Insight • November 6, 2019

Three Types of Thinking and Why They’re All Important

By Krista Gerhard

Some dolls playing chess.

How often do you think about thinking?  For most of us, the answer would probably be, “not very.”  As we manage our lives and do our jobs, we tend to employ different approaches to thinking without really being aware of it.  For the most part, that works. 

However, the times keep on changing and it’s becoming increasingly important for us to be more conscious of how we think, and to develop our thinking skills.  This is especially important if you work in a Learning & Development (L&D) role because you’re also responsible for developing those skills in others and helping them succeed in this changing world. 

In this article, we will define three very important types of thinking:  Critical, Strategic, and Entrepreneurial.  In subsequent articles, we will go into more detail about how L&D can use—and teach—all three forms of thinking.

Multiple types of thinking skills are becoming more important

In its Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum shares its 2022 Skills Outlook.  This is a listing of the top skills that employers will demand in the global economy of 2022.  Let’s take a look at the top 10 growing skills:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Creativity, originality and initiative
  4. Technology design and programming
  5. Critical thinking and analysis
  6. Complex problem-solving
  7. Leadership and social influence
  8. Emotional intelligence
  9. Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
  10. Systems analysis and evaluation

It’s interesting that at least 7 of the top 10 hinge on one or more forms of thinking mentioned above.  For many roles, individuals will need to be proficient critical, strategic, and entrepreneurial thinkers.

Critical, strategic, and entrepreneurial thinking:  What’s the difference?

Critical Thinking

We’ve written before about critical thinking, including the link between critical thinking and confidence.  However, we didn’t offer a definition.  Well, here it goes: 

Critical thinking is an effortful and continuous analysis and revision of one’s thinking processes and output for reasoning and logic and to eliminate bias in order to increase the probability of a desirable outcome.1

Wow!  That’s a mouthful.  It basically means that critical thinkers actively think about how they think! They gather, synthesize, and evaluate information in order to make decisions; however, they do so in a way that uses logic and reason.  Plus, they consciously work to avoid falling prey to various cognitive biases that can cloud their judgement.  At its heart, critical thinking is analytical and logical.

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is a mental process that is applied when one is trying to achieve some goal or set of goals.  Whereas critical thinking is all about analysis, logic and reason, strategic thinking is about planning.  It involves being able to understand cause and effect and seeing several steps ahead in order to achieve some desired outcome. 

Strategic thinking does not exist in a vacuum.  Strategic thinkers typically must employ solid critical thinking skills to analyze and understand their current situations, then layer in strategic thinking to forge a path forward.  When thinking strategically, a person should also use critical thinking to discern the likely outcomes of one planned action versus another.

Entrepreneurial Thinking

Entrepreneurial thinking can also be called creative thinking.  It involves seeing things differently than most other people.  Entrepreneurial thinkers are able to identify opportunities that others may miss.  They’re also able to see problems and develop solutions that others might consider “outside the box.” 

Entrepreneurial thinking also doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  An entrepreneurial thinker must think critically about the ideas that he or she generates.  Otherwise, they run the risk of developing “flashy” ideas that are unworkable in the real world.  They must also think strategically when working to bring the best entrepreneurial ideas to reality.

Here’s another important point:  critical, strategic, and entrepreneurial thinking skills can be taught.  Sure, most people will have differing natural aptitudes for various types of thinking. For example, Person A might naturally be more “entrepreneurial” in their thinking whereas Person B might be more inclined to think critically.  However, people can learn to use all three types of thinking.

Coming next…

In upcoming articles, we’ll explore two different aspects of all this that will be relevant to L&D professionals.  First, we’ll take a look at how L&D can use critical, strategic, and entrepreneurial thinking to improve the way L&D engages with its stakeholders and increase its effectiveness.  Second, we’ll dive into how L&D can help improve its learners’ critical, strategic, and entrepreneurial thinking skills.


  1. Halpern, D. F. (2014). Thought and knowledge: an introduction to critical thinking. New York: Psychology Press. Note: This definition is a compilation of various definitions from pages 8 and 9 in the source listed including one obtained via consensus from among 500 policy makers, employers and educators.

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