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Applying critical thinking

Case studies to help navigate workforce challenges

Topic: Career Development
Connie Missimer

Critical thinking—the consideration of alternative arguments or theories in light of evidence—has been profoundly important for the growth of knowledge across all fields, from product innovation to physics. But as with all behaviors, critical thinking is a mental practice that takes time to become habitual. The workplace is an excellent location to try out and improve your critical thinking skills.

Using a set of four complex, nuanced case studies based on actual workplace situations, Connie Missimer leads a sustained inquiry into how to apply critical thinking to improve products and processes. You'll learn a number of advanced critical thinking techniques, such as “engulf and devour"—a way to take others’ views into account while advancing the discussion—and discover how critical thinking relates to critical areas like innovation and AI in the workplace. You'll leave with a clearer understanding of where and how to employ critical thinking strategies to solve work-related challenges, leading to happier employees and a better bottom line.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live, online course, you’ll understand:

  • Critical thinking vocabulary and strategies
  • Unexpected areas where you can apply critical thinking

And you’ll be able to:

  • Apply critical thinking at a deeper, more detailed level
  • Take a leadership role at your company, using either existing data or pilot tests to help your company make or save money while enjoying more autonomy

This training course is for you because...

  • You're an executive or senior leader who needs to help your team identify and solve problems.
  • You're a manager or individual contributor who wants to become a thought leader in your area.
  • You're head of a growing company, and you want to infuse critical thinking into your workforce to keep it from becoming bureaucratic and stultifying.


Recommended preparation:

Assignments to complete before the course:

  • Write down three areas where you think critical thinking might help your company (e.g., better strategic planning, removing unnecessary or overly complex processes, and enabling more innovation). You don't need to identify your company.
  • Write a sentence or two about your current role to paste into the online chat field during the course.

About your instructor

  • Connie Missimer is a philosopher and an expert in critical thinking. Connie’s fascinated by empirical findings, especially strong counterintuitive ones, relating to daily work. She's the author of influential articles on her empirically based theory of critical thinking and has conducted workshops both nationally and internationally. Previously, Connie was a senior manager at AT&T, where she advised cell phone and tablet partners Samsung, HTC, Microsoft, and Google on making their products more user friendly, and worked on MS Learning and Windows and in the Tablet Group at Microsoft. She holds over a dozen patents. Connie is the author of a number of books, including Good Arguments: An Introduction to Critical Thinking, now in its fourth edition, which offers the basics in analyzing theories and arguments, and her latest, Critical Thinking at Work: Does Your Company Pound or Flex? She holds an MS in philosophical literature from UC Berkeley and an MS in human-centered design and engineering from the University of Washington.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Reprise of critical thinking and creating context (15 minutes) - Lecture: Review of the main aspects of critical thinking; special use of the prefrontal cortex to compare alternatives in light of their evidence; how to find or create evidence; how innovation is a crucial subset of critical thinking; how critical thinking has driven the growth of knowledge across fields such as physics as well as product improvement

Scenario 1: Strategic thinking (20 minutes)

  • Scenario 1: A company worried about its current business model has stumbled into a new product category. Five senior VPs have told subordinate groups about five different strategic directions this new product could go. The groups charged with the user research and website for the product don’t know which direction they should follow. What considerations would you suggest in critically thinking through this scenario?
  • Lecture: Why the best high-level strategic thinking entails weighing alternatives; strategic thinking examples and counterexamples (e.g., just doing what the competition started to do)
  • Hands-on exercise: Identify and discuss the strategic thinking your company could do (or already does) and whether and how it entails alternatives

Scenario 2: Innovation (20 minutes)

  • Scenario 2: A company has heavily promoted innovation. “Innovate, innovate, innovate; grow, grow, grow!” its CEO frequently exhorts employees. What could the CEO do to make it more likely for her employees to innovate?
  • Lecture: Why innovation requires systemic critical thinking rather than a disconnected program
  • Hands-on exercise: Identify and discuss areas (process or product) where your company could innovate

Break (10 minutes)

Scenario 3: AI and critical thinking (20 minutes) - Scenario 3: Workers at a large telecommunications company are being downsized, while the company is building up a large department dedicated to AI. Workers are understandably nervous that their jobs will be turned over to AI. As a worker who knows about critical thinking, what questions would you ask about this change? - Lecture: Why training in critical thinking is the best way to adapt to (and use) AI - Hands-on exercise: Identify and discuss areas where AI could replace people at your company and determine how critical thinking helps you address this challenge

Scenario 4: Loyal opposition (20 minutes)

  • Scenario 4: At a company all-hands meeting, the senior VP outlines a new strategy called "close collaboration" along with a new performance model in which the lowest-performing quarter of each team will receive a lower salary than the other 75%. You're uneasy about this new grading curve but aren't sure why. You’re also aware of data suggesting that our perceptions of others often entail innocent unconscious biases. How could you use critical thinking in this situation?
  • Lecture: How political constraints can hamper your company’s productivity in unexpected ways

Wrap-up and Q&A (15 minutes)