The Lean Post / Articles / How a Problem-Solving Culture Takes Root

How a Problem-Solving Culture Takes Root

How a Problem-Solving Culture Takes Root

By Jim Luckman and David Verble

March 4, 2014

Changing one's own leadership behaviors is no easy task, but it can be done. Leaders can shift away from giving top-down commands and solutions to a more engaging and collaborative way of addressing problems that both gets results and develops people.

There are few leaders with more responsibility, and often more frustration, than lean continuous improvement coordinators and facilitators.

As we point out in workshops, when change leaders start sharing some of their challenges, their companies have placed an incredible amount of faith in them and their CI teams. (These teams typically consist of one, maybe three, sometimes five, but very rarely any more than 10 members). And they’re expected to “transform” an organization with 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 or more people!

On a day-to-day level, what most CI leaders want from management is more active participation in CI events and more consistent support for work on CI projects. And when their managers and executives are involved, they would like for them to act less like traditional managers and to think and behave more like CI leaders. It’s only human nature, of course, to think things would be better if certain people would do what we want them to do.  But as anyone who has ever expected someone else to change knows, asking others to change, and complaining when they don’t, doesn’t work. The only person we can ever really change is ourselves. And even that is far from an easy task!

That’s not to say that line managers and business executives—particularly those who have been promoted and rewarded in a traditional management environment based largely on their problem-solving success—cannot change their default leadership responses. They can shift away from giving top-down commands and solutions to a more engaging and collaborative way of addressing problems that both gets results and develops people.

As we’ll discuss in more detail at the Lean Transformation Summit (starting tomorrow, Wednesday, March 5th! follow via livestream), the behaviors and perspectives of traditional management are deeply engrained habits and assumptions that cannot be turned off and replaced by throwing a switch. We suggest, based on our experiences, that traditional managers and executives focus on and practice three behaviors to help them personally make the transition.  

1. Grasp the actual conditions of problem situations.

Don’t jump to solutions or accept when others go straight from problem recognition to solution. Grasp the actual conditions of problem situations firsthand whenever possible and insist that others clearly describe the problems they are trying to solve. Rather than assume you know enough about the nature of a problem situation, go to the gemba (wherever the work processes are) and try to understand the sources of performance problems yourself. Look for and ask about the problems, often caused by variation in the way the work is being done. Look for bottlenecks and rework that prevent the work from flowing from start to finish. And when you are at the workplace, engage those who work in the process to learn what they know about what is actually happening. Ask them for ideas for what needs to be done.

2. Show respect for what your employees know, think, feel and can do.

If you do not allow employees to share their observations and ideas with you as though you were a peer, you will not be able to fully grasp the problem situation and you may never know things you need to know. Connect with people one-on-one at the level of their personal interests and concerns. Practice Humble Inquiry to learn about the problems they encounter in trying to do their jobs. Ask questions that don’t assume you already know the answers or that seek specific responses. Recognize that employees will often give you the answers they think you want unless you show them you genuinely believe they have insights and the ability to solve the problem.

3. Pay attention to how employees talk to you (and each other) about problems.

Do your employees seem hesitant to speak frankly about the what, when, where, and who of problems? Do they “polish” their problem and project reports and gloss over details to avoid criticism or blame? If so, teach employees to compare standard or plan to actual and talk about why there are differences. Push people to reflect on what they know about why those differences exist. And make it safe for employees to self-reflect and consider how what they did or did not do might have influenced their results. This is best taught by modeling this behavior yourself.  

These behaviors will go a long way toward creating a management environment that can grow into a problem-solving culture. The following signs will indicate that your transformation is contributing to a transformation in organizational culture:

  • Problems are resolved the first time and do not recur as often because actions taken to address them are based on a better understanding of actual operating conditions, where and how problems at the process level are affecting performance.
  • There is more self-initiated problem solving by employees because they feel they are not only allowed but expected to respond to problems within the scope of their jobs. Moreover, they feel respected for their knowledge and capability in doing so.
  • An atmosphere of trust and safety exists in which problems can be exposed and countermeasures tried as experiments without concern for the consequences of speaking up or failing the first time.

