Why Critical Thinking Skills Are Important in the Workplace

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What is critical thinking?


Defining Critical Thinking


Why Critical Thinking Skills Are Important in the Workplace


Creative Thinking Skills


Stage 2 in the Design Thinking Process: Define the Problem and Interpret the Results


Techniques for Empathy Interviews in Design Thinking


Great Questions Lead to Great Design: A Guide to the Design-thinking Process


10 cognitive biases to avoid in User Research (and how to avoid them)


How You Can Use Creative Problem Solving at Work


15 Creative Activities to Do Solo or as a Team


Worst Possible Idea


Design Thinking: Get Started with Prototyping


Stage 4 in the Design Thinking Process: Prototype



Scenario 1: Soapy Simpson’s Car Wash Ned and Nancy Simpson owned and operated Soapy Simpson’s Car Wash in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for 30 years. They started the business shortly after they were married, and it had done well enough for them to raise their three children comfortably. Ever since their children left for college, Ned and Nancy were uncertain about what to do with their business. Running the car wash took a significant time commitment and could be stressful. They considered selling it and retiring early, but they feared the proceeds would not be enough to carry them through retirement. Additionally, the car wash had become a part of their identity in the community, and they felt that they might lose a piece of themselves if they were to part ways with it. This feeling changed when their youngest son, Aaron, graduated from college and presented them with a proposition that could solve all of their problems. A New Idea During Aaron’s senior year, he began working on an idea involving his parents’ car wash. He had worked there as a teenager, so he understood how it operated. He also observed that, while his parents were able to run the business steadily, most of the customers were loyal repeat customers who had been going there since he was born. He wanted to change the way the business was perceived, increase customers, and expand to more locations. In order to do so, he proposed that the car wash focus on “going green,” which would appeal to more people. He also proposed that he take the lead so his parents could finally get the break that they deserved. Ned and Nancy loved the idea because not only would it remove their worries about handling the daily operations, but the company’s mission would become more meaningful at the same time, changing from a business that merely existed to provide a family’s income to a business that contributed to a better tomorrow. In order to go green, Aaron focused on three main items:

• Products: They would use environmentally-friendly and natural products and would no longer use harsh chemicals.

• Solar: They would install solar panels to supply most of the car wash’s electrical needs.

• Water Recycling System: They would install a water recycling system instead of simply using new water.

Once the upgrades were complete, they would be able to increase prices and market the revamped car wash. As Ned and Nancy shared their decision with friends, word of the upcoming changes began to circulate around town. The local newspaper decided to cover the car wash’s progress, creating a reoccurring piece on local business, retirement, and how the next generation is ready to create change. The response was generally positive among the people of the town, including the loyal customers of the car wash. Aaron had expected the results to be positive, but he did not anticipate that it would happen so fast or be so overwhelmingly embraced. He became determined to complete the updates as soon as possible and start the next phase: expansion. He thought that he could possibly have a franchise on his hands. He would be rich. The Updates Are Complete Most people expected the changes to take a few months to complete, so everyone who was familiar with the situation was surprised when Aaron announced after 3 weeks that not only were the updates in place, but they had also been implemented well under budget. His parents

