PRINCETON, NJ, July 18, 2018 – Princeton’s Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, Entrepreneurship, and Design Thinking hosted a one-day workshop on Critical Thinking Tools this week. The workshop was aimed at providing the 24 Princeton students participating in Princeton University’s Tiger Challenge with tools and techniques that will strengthen their ability to gather, organize and analyze data. 

The Tiger Challenge[1] is a multi-year design thinking program in which trans-disciplinary teams of students work with partner communities to tackle seemingly intractable societal issues. This summer’s four teams are tackling such daunting challenges as improving the effectiveness of organizations caring for the homeless in New York City (NYC), improving patient-provider communications at a hospital in New Jersey, improving how NYC alumni connect with their schools and each other, and improving how Princeton, NJ, residents separate their organic and inorganic waste to prevent cross-contamination.

The workshop was taught by Rob De La Espriella, a subject matter expert in complex problem solving and root cause analysis from the commercial nuclear industry. Rob, a former Navy nuclear submarine officer and entrepreneur, is the author of BlueDragonTM, a “Lean and Agile” method for determining root causes of events involving human performance issues, equipment malfunctions and organizational and programmatic breakdowns[2]. 

“The BlueDragon Complex Problem Solving Method is based on critical thinking tools and techniques,” said Rob, “and some of the tools that we use in solving problems at nuclear facilities and the nuclear weapons complex are very useful during the Synthesis phase of the design thinking process.” 

During the workshop, students were able to use the data they had collected for their specific Tiger Challenges and reorganize and analyze the data using the critical thinking tools.  By the end of the workshop, the teams were able to develop new insights and a better understanding of the areas that have to be improved using the design thinking process to meet their clients’ expectations.    

“Rob really showed us what the process of creative critical thinking can look like,” said Drey Tengan ‘20, a member of the People as People team, who are working to create innovations to help service providers working with the homeless. “The level at which he was able to connect with the groups helped us internalize the value of his lessons beyond a mere presentation or lecture. The tools he taught helped us reorganize ourselves and our understanding of our challenge, which reframed where we were and gave us a sense of where to go next.”

Rob was also impressed with the student’s rapid comprehension of the materials and adaptation of tools to their challenges, commenting that “these are some of the brightest minds in the country and I’m in awe at what they were able to accomplish in just one day. I expect they will be involved in some great accomplishments in their lifetime. During the workshop I spoke to Anam, a wonderful young woman who is building a new and modern school near her home town of Mumbai, India!”  

This is the third time Rob introduced BlueDragon methodologies to Tiger Challenge students. “While many people associate design thinking most closely with user interviews or brainstorming methods, synthesis is one of the most important activities in the process,” said Rafe Steinhauer, a Lecturer and Program Manager in the Keller Center. “Rob brings a wealth of expertise about critical thinking to our students. The teams have collected piles of data so far, and Rob’s workshop introduced them to tools, such as affinity diagrams and success trees, to help organize and extract insights from the data. We are incredibly grateful for Rob’s guidance, and look forward to having him back!”


[1] For more information on the Tiger Challenge at Princeton University, click on the highlighted text or visit us on the web at:  

[2] For more information on BlueDragon Workshops, click on the following link: or contact Rob directly at