Critical Thinking to Solve Problems

Categories: Critical Thinking


During the first phases of the war in Iraq, General Petraeus and his staff successfully used their critical thinking and intellectual skills, while hindering sociocentric thoughts to stabilize the city of Mosul. In this study, we will identify components of critical thinking, how a leader’s intelligence is needed to identify and solve problems, and how sociocentric thinking can harm rational thoughts.

Critical and Creative Thinking 1

While developing courses of action during the military decision-making process or troop leading procedures, it is essential to develop innovative ideas which can be applied towards missions.

To tackle problem solving through critical thinking, a leader needs to follow the seven steps in the problem-solving model which include; gathering information and knowledge, identifying the important problems, develop criteria, generating and analyzing possible solutions, compare possible solutions, and lastly make and implement the decision, Department of the Army, (2014). The Department of the Army identified that critical and creative thinking is essential to the operations process.

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They are symbiotic to one another and provide commanders and their staff an adaptive approach when looking at everyday problems. When combined, critical and creative thinking enables leaders and planners the ability to analyze enemy and friendly forces within their operational environment with a flexible mind. (Department of the Army, 2015). But for a leader to think creatively one needs to build the framework of rational thought. This framework can aid in avoiding command pitfalls of undisciplined thinking. The leader needs to find patterns that are predictive and productive.

Critical Thinking Skills and Standards

In the book, Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills, (Hughes, 2000).

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Hughes assessed that there are three types of skills every critical thinker need, they are interpretive, verification, and reasoning. Interpretive skills allow us to find the meaning in statements and arguments. Verification skills determine whether a piece of information is true, and reasoning skills actively link thoughts together in such a way that that one thought supports the other. When properly used they identify conclusions that we would otherwise not accept. Politicians, advertisers, and special interest groups spend a lot of time and money trying to sway your way of thinking to accept views and purchase products they are trying to sell. Using the three critical thinking skills can allow you some space to think and distance yourself long enough to make informed decisions rather than impulsive ones.

An example could be found in the Accidental Statesman, where the people of Mosul thought a newly elected member, Imam Sheikh Khalil Hamoody, was an insider threat and on the wrong side of the war. The Imam spoke with MG Petraeus and was able to convince him that all actions he had to perform during Saddam’s reign were not of his free will. At the same time, the U.S was hearing stories regarding the torture that Saddam’s brother, Uday, had enforced during the ex-dictator’s reign. The Imams accounts weren’t far off.

With a bit of time and through the Imams deeds the Imam was able to convince General Petraeus he could be trusted, and that his ties with the Baath party were dissolved. The General needed use all three skills to sensibly put an ex-Saddam supporter into the government, (Lundberg, 2006).

Elements of Thought

There are eight basic elements to our ways of thinking. When you are in thought you are thinking within your point of view which are based on assumptions that lead to implications and consequences. We use various ways to interpret the data we receive in order to answer questions and solve problems. These elements of thought are purpose, question at issue, information, interpretation and inference, concepts, assumption, implications and consequences, and point of view. Together these eight elements describe how critical thinking works.

Intellectual Standards

There are nine intellectual standards that leaders must use to ensure our reasoning and decision making takes into account all relevant information. The application of the intellectual standards (clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness) provide the framework to check the quality of a question or issues we may come across.

Intellectual Traits

Repetitive use of intellectual standards and applying to the elements of thought results in the development of our intellectual traits; Humility, courage, empathy, autonomy, integrity, perseverance, confidence in reasoning and fair-mindedness, (Paul & Elder, 2010).

Application of elements and standards

When a leader trains his thinking patterns through the use of the elements of thought and checks these thoughts using intellectual standards, he builds a solid foundation for critical thinking. This foundation then transforms into intellectual traits, (Department of the Army, 2014). This trinity of thinking evolves a person into a disciplined critical thinker whose ideas and counsel regularly are called upon when commanders need honest and well thought out answers.