were proud of his accomplishments, especially after seeing him work relentlessly over those few weeks to take care of everything. He identified the new supplier for the environmentally-friendly products, coordinated the installation of the solar panels with the installation company, and handled nearly all aspects of installing the water recycling system. The newspaper had to scramble to complete their serialized piece on the car wash, and the story made it to the front page. The exposure led to an influx of new customers. Confident in Aaron’s commitment and success, Ned and Nancy gave him full control over the operations and management of the car wash. His success story, however, would be short lived. The Company’s Downfall After a few months of continued growth, a whistleblower contacted the same newspaper with an allegation and accompanying evidence that the company’s “changes” were a fraudulent publicity stunt. The whistleblower said that, although Aaron originally ordered environmentally-friendly products, he would refill the empty containers with the cheaper, chemical-based products. When the solar panels were installed, Aaron tried to spend as little money as possible, opting for a system that did not provide enough electricity. In order to compensate, he ran an extension cord to a neighboring business’s exterior outlet, buried and hid the cable, and used the other end to power a machine that used a lot of electricity. Lastly, the water recycling system that Aaron installed was a complete sham. Instead of recycling the water, he had a well-water pump installed to bring in new water and had the excess water drained through a pipe into the closest storm drain. Stealing electricity from another business and draining chemicals into a storm drain are illegal activities, so, after hearing these allegations, the newspaper reached out to the local authorities. When the police investigated the car wash, the allegations were found to be true and Aaron was arrested. Although Ned and Nancy were exonerated after the police’s investigation, they were still responsible for reimbursing the other company for the electricity used and were fined for the illegal draining. The newspaper published another front-page story about the company that exposed the details to the broader community. Some employees quit. Most customers—even the loyal ones—stopped coming to the car wash. At this point, the owners faced a difficult choice. Should they try to keep their business open or shut it down? They had run it for so long, it felt like it was a part of their identity. They decided that they were going to do what they could to rebuild the business and their reputation. They were known throughout the community as the people who ran the car wash after all. As it became evident that the son had caused the wrongdoing and not them, most of their loyal customers began to return, and it seemed as though they would be able to keep the business running at the same capacity as it had run before Aaron’s involvement. However, they knew that they simply could not go back to the way things were. Although the “going green” initiative was not implemented as promised, Ned and Nancy felt proud of the intent behind the original plan. It had renewed a sense of purpose within them. They felt that their accomplishments in running the business would have grown into something larger than themselves. In reestablishing the business and their reputation, they wanted to do more than just fix their son’s mistakes. They wanted to go beyond “making it right.” Of course, they still wanted their business to be successful, but they now also wished to make as large of an impact on the community as possible. They were fairly confident that fulfilling the commitments originally promised by Aaron was the first step; what they needed now was direction on the next steps.

A Second Chance This is where you enter the scenario. Ned and Nancy hire you as a business consultant to help the business develop solutions that demonstrate their renewed commitment to positive social change. The owners know how to run a car wash and they planned on committing to “go green” properly this time, but as far as what to do next given the circumstances, they face many uncertainties. They need you to propose an approach that requires critical and creative thinking.

Scenario 2: CallMe Call Center

CallMe, a call center company based out of Springfield, Illinois, recently acquired RingRing, a similar call center company in Santiago, Chile. The reason for this acquisition was that CallMe was slated to be awarded a very large contract with a well-known, online retailer and needed to expand its workforce to accommodate the influx of new work while ensuring that the new global team was efficient and well-managed. Although the acquisition initially took place fairly smoothly, the announcement of the impending contract had not yet been communicated, and as a result, the teams of service agents in each location began to wonder why their organizations were undergoing such a big transition. The resulting confusion led to rumors being circulated within both of the larger teams about whether there were going to be layoffs. Despite the leaders’ reassurance that the teams had nothing to worry about, morale began to decline, and some tension began to form between the two larger teams. CallMe’s new executive team, made up of leaders from both companies, recognized the need for creating a culture where the call center employees could flourish. If such a culture could be created, leadership would be able to successfully implement positive social change within their organization. They have hired you as a consultant to help the company navigate this transition. There are currently two different organizational cultures, and your challenge is to help the company leaders establish a new, unified organizational culture that fosters a positive work environment to include employees from multiple locales, time zones, and cultural origins. Here is a list of issues that company leaders identified:

• Teamwork: A strong sense of team is important, and the leaders want to ensure that the newly formed organization will foster that. However, they fear that not only might a cross-location sense of teamwork fail to materialize, but that the existing team cultures will suffer irreparable damage.

• Work stress: The blending of the two teams has already taken a toll on the employees. Preparing for the new, larger client is likely to result in increased stress levels. If the work becomes too demanding, they could see their turnover rates increase. They do not want to lose their top talent.

• Strategic planning/operations: The operations at both companies are unique from each other, but the certainty is that they will have to work together in order to meet the needs of the large, online retailer. The current leaders of both teams are unsure what would be the best approach: combining the best aspects of both operations, keeping the operations of both companies separate from each other, or developing a new set of operations altogether.

