Ask Me Anything: Critical Thinking

Tonight we’ll be joined by the very talented @fionaccharles for an Ask Me Anything session all about critical thinking.

I’ll make sure to add any questions that we don’t get to and any resources mentioned during the session to this thread.

If you miss the live session, a recording will be available on the Ministry of Testing website for all Club level members once we’ve edited it and added captions.

Have you got any more questions you’d like to ask after? Add them here :grin:

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  • What is testing without critical thinking?

  • How can you tell whether someone is critically thinking about how to test well? And the inverse of this question, how can you tell whether someone is NOT critically thinking about how to test well?

  • What does Fiona think of the following assessment I have about the state of testing: In the last couple of years, the main focus in testing has been mostly on test automation and fancy tools. This is “proof” that critical thinking is skipped by a lot of people and organisations because the goal of test automation is seemingly just to crank out test cases (which is easy) and not good or useful testing. The bigger picture is often overlooked by a lot of people: test automation is assisting good testing, test automation should not be all of testing. I think this “testing == automation” trend is popular because it makes testing easy and you can skip critical thinking. I would love to hear Fiona’s thoughts on this.

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Resources mentioned

We talked about Testing Zombies.

Questions Fiona wanted to come back to

  1. Can you give an example of a problem, illustrating how you might approach it if you were NOT thinking critically, and then contrasting that with how you would approach it if you WERE thinking critically? from @debco

Questions we didn’t get to

  1. How can I grow my critical thinking skills? - Violetta
  2. Are there any mistakes that people new to critical thinking usually make? - Ajay Balamurugadas
  3. If thinking about thinking is critical thinking, “what kind of thinking” about thinking? - Ajay Balamurugadas
  4. Critical thinking, design thinking, lateral thinking - is it the same? - Violetta
  5. Beautiful questions all around here. What questions are we not asking which you think are important to be asked in a critical thinking AMA :slight_smile: - Ajay Balamurugadas
  6. Could you please give us some tips to measure our critical thinking and how to realize that we are being over critical? - Marlon Almeida
  7. Can we really learn to be critical in our thinking? - Violetta
  8. What usually people do not ask what you would like them to know about critical thinking? - Violetta
  9. How can we help our brain to avoid making thinking patterns or automating our actions? - Oxana

Could Fiona share the critical thinking questions list, she had talked about?

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This will print on a 4"x6" index card

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Here are a couple of “cheat sheets” I found online that you might find helpful, one listing common cognitive biases and the other listing logical fallacies. There is also an enormous “list of cognitive biases” on Wikipedia, and many other sources.

SchoolOfThought_BiasesPoster_24x36.pdf

SchoolOfThought_FallaciesPoster_24x36.pdf

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From Questions We Didn’t Get to:
1) How can I grow my critical thinking skills? - Violetta
I think we did cover this one. You can learn about impediments to clear critical thinking such as cognitive biases and logical fallacies. You can practise critical thinking by asking questions about your thinking. (I’ve included my list below.) One really useful (and quite difficult) exercise is to choose a topic that you have strong opinions about and write a paragraph or 2 with the arguments that support your opinion. Then write another paragraph or 2 setting out all the arguments you can think of that support an opinion about the topic that is totally opposite to yours.

2) Are there any mistakes that people new to critical thinking usually make? - Ajay Balamurugadas
I’d like to hear what other people have to say about this. One pitfall I can imagine is that newbies could fall into overkill and find it difficult to actually make a decision about the thing they’re thinking about. For example, when looking at lists and descriptions of cognitive biases, it would be easy to get lost in all the detail.

We all need to be aware that we often have to move on and make decisions without having all the facts, or without exploring everything we think we should explore. We do have to make assumptions. That’s not a problem so long as we are open about the assumptions we’ve made, and keep it in mind to prove/disprove those assumptions as we go on.

Another mistake might be to decide that critical thinking is too difficult to sustain, and give up. It’s important to remember that everyone has cognitive biases and everyone can be illogical at times. Nobody can be an excellent critical thinker all the time. The important thing is to keep trying.

