Panel Discussion: Critical Thinking Further Discussion

Tonight, @gwendiagram hosts our next Panel Discussion of 2021 talking all things critical thinking :brain:

Gwen will be joined by @ezagroba, @jitgo & @maaike.brinkhof to answer all of your questions.

If we don’t get to your questions on the night, we’ll add them to the thread below for our panellists to answer later. If you’d like to continue the conversation from the webinar, this thread is an excellent place to do that :grin:

Share resources and follow up success stories from your learnings here!

Since some book recommendations came up and also “imposter syndrome” was mentioned; I would like to put this book here:

It was kinda eye opening for me and helping with my imposter syndrome.
TL;DR: Gut Feelings are based on “data” / experience:

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My attempt at : Q: Critical Thinking is NOT…?
talking in absolutes…
“It’s obvious that…”
“the only thing that could cause this is…”
“that doesn’t sound right” - no rationale given…


On Critical Thinking:
In my view the “critical” part is about performing a “critique” of your thinking process
…And being a critic of one’s own thinking is where you are sharpening your thought process…

NB to critique something is , I would say, by it’s nature a constructive process - it is a way of improving something by observing its flaws and then correcting


@ezagroba referenced this cheat sheet shared by @fionaccharles

Questions we didn’t get to

  1. How to distinguish “I think, I am thinking critically” from the case when I really think critically? (as speaking of myself or if I evaluate person from a side) - Violetta
  2. Is Critical thinking primarily within yourself or what examples/exercises can be done with and for a group? - @maiknog
  3. How to think critically in stress situations and under time pressure? - Violetta
  4. How would you recommend articulating the value of "critical thinking while testing " to a engineering team? - @christianfield
  5. Is there a “tool set” to use for different experience levels of folks, aka beginner, advanced, expert? - @maiknog
  6. Is there a heuristic for critical thinking that can be used in testing? - @christer.nilsson
  7. When you are critical thinking what kind of notes are useful to help with this? - Richard Forjoe
  8. How do you go about building a culture that is more supportive of critical thinking? - Richard Forjoe
  9. Where was the point when you started to think about this topic - critical thinking? - Violetta
  10. How do you manage interruptions so your thinking can flow? - @antonella

So a follow up to this:
I think we should be careful to not conflate “being critical” with “performing a constructive critique”


Both have their strong and weak points and applications.

Alone, strong points:

  • you can take your time, mull things over
  • this style can feel nice if you’re an introvert or not able to quickly think on the spot
  • you can go deep, write down your thoughts, explore trains of thought and really feel like you’ve reached a good idea / conclusion by yourself. Enjoyment!

Alone, weak points:

  • you cannot be fully aware when you are biased
  • you have to judge the quality of your thinking and it’s easier to judge other people than it is to judge and find fault in yourself
  • you will probably miss some things, this might or might not be important

Group, strong points:

  • multiple opinions and points of view
  • when the people in the group trust each other it can bring out amazing thoughts and ideas
  • if the group is diverse in gender, age, role etc this can help bring out valid points of view that might otherwise be missed.

group, weak points:

  • circle jerk risk, for example if one person is too dominant and the others don’t dare to criticise them it is basically useless and a waste of time. This is why psychological safety and trust is so important.
  • introverted people, shy people, people who don’t think quickly on the spot might be skipped over. People need to be patient with each other and make sure all voices are heard.

Applications of group critical thinking that I have enjoyed over the years:

  • refinements. This is the time for the team to critically think about the user stories
  • group (ensemble) coding and testing.

I don’t have specific exercises to offer, I basically just try to entice critical thinking in people by asking them non-leading questions in situations where I’m seeking their opinion.


Beginner, aimed at gathering knowledge:
I’m just going to be blatantly going to promote my own content here

Intermediate, aimed at applying knowledge:

  • use higher order thinking skills to reflect on your own behaviour
  • use a journal to analyse your own biases
  • give others feedback if you notice they are blatantly biased

Expert, aimed at teaching others:

  • You can explain critical thinking to others, you can explain why people are biased.
  • You can teach others (in the right moment) when you see a risk in the “critical thinking” domain (you see people jumping to conclusions, for example).

There are no clear boundaries between these levels of course, nothing stops a beginner from giving feedback or being a teacher about critical thinking when neccesary. Being an “expert” is also a risk because you might start to think you know better. A true expert will always keep in mind that they are just as fallible as the next person. Stay open minded, stay curious and you’ll get far.


I read the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in 2015 and that was the start of being interested in this topic for me.

Go read the book and see if it has the same effect on you! I always read non-fiction books with my own context in mind, at the time that was “how can this book help me improve my testing” and that was why it was so impactful for me at the time.