There’s a reason why we refer to shifting to the leadership behavior described above as a “transition” and not a “transformation.” Absent a moment of blinding revelation on the road to Damascus, it takes time to unfreeze old habit or behavior, try out new patterns, practice them, and make them your default responses as a leader.

Managing to Learn

An Introduction to A3 Leadership and Problem-Solving.

Written by:

problem solving culture definition

About David Verble

A performance improvement consultant and leadership coach since 2000, David has been an LEI faculty member for 17 years. Recognized as one of the first Toyota-trained managers to bring A3 thinking from Japan to the United States, he has conducted A3 problem-solving and leadership programs for 30 years. Overall, his…

About Jim Luckman

Jim Luckman has had the unique experience of leading three separate lean transformations, as a Plant Manager, as a Director of a Research and Development Center, and as a CEO of a small start-up company. Jim is the Past President and CEO of iPower Technologies, a company serving the distributed generation market of electrical power. Luckman has worked in the auto industry for 34 years working at Delphi Automotive (formerly part of General Motors). Jim current efforts include leadership coaching, application of lean in R&D and application of lean to software development. He currently coaches companies interested in company-wide lean transformation. Jim is a partner in Lean Transformations Group, LLC.

Problem solving and leadership are very important in our society also they needed to be learned so that it will give a positive impact to the society

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Engage the workforce by creating a problem-solving culture

Engage the workforce by creating a problem-solving culture

Over the past few years, there’s been an evolution in the focus of the Lean and Continuous Improvement Process Excellence Community — a progression of ‘ages’. We’ve moved from a ‘just-do-it’ culture into a ‘problem-solving’ culture. But, as David Verble of the Lean Transformation Group points out, “Organisational culture is not a plug-in”. He believes that engaging middle management is key to a fully engaged workforce that is well placed to solve its own problems.

The move to a problem-solving culture

Starting in the late 90s after the publication of Lean Thinking , there was the age of ‘just-do-it’. It was prompted by Womack and Jones’ marching orders to “Seize a crisis; map your value stream; become a change agent”. This period of random Kaizen activity was followed by the age of the system in which many companies tried to create and enforce their version of the Toyota Production System (TPS). The most recent is the age of culture which so far has involved two phases: the ‘culture is the problem, that’s why we can’t sustain Lean improvements’, and now ‘creating a problem-solving culture is the solution’. The question is how to transform our existing organisational cultures into problem-solving cultures.

Organisational culture is not a plug-in. In changing your current culture into a problem-solving one, the two methods most commonly tried are top-down corporate-driven programmes with announcements, cheerleading, mass training and problem-solving specialists; and bottom-up employee involvement initiatives with rapid improvement events, we-want-your-ideas messages, and specialist facilitators. However, both approaches bypass middle line management. And by not giving supervisors, unit managers, department heads and other operational leaders a role in the transformation, they seldom produce sustained change.

Leading change from the middle

Fifteen years’ experience at Toyota in Japan and North America showed me there was a third option: ‘lead-from-the-middle’. I came across a personal problem-solving responsibility culture in the company. At its Kentucky plant, 7 000 employees submit an average of 90 000 suggestions a year, addressing small problems that interfere or cause waste in the daily work. More than 95% of those suggestions are implemented and confirmed as effective before being submitted.

A problem-solving organisational culture goes beyond job description requirements into the territory of discretionary effort. One path to creating a culture of personal problem-solving responsibility is the continuous questioning of my Japanese middle managers, “What exactly is the problem you’re trying to solve?”, “What’s actually happening?”, “How do you know that?”, “Why is it happening?”

As a result, I understood that based on my role in the organisation, my job was to contribute as needed. And it was my responsibility to think about how to do that, including figuring out how to deal with emerging problems as I tried to deliver.