It would also be a mistake to believe that critical thinking is negative and upsetting to other people. It’s true that people do sometimes find questions disturbing, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to ask them when you believe those questions are important. But we do need to be aware of other people’s sensitivities and not be too aggressive about asking questions.

3. If thinking about thinking is critical thinking, “what kind of thinking” about thinking? - Ajay Balamurugadas
I seem to recall addressing this, Ajay, but maybe there’s more you’re asking? Fundamentally, critical thinking is about rigorously questioning and challenging your thinking.

4. Critical thinking, design thinking, lateral thinking - is it the same? - Violetta
I would say that they are not the same thing. There are many different types of thinking. Critical thinking is analytical, whereas design thinking and lateral thinking are creative.

5. Beautiful questions all around here. What questions are we not asking which you think are important to be asked in a critical thinking AMA :slight_smile: - Ajay Balamurugadas

I can’t think of any. Maybe about resources, for example, where to learn about cognitive biases or logical fallacies. But it is easy to find good resources online.

6. Could you please give us some tips to measure our critical thinking and how to realize that we are being over critical? - Marlon Almeida

We talked about having some stopping heuristics. The big one would be if you find yourself going in circles. Another one would be if you are holding up important work and feeling pressure to move on. In both these cases, you could note the things you know you don’t know, describe the assumptions you are making to fill those gaps, and decide how to proceed based on what you do know and what you assume.

The rule of 3 could help you measure too. It says that you haven’t thought of at least 3 alternatives (options, etc.), then you haven’t thought hard enough. OTOH, if you have thought of 3, that could be a good time to stop, depending on the context.

7. Can we really learn to be critical in our thinking? - Violetta
Yes, we can. It’s a skill that we can learn and grow. See 1 above.

8. What usually people do not ask what you would like them to know about critical thinking? - Violetta
I believe we covered the important points with the questions you all asked, in the time we had, Violetta. See also 5 above.

9. How can we help our brain to avoid making thinking patterns or automating our actions? - Oxana

By making a habit of observing and questioning/challenging our thinking. Also by learning about cognitive biases and logical fallacies, and becoming aware when we are falling into them.

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@fionaccharles - Looks like you added links for fallacies and biases, but they did not show up correctly.

How is this website for learning about logical fallacies with examples?
http://www.nizkor.com/features/fallacies/index.html

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I often see design thinking being categorised under creative thinking but I feel the bulk of design thinking is very analytical and involves a lot of questioning/understanding. Quote: “It involves questioning the problem, questioning the assumptions, and questioning the implications”. With product design or any design, you analyse the problem, user groups, materials, ergonomics, social aspects of the problem, manufacturing, environmental impacts etc…long list. the creative side is only a part of the process or after you’ve done a lot of critical thinking of the problem and potential solutions. I see design thinking as a process which heavenly involves critical thinking. You build a design/ideas from an understanding generated through a process and experience.

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Hi Richard. Thank you for adding this great clarification. You obviously know a lot more about design thinking than I do! (Nice to hear from you, BTW, I think it’s been 10+ years since we met F2F.)

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Thanks for this, Raghu. It looks really good.

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Here are the full links:

These posters are by no means exhaustive, but they can be good reminders of the more common biases & fallacies.

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@fionaccharles - Thanks for the links. It looks like they cannot be downloaded even after signing up. In browser tools, the registration api has some errors.

Odd – I had no problems, so maybe they’ve changed in some way. There are plenty of other resources available though.

I’d like to pose this as a challenge to people interested in the topic. What would be your response to this question?

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A situation without Critical Thinking:
A scrum team finishes one user story after the other one using the backlog.

A situation with Critical Thinking:
Scrum master: “What is the new system supposed to do?”
Product owner: “The new system must work like the old system.”
Scrum master: “We don’t build anything. There is already a system in place.”
Product Owner: “O, wait …”