Work & Critical Thinking

June 22, 2012by

It would be hard to overstate how important and useful one’s aptitudes for logic–what is more colloquially called critical thinking–can be for one’s life and work. And while I’m not sure its relevance can be sliced quite so precisely, nor that it is entirely accurate, an infographic from Think Watson illustrating the importance of critical thinking relative to profession does a good job giving us a picture of its pervasiveness.

Here’s how Think Watson describes the graphic:

Not every job requires you to be a great critical thinker, but most do! Of course doctors and judges need above-average critical thinking and problem solving skills, but did you know critical thinking is just as important for archeologists and school counselors? Athletic trainers, sales managers, and real estate appraisers also need to know how to evaluate both sides of an issue, draw logical conclusions, and make good decisions.

There are some pretty significant deficiencies here, however. It’s difficult to judge, though, since no clear rationale or criteria are given to explain what went into the selection of titles, where the data came from, or of what kind it is. It actually looks as though critical thinking may have been confused with levels of education and compensation associated with various occupations. In fact, the thin bit of background information given at the bottom of the page suggests just this.

Another problem, as indicated in the comments on Think Watson’s own article, is that several professions are not clearly identified, and others are left out altogether. This may be due in part to the fact that many professions have only the managerial positions within them represented. This is somewhat misleading given the vast differences between management and non-management work. Being a Marketing Manager, for instance, presents a very different set of challenges and responsibilities than does the “lower level” work of a Marketing and Advertising Design. If the graphic included a section for Graphic Designer, this distinction might be overlooked, but it does not. The same goes for Sales Managers and Salespeople.

Here are some of the listing I believe would need to be included for this to a more accurate and reliable visualization:

  • Teachers & Professors
  • Creative Professionals (designers, artists, authors, etc.)
  • Military Officers
  • Politicians
  • Investors (e.g. venture capitalists, angel investors)
  • Marketers & Advertisers
  • Salespeople
  • Clergy
  • Entrepreneurs (e.g. small business owners)
  • Philanthropists (e.g. charities, non-profits)

A more thorough list of jobs would take this the fist step in a better direction. The most challenging step is finding a more trustworthy way to measure the degree of critical thinking each profession does indeed require, and figuring out how to quantify that.

I think Think Watson has given us a good solution to the design challenge, though. The visualization is engaging, and it does illustrate the general but crucially important point that skills in critical thinking are required in nearly every job and profession. The more adept at it you are, and I would add the more attentive to developing and applying it you are, the more likely it is to improve your work performance, possibly even your life.


I received a kind response from one of the folks at Think Watson indicating they agree with this analysis, and are planning to update the graphic soon. Stay tuned for the new version.

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