• Communicating the integration to employees: What constitutes too little communication, as well as too much? Should they take the same approach in the U.S. office as they do in the Chilean office, or should they devise a different approach?

• Language barriers: What are some ways they could overcome any language barriers while coordinating with both divisions of the company?

• Motivation across cultures: How can they focus on keeping their employees motivated, not only through the transition, but also in serving such a large client?

In addition to the identified issues, the leadership team also provides you with the results of some employee survey data they collected shortly after the acquisition. The following table includes some general information about the companies prior to the acquisition, as well as a summary of the employee survey responses.

Information from CallMe Information from RingRing

Operating Hours CallMe’s call center is open 24

hours a day, 7 days a week. They

operate on U.S. Central time

(UTC -6).

RingRing’s hours are from 9 a.m.

until 6 p.m., Monday through

Friday. They operate on UTC -3




100% of CallMe employees

speak English. Approximately

15% are fluent Spanish speakers

as well, but half of them speak

Spanish as a second language.

There are some employees who

speak Italian, Chinese,

Portuguese, Arabic, and French,

but those individuals comprise

less than 1% of their workforce.

Although CallMe does take on

some of the Spanish needs in-

house, they sub-contract most of

their needs related to other

languages to a handful of other

international companies.

RingRing has always placed an

emphasis on hiring for diversity of

language, and 100% of their

employees speak Spanish.

Approximately 50% of the call

center employees speak English

as a second language, and that

percentage is close to 100% for

managers and executives.

Approximately 10% of employees

can speak Portuguese, Hindi, and

Arabic; approximately 5% of

employees can speak German,

Chinese, and French; and

approximately 5% of employees

can speak a collection of over 50


Teamwork /

Independence /

Work Methods

CallMe developed an internal

workflow that is unique for the

industry. Most calls are taken by

a team, not an individual. While

the phone operator talks with the

client, at least one other person is

listening in on the call and

assisting the phone

representative. The assistant is

While RingRing employees work

in teams, they do so rather

independently. Each of their

clients has unique needs, so

there is usually a team of people

assigned to a client’s profile, and

people on that team become

intimately familiar with the specific

details of that profile. It is

Information from CallMe Information from RingRing

able to pull information, create

forms or documents, prepare the

next person in advance if a

transfer is required, or inform a

supervisor of a situation more

efficiently. Everyone has learned

a small set of hand signals,

shorthand, and vocabulary that

the company developed in order

to create a more efficient

language that is universally

understood at the company.

Although it seems like this would

increase labor costs, a team of

two can complete a call in an

average of 4 minutes compared

to the previous average of 11

minutes on an individual basis.

The goal is to address people’s

issues as quickly as possible

while practically eliminating wait

times. CallMe values efficiency.

common for the people on the

team to develop strong working

relationships with their clients and

work with them on a one-on-one

basis. RingRing wants its clients

to know that if they have an issue,

they will have someone dedicated

and available to resolve it for

them. RingRing’s goal is to

provide the best service that is

customizable on a client-to-client


Pace of Acquiring

New Clients

When working with a new client,

CallMe has a specific protocol

they follow, which has an

impressive turnaround time. It

involves an initial all-day meeting

to understand a client’s needs

and a research team to develop a

roadmap for how to handle the

calls for the client. That roadmap

is usually completed within a few

days or a week, and then

employees immediately begin

taking calls for the client. They

hold frequent feedback sessions

with the client for the first month,

so their understanding of the

client’s needs is solidified as

quickly as possible.

When working with a new client,

RingRing often requires 2–3

weeks to assemble a team before

beginning to work with a client.

Once assembled, the team will

work with the client for a few

weeks asking questions and

developing documentation. After

the needs are established,

RingRing will train internally for 1–

2 weeks in preparation for

handling the calls, which they do

after completing their training. At

the end of each month, the team

will get together to review their

processes, make any updates as

necessary, and retrain. RingRing

usually has an intimate

understanding of their client’s

Information from CallMe Information from RingRing

needs after a 4- to 6-month


Survey Questions:

Are there issues of

burnout? What are

your thoughts on

work-life balance at

your company?