  1. How to distinguish “I think, I am thinking critically” from the case when I really think critically? (as speaking of myself or if I evaluate person from a side) - Violetta

It’s generally quite easy to know when you are thinking critically as you will be monitoring what you are thinking about and therefore be deliberately thinking with an aim or goal to achieve a specific outcome e.g. problem solving or decision making. Essentially one of the key skills for critical thinking is developing your self- awareness.

With critical thinking it is almost always better to focus on yourself rather than making judgments on if other people are thinking critically. There is a good chance your own biases may cloud your judgment and get you into more trouble.

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  1. Is Critical thinking primarily within yourself or what examples/exercises can be done with and for a group? - @maiknog

The only thing you have true control over in this world is yourself and so you can only ever be certain that someone is critically thinking is yourself. So yes I would say critically thinking is primarily and individual thought process.

The simplest way to enable groups to think critically is to better understand what critically thinking isn’t. Making subjective and/or unreasoned statements about your opinions and thoughts is very likely not done critically. Therefore any group activity from my prospective that is done in an unstructured way that enables people to make subjective opinions without being able to communicate the bases of their thoughts is also going to be done uncritically. You want people to be able to be as open as possibly and share what they are thinking by giving them structure to the group session. This can take many forms and would really depend on the problem or decision they are trying to make.

For instance if the group is trying to come up with a new product then primarily they are going to be solving a problem first. Therefore ideas from design thinking could be really useful here. I’d recommend having a look at the design thinking playbook for some ideas for groups sessions.

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  1. How to think critically in stress situations and under time pressure? - Violetta

This is were developing your self-awareness really comes in. Knowing how you typically behave in these types of situations and spotting when you are behaving that way is the first step. At first it might just be getting used to knowing what happens and what you do. After some time of being able to do this quite easily is a good point to try and see what you could do differently in place of your typical behaviour.

For example let’s say when you get stressed you start to feel anxious and you feel the fight or flight behaviour taking over. First of all see what specifically about this situation is making you feel stressed. Is it a tight deadline or having to think of an answer on the spot? From here start to work backwards through your thought process. What exactly is it about the deadline that is worrying you? What would really happen if you missed the deadline? What would really happen if you only have part of an answer or asked if you can get back to them? More often than not it’s our own assumptions about a situation that causes use the most worry which leads to stress. So can you start identifying what assumption you are making about this situation and start to find answers for those assumptions.

The thing about this is at first you are very unlikely to be able to go through this process during the situation due to your heightened emotional state. Therefore it better to do this when you are in a calm and relaxed mood to analysis your thought process.

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  1. How would you recommend articulating the value of "critical thinking while testing " to a engineering team? - @christianfield

Going back to what critical thinking isn’t can be helpful here. One way to describe not thinking critically is making subjective and/or unreasoned statements about your opinions, thoughts and decisions. Looking at testing through this lens could be almost randomly hitting buttons/trying things with no actual aim other than to hit that button. But applying critical thinking while testing always reminds me of Elizabeth Hendrickson definition of exploratory testing from Explore it!:

Simultaneously designing and executing tests to learn about the system, using your insights from the last experiment to inform the next - Elizabeth Hendrickson, Explore it

They key is using your insights from the last experiment. Experimentation is a deliberate action based on the information you have. Therefore you have to critically think to be able to come up with even a basic experiment otherwise it will be incoherent for others to understand and you would simply be doing things for the sake of it. To be able to use the insights you first need to comprehend what you have seen and apply that to your existing knowledge. All of which needs critically thinking, but most of us are doing this so quickly we barley notice it even happening. This is where slowing down and being deliberate really helps e.g. by applying an experimental mindset.

Helping teams to better understand what exploratory testing is and using a definition such as Elizabeth Hendrickson to anchor their thinking on could be a good way to articulate critically thinking to anyone not just engineering teams.

  1. Is there a “tool set” to use for different experience levels of folks, aka beginner, advanced, expert? - @maiknog

Interesting question and I think there would be a number of different ways to answer it. For me I’d say for beginners to develop their self-awareness is the first step. Looking into areas such developing their active listening skills (to take in information accurately) and also improving their questioning skills (if you don’t ask the right question you’ll never get the right answers). Would all help to get them thinking and most importantly practicing critically thinking. Also looking into how they get, receive and ask for feedback too as feedback is key for learning.

At the mid level I’d suggest developing their self awareness skills even further by beginning to look into emotional intelligence. This will enable them to further develop awareness of their emotional state, begin developing skills to handle their feelings better, to understand other peoples emotional state better and use their emotions rather than trying to suppress them.

For the more advanced skills would be to really start looking at what biases are, how they and others are affected by them and what they can do to start limiting the impact of some of the more common ones.

The key thing to remember in all of this is critically thinking is a journey and is a never ending pursuit. You can always get better at doing it and helping others to do it too. I never followed the above steps but jumped around following my curiosity to where it lead me and I’d advices others to do the same. All the above skills are interrelated and will complement and build on top of each other.

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