Are your competitors using this no.1 skill to get ahead?

In 2013, Google ditched “worthless” grade-point averages as a basis for hiring, in favor of “general cognitive ability” and “learning ability.” Top employers such as EY and PricewaterhouseCoopers have followed suit, and 93 percent of employers now agree that thinking skills are more important than grades.*

It’s clear that thinking skills—specifically critical thinking skills such as creative problem-solving and analytic reasoning—are the future of business. And, chances are, your competitors are already using these business skills to get ahead. The good news is that there’s a chance to catch-up.

We asked Charlie Atkinson, a global strategic executive coach and North America President for Human Factors International, to tell us why all businesses should be implementing critical thinking into their learning and development plans.


Why are critical thinking skills so crucial in 21st-century business?

CA: Confused, emotional, and prejudiced thinking leads to misunderstanding and intolerance. In business, this misunderstanding and intolerance manifests itself in poor communication, ineffective teamwork, and unnecessary conflict.

For example, I once trained a CEO of an IT consulting firm who was an excellent critical thinker already, but because he didn’t know he thought differently to everyone else, his staff often got frustrated with him. His logic moved very quickly and he didn’t explain himself very well; he would reach a conclusion before his staff had finished explaining the problem. Even though they understood what decision he’d made, they didn’t know why he had made that decision, so weren’t learning from his choices.

Quote by Charlie Atkinson


We improved the critical thinking skills of his staff so that they understood his logic, and showed him what critical thinking is so that he thought more carefully about how he explained himself. This helped people get on board with him and encouraged independent thought; getting people aligned and working in the same direction requires you to be able to explain your actions.

Why do you think companies such as Google and EY have moved towards thinking skills as a way to identify potential within recruitment candidates?

CA: Grade-point average is a better indicator of work ethic than a predictor of business capability and performance; it doesn’t represent a person’s ability to problem solve, think innovatively, or to work with others. On the other hand, critical thinking is the foundation of these capabilities.

However, businesses would be mistaken to put too much emphasis on critical thinking specifically at graduate hire. Critical thinking can be taught; it’s not an innate ability, so it’s important to separate intelligence from skills like critical thinking that you can learn. Businesses should be looking for smart, fast learners who they can teach to think critically.


What benefits can critical thinking training bring to an individual employee’s performance?

CA: Critical thinking is a fundamental transferable skill. It helps employees challenge assumptions and get to better solutions on their own. It also gives them clarity in identifying the key issues from irrelevant detail. By removing “gut feel” and “intuition” as justifications, it allows them to reach more rational and relevant decisions.

By improving critical thinking skills you become more persuasive and able to construct strong arguments. Managers will make better decisions and, crucially, they will explain those decisions to their team more effectively. It makes you a more efficient and more balanced employee.


Do you want to build teams that think critically? Join the largest-ever critical thinking study:

Identify and develop your employees’ critical thinking skills—crucial for superior judgement and leadership—by joining the largest-ever critical thinking study, designed by the University of Cambridge and supported by Macat.

Just 10 minutes of your employees’ time will give you actionable results that can be used to optimize your development and recruitment programs, giving you competitive advantage in the “ideas economy.”

With more than 20,000 people expected to take part in this free survey, including those at Vodafone, Apple, EY, and Microsoft, the insights are expected to be groundbreaking.

For more information, or to join the study, please visit

* Source: It Takes More Than a Major : Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success, Hart Research Associates, 2013.