.

How do we sharpen critical thinking skills? We don’t sharpen critical thinking in a vacuum. We sharpen in dialogue with other people. It’s the back and forth that occurs in dialogue, healthy tension and inevitable ambiguity that enables us to sharpen our thinking skills.

When too much emphasis –with regard to critical thinking skills — is “on the individual,” we may inadvertently create strong thinkers who don’t know how to partner with others. Instead of dialogue that leads to creative-solutions we might get endless arguments that lead to paralyzation.

When we teach critical thinking skills, we should:

Root the learning in the tribe
Teach it in a collective setting
Sharpen individual thinking through dialogue
Connect the purpose of individual critical thinking to the goal of tribal dialogue and alchemy