When workers in a high-rise office tower complained to their managers about slow elevators, managers gave the building a deadline to solve the problem, or they would cancel their leases.
Engineers and consultants suggested obvious solutions such as building new elevator shafts to add cars or designating express service to blocks of floors. Still, they could not complete the mechanical solutions on time or within budget. Finally, the building maintenance supervisor took another look at the problem and asked: Are the elevators too slow? Or is the wait too annoying?
She suggested hanging mirrors in the elevator lobbies to give people something to do while waiting, like primping for appointments, adjusting clothing before going out or people-watching. Her success is now a feature of office towers around the world.
How Does Critical Thinking Produce Creative Solutions?
Critical thinking is an ordered process that begins with analyzing the situation, which can lead to “a better problem to solve,” Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg writes in The Harvard Business Review.
“The mirror solution is particularly interesting because in fact it is not a solution to the stated problem: It doesn’t make the elevator faster. Instead, it proposes a different understanding of the problem,” he continues.
Business professionals who think critically about problems thrive by developing creative solutions that increase productivity, cut costs, improve employee and system performance and accelerate innovation. Examples of critical thinking in various operations include:
- Account managers implement strategies to generate leads for sales to close. When results fall short of goals, the obvious answer is to generate more leads. A more creative solution involves generating better The strategy of “flipping the funnel” by analyzing relationships with existing profitable customers to model methods for attracting prospects most likely to close.
- Business managers across the economy are grappling with “the great resignation” — the mass exodus of top talent. Unfortunately, the traditional strategies for retaining employees — awards, raises and bonuses — largely are not working. Instead, managers who think critically about the problem understand employees’ motivations. Autonomy and empowerment facilitate a workplace culture that challenges them to achieve and supports their efforts.
- Operations managers are tasked with, among other things, deploying processes that satisfy Environmental, Social and Governance requirements. Looking for ways to scale up ecological monitoring, the Chinese unicorn company Sensoro developed technology to capture data from the Internet of Things and used the expanded datasets to power artificial intelligence that enables precise, regionwide monitoring.
- Production planners rely on descriptive and predictive analytics to set schedules and monitor capacity, efficiencies, costs and risks. For example, suppose the enterprise decides to build new facilities to meet growing demand. In that case, geographic information systems integrate data regarding utility and transportation infrastructure, population density and environmental conditions. Business analytics provides a critical new dimension in data-driven decision-making.
What Are Other Skills in the Critical Thinking Process?
Insight Assessment, a consultancy that provides critical-thinking training and development to businesses, outlines the ordered process of critical thinking to include:
- Evaluate alternatives: Accumulate information about potential solutions and assess the impact of each before settling on a proposal and alternatives.
- Understand contexts: Model the outcomes of their recommendations and test them against enterprise policies and external regulatory requirements.
- Determine contextual ambiguities: Apply inductive and deductive reasoning to narrow the field of alternative solutions to those most likely to provide a creative solution to the problem.
- Interpret contextual outcomes: Interpret and evaluate analytics to present an optimal solution to the problem.
“Employees need to be able to think fast and smart — often in situations that are complex, uncertain, and where no effective policy or procedures exist. That makes critical thinking a real necessity,” according to the American Management Association.
How Are Critical-Thinking Skills Developed and Enriched?
A Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration curriculum, such as that offered online by Lamar University, builds critical-thinking skills through studies in computer and data analytics, leadership and decision-making, organizational behavior and quality and productivity management.
Graduates entering the job market or competing for career advancement are equipped with skills to think critically about economics, finance, marketing and management principles that set them apart for positions in accounting, business operations and production management.
Learn more about the Lamar University online Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration program.