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Critical thinking, the key to survival

Published:Friday | May 4, 2018 | 12:00 AMDeborah Hickling Gordon
Deborah Hickling Gordon

Welcome to the New Economy, where ideas are currency and their value is increasing; where visionary global leaders have embraced ideas as units of success and as a result, humanities education is quietly increasing in value. Calling all misfits, the unsure, the dreamers, the thinkers, the visionaries, the curious! Here in the New Economy, there is a place for you. I know because I am you.

I had always been a misfit. Never clear about what I wanted to do professionally until I was well into my thirties, I was labelled "unfocused" and "a rolling stone".

It has been a mixed bag. My first job was in an advertising agency as a production coordinator, but even then, I was sure I wanted to be an actress. Two years at business school and a year in advertising and I could not get the theatre out of my head, so I joined the Pantomime Company.

The lure of the media called me to reporting news and current affairs, and that led to producing television programmes about Jamaican art, culture, and entertainment. The tourism sector was my next port of call.

I learnt the intricacies of international tourism sales and marketing and managed entertainment, public relations, and sport, and supervised activities and people at a large luxury resort. The public relations business prepared me for working in government, where I had several assignments from event management and managing integrated marketing communication campaigns to high-level logistics planning and managing content delivery for a prime minister.

Through all this, I realised that there are many people just like me: they know what they enjoy but are unsure about where it will lead. The things they love to do have taken decades to be 'legitimised' as 'real careers' that lead to 'real jobs'. People like us are frequently urged to "get a degree" but don't know what to study.




I thought a BA in Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies (UWI) would help in my search for a place where all my interests, skills, and experiences could fit. The degree provided an important multidisciplinary foundation. Courses in media and communication and politics solidified my interest in the role of culture in society.

I learnt practical skills in broadcasting and feature writing through courses at CARIMAC and realised the significance of culture and technique in the stories and histories of our life by mixing humanities and social science courses. But at the turn of the millennium I was dissatisfied. Technology was changing and the telecoms companies were waging a full-on battle. 'Globalisation', 'commerce', and 'markets' were the buzzwords of the day.

Now responsible for coordinating the operations of the Government's first Entertainment Advisory Board, I found the intersections among media, the arts, business, political thought, and policy fascinating. Change was in the air and I had lots of questions.

The discipline of cultural studies allowed me to answer some of these questions and helped me bring the fragmented pieces and my splintered interests together into a seamless narrative. The discipline introduced me to the concept of 'bricolage' - a construction or creation from a wide variety of subjects - and it legitimised my interests in business and the study of power in relation to culture and creativity.

Increasingly, I had begun to appreciate how the negotiation of power, or 'politics' in its simplest forms, was a central component of any interaction. And the study of 'power' and its dynamics is a central area of interest in cultural studies.

Through cultural studies, I critically examined the structures that governments across the world have put in place to facilitate an enabling environment for persons and processes in the creative economy, and it was here that I found my purpose.

In the PhD programme at the Institute of Cultural Studies, UWI, I studied these issues from the many varied, available perspectives and questioned the cookie-cutter approaches we have been adapting and adopting.

In my PhD thesis, I proposed that in Small Island Developing States like Jamaica and the rest of the Global South, we need to think critically about how we develop the structures that guide the global trade and production of the products and services of our imagination.




The emerging industries, by their very nature, cut across and converge several disciplines - technology, performance, design, media, and innovation. When culture and creativity merge with commerce, technology, and policy, new industries come into practice.

Yet Jamaican policy structures are stuck in the cookie-cutter constructs of a decade ago. Our policy frameworks need to catch up and race ahead but must also be guided by an undergirding philosophy of cultural relevance. More than ever, we need critical thinkers to achieve these goals.

Through the humanities, we can learn techniques required to optimise critical thought. The humanities train us to look beyond the literal, to think in three dimensions and triangulate problems.

We learn how to be inclusive and appreciative of multiple disciplinary and social perspectives. The most important discovery of my career was the realisation that each of the areas I had worked in required critical thought.

This was the common thread in every job, project, activity, and interface I had engaged in: the application of active and skilful processes of conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, and evaluating information. Every activity required communicating messages - to a nation or to an individual.

Every activity required the management of information gathered from, or generated through, my own observations, experiences, reflections, reasoning, interactions, and communication. I relied on critical thought to guide my own beliefs and actions and the beliefs and actions of the many persons I encountered along the way as I managed projects from audio-visual production and speech writing to communication campaign planning, policy development, and logistical management.

The jobs and careers emerging in the New Economy call for critical thinking. Careers in social media management and other new media require the production of short, effective messages in spaces where print, video, design, audio, and technology converge. Entrepreneurs need to be able to critically examine the space and time in which they operate in order to make appropriate decisions.

In the New Economy, we need to learn more than just the old ways of doing things. We need to take things one step higher. To succeed in the New Economy, you need to learn how to think, critically.

A humanities education is a great place to start, and cultural Studies is a phenomenal lens.

- Deborah A Hickling Gordon PhD is Visiting Fellow in Creative Economy Development at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and a culture in Development consultant, with emphasis on media and new economies. This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the arts and humanities on the individual's personal development and career path. Please send feedback to