At CallMe, employee’s shifts are

less predictable. They make an

attempt to schedule people to

consistently work either an 8-hour

morning, evening, or overnight

shift, but even after the schedule

is posted, employees are often

required to work a different shift.

Although employees are not

allowed to work two shifts in a

row, they sometimes have to

work a morning shift and then

return later for an overnight shift.

This has caused many

employees to find work

elsewhere, especially because it

is a policy that has zero

exceptions. The upside is that

employees have a pretty good

work-life balance and are not

required to complete work tasks

when not at the office. CallMe

developed a system where much

of the client information and

employee’s progress is tracked

openly. It would be rare for a

manager to need to call an

employee at home in order to

discuss a client or find

information. As long as it is done

a couple of weeks in advance,

scheduling time off is easy and

almost guaranteed to be


Employees are scheduled for five

9-hour shifts per week, for a total

of 45 hours (the maximum per

Chilean law); however, many

employees put in a little more

than that because there’s an

unwritten rule that they should be

available to complete customer

paperwork after closing hours.

RingRing’s employees track their

customers’ information and issues

on a more individualistic basis, so

they also might be expected to be

available to answer questions or

provide information, even while

on their day off or on vacation.

Survey Question:

What is a positive

element (work-

related or not) about

CallMe employees appreciate the

amount of professional

development opportunities that

are made available to them. The

company regularly offers

RingRing employees feel that the

path to move up within the

company is clear and achievable,

as long as they have the intention

and drive to advance, as well as

Information from CallMe Information from RingRing

your company that

you enjoy?

workshops, seminars, and online

classes that are designed to help

their employees grow as


to commit their time to the


Survey Question:

What is something

you think your

company is lacking?

CallMe employees feel their

company lacks any type of

commitment to the community or

beyond, even though most

companies that are of similar size

could be recognized for these

types of efforts. They feel that

without that positive message to

rally behind, it is difficult to feel

like the business is worth


Employees feel that the bonus

structure is highly subjective and

can often be unfair. Some

employees count on their

bonuses to supplement an

income that is lower than needed

for performing the job alone, but

the criteria for earning the bonus

can feel ambiguous.

Scenario 3: Plain Print Press Plain Print Press is a small publishing company that specializes in instructional material and self-help books. The company had an exceptional year last year, nearly doubling its forecasted profit after one of its books was listed on a best sellers list. The owner of the company, Nadine Turnage, planned to offer a better-than-expected yearly bonus to the employees, as well as use the extra profit to strengthen the company; however, she wanted to do more. Nadine wanted to publish a book titled To Make Better Good, which focused on doing good in the world and on making a difference. It would be one of her proudest achievements. She was passionate about the topic and had done many things in her personal life to pursue that cause, but this passion had not yet been demonstrated through Plain Print Press. Nadine felt it would be hypocritical for her company to publish a book on creating change in the world without taking any measures to create that change. In addition, the public could perceive the book simply as a ploy to grab as much money as possible, a perception that Nadine wanted to avoid at all costs. If Plain Print Press were to publish To Make Better Good, then Nadine felt the company should also make a positive impact. She was not sure in what way or how to do so. She did feel that the company should do something that could best leverage the skills of her employees. While she respected or donated to causes such as road cleaning or feeding the homeless, she wanted to address challenges that could be uniquely solved through the collective skills and expertise found within her company. This is where you are brought in as a business consultant. You were hired to help Nadine create an initiative through her company that will have a positive impact on the community. You observed that she is determined and has a drive to do good (as well as some funds to support the effort). You understood that she hired you because she wanted the initiative to be a success and to be fully embraced by the employees. Getting the employees’ buy-in would be crucial. If they did not support the idea, then it would be unlikely to work as a sustained effort and would just be a waste of time and resources. Although Nadine was unsure of what the best approach for the company to undertake would be, she did leave you with some broad parameters for guidance. She did not want to provide too many details because she thought that might influence your suggestions and hinder your creativity in generating the best possible proposal. In addition to the concerns described above, she explained the following considerations:

• “I don’t just want to create a tax write-off. I want Plain Print Press to


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