Intelligence is Needed to Identify and Solve Problems

The Army leader’s intellect draws on the experiences that shaped and built him or her. These learned abilities promote rational judgment before executing ideas and plans. They allow innovative thinking and can permit an individual to displace themselves from bias or sociocentric thought patterns. In the Accidental Statesman, General Petraeus and his staff had plenty of schooling behind them. For real-world experience, they had deployments in Central America, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Bosnia. Some taught at the Naval War College, and others were senior observers at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, (Lundberg, 2006). These types of real-world experiences and institutional knowledge are what makes us experts tactically during a mission, and technically through the systems we employ. Being an expert in our fields enables leaders to identify issues early, build relationships, and think of innovative ways to challenge problems, (Department of the Army, 2012).

Analytical Pitfalls of being bias

It is human nature to want to fit in or be a part of something bigger than ourselves. As kids, we wanted the Michael Jordan Pumps because the popular kids were wearing them. Later in high school, we wanted the fast car with the gas guzzling V8, we sought to impress our friends and wanted to feel like we climbed the next step in the social status. These things gave us purpose, gave us a cultural bond, and a competitive brotherhood. In the U.S. military, this bond is essential and is what allows this melting pot of race, culture, and religions to work so well. But this family dynamic has some drawbacks, and without a governor to idle us down, we can tend to only think of ourselves.

Doctrine shows people have a tendency to think from an egocentric or sociocentric perspective. These ways of thinking can cloud our judgment as we often think our thoughts and ideas are accurate because “I know so” or because the “team said so”. Therefor the thoughts and ideas that come from the other person are inaccurate. These ways of thinking are from personal bias and although not done on purpose can often result in bad choices, (Department of the Army, 2014, p. 2-6).

During deployments, we find Soldiers tend to place our culture and the ideas of what makes us American superior to all other nations or cultures. They unwittingly have prejudices against other nations that are not as tactically and technically advanced. These engrained beliefs disable rational thought and can only be diminished with cross-cultural, fair-minded interactions, (Paul & Elder, 2008). General Petraeus knew that in order to build relationships between the people of Mosul and the U.S. coalition he needed to remove bias. He needed the people of Iraq to know his team wasn’t there to hurt the good people of the city and wanted the U.S. coalition to see the Iraqi people were not religion crazed killers. The 101st command team knew that the removal of bias would be a decisive point if they were going to stabiliz the country of Iraq. In order to change each sides way of thinking, his staff needed to emplace systems which forced the interaction between the different cultures. The commander decided that together they would rebuild the cities broken infrastructure, emplace systems to elect new government, and in the end build friendships that would be needed throughout the war. Within a few short months of the coalition forces entrance into Mosul, the nation held its first democratic elections which was some of the many pioneering endeavors the 101st could claim. But it was their critical thinking that enabled any of it to happen.


During the first phases of the war in Iraq, General Petraeus and his staff had to harness their critical thinking skills to stabilize the city of Mosul, Iraq. In this study we identified the links between creative and critical thinking, how intellect needed to be institutional and real world, how sociocentric thoughts can hinder decisions, and that you need interpretive, verification, and reasoning skills to be a critical thinker.


  • Department of the Army, (2014). Commander and staff organization and operations: Field manual 6-0. Washington D.C.
  • Department of the Army, (2012). Army leadership: Army doctrine reference publication 6-22. Washington D.C.
  • Department of the Army, (2014). Intelligence Analysis: Army training publication 2-33.4. Washington D.C.
  • Department of the Army, (2015). Leader development: Field manual 6-22. Washington D.C.
  • Hughes, W. (2000). Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills (Vol. 3rd ed). Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press.
  • Lundberg, K. (2006). The accidental statesman: General Petraeus and the city of Mosul, Iraq. HKS No. 0306. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Kennedy School
  • Paul, Richard & Elder, Linda (2008). Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. n.k.: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.
  • Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2010). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Dillon Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.
Updated: Apr 23, 2021
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Critical Thinking to Solve Problems. (2021, Apr 23). Retrieved from

Critical Thinking to Solve Problems essay
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