Look at your current organisational culture

Compare the above-mentioned sense of role and responsibility to the workaround, not-my-job, nothing-I-can-do attitudes that seem to prevail in many organisations today. Think about whether any of these underlying assumptions might be operating in your organisation’s culture: management makes the decisions; managers should know the answers; managers, engineers and other specialists are the problem-solvers; most employees don’t know or care enough to solve problems; supervisors should break things down and delegate tasks not responsibilities; we’re after results and the numbers are the results we want; and the most stifling of all, failure isn’t an option.

problem-solving culture

New leadership actions to garner a culture of problem-solving

A few new ways of acting can go a long way toward creating a problem-solving culture in a company. When dealing with employees whom you want to take problem-solving responsibility, restrain the tendency to show what you know and try asking questions you don’t think you already have the answers to. Let your natural curiosity lead and try to learn what the employee knows. Then you can take on the role as manager or leader to create safe zones where failure could happen and employees can experiment with improvements and countermeasures to learn from the outcomes. That’s how we solve problems and learn problem-solving.

Those different ways of acting as managers and leaders are a start towards a culture change that we could term ‘lead-from-the-middle’. Just think of the impact on business and operational performance if we could re-channel the thinking and effort that go into workarounds into actually addressing and eliminating problems employees encounter as they’re trying to do their jobs.

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What Does a Good Problem-Solving Culture Look Like?

problem solving culture definition

How would you describe your company’s problem-solving culture?  Managers often get asked that question; as often as not, it’s received with a blank stare.  Most managers haven’t thought about just how problem-solving in their organisation happens. Those who have thought about it are reluctant to say something like: “When a big problem arises, we ignore it as long as we can so that no one has to take responsibility for fixing it. When it gets so bad that it’s biting our rear ends, we go on a wild hunt for a scapegoat, heap blame on them, engage in a round of hysterical firefighting, then return to our business.”

Asked his approach to hitting, baseball legend Ted Williams replied, “See the ball, hit the ball.”  That intuitive tactic worked for Mr. Williams but, too often, “seat of the pants” problem-solving leads to a “See the problem, fix the blame” culture.  A leader’s job is to create a “See the problem, study the problem, fix the problem” culture. 

What, then, does such a culture look like?  What consistent behaviours would we see organisation members engaged in? 

Blame-Free Discussion of Problems

There is a story about a manager who attended a seminar on continuous improvement strategies. During a break, she got a phone call about a problem back at the worksite.  Forgetting everything she had heard at the workshop, she shouted into the phone, “Who’s responsible for this?  Just wait until I get hold of them!” It might be that the manager spoke in a moment of frustration, but it’s likely that she and her management colleagues often evinced that very behaviour.  It’s consistent with a “fix the blame” culture. 

In the “fix the problem” culture, one hears lots of discussions of problems because they are identified quickly, and the culture reinforces deliberation of problems and their causes.  Questions like, “How long has this been going on?”; “How often does this happen?”; “What were the circumstances around the problem?” are asked.  Those questions seek data and information. They come from a stance of “We’re all in this together and it’s in all our interests to get to a solution that’s effective and that everyone buys into.”  Questions like, “How could this have happened?”;  “Why hasn’t anyone done anything about this problem?”; “Why didn’t you take steps to prevent this problem?” are avoided.  Those inquiries come from a position of understandable frustration, but they seek to blame and punish rather than to develop solutions. 

Uncovering Problems is Reinforced

We’re all familiar with the term “shoot the messenger.” We’re also familiar with the impact this behaviour has on everyone’s willingness to bring problems to light. Problems that are hidden can’t be addressed. Another dynamic that keeps problems hidden is the “we’ve always done it this way” or the “that’s how things are here” mindset. There is often clear resistance to new ideas among managers. 

The “fix the problem” culture includes specific behaviours designed to uncover problems while they are still small and inexpensive. Supervisors and managers regularly visit and talk with their team just to ask how things are going and what barriers they are experiencing. When team members bring up issues, they are taken seriously rather than brushed off. They understand that their jobs aren’t so much “command and direct” as they are “listen, learn, and coach.”  Clear channels provide a means to bring up solutions to problems are implemented and sustained. Team members who bring problems to the forefront are recognised and, when appropriate, rewarded. 

Structured Approach to Problem Solving

Differences in problem-solving approaches can cause conflict among managers and their associates. Your boss just wants you to “find the answer.” You want to gather some data about possible causes. Neither position is wrong, but you and your boss are likely to be butting heads as he sees you employing tactics that he sees as a waste of time.

The organisation benefits when everyone uses a common approach to problem-solving. There are several of them and one of them might already be in use somewhere in your organisation. The behaviours that underlie a positive problem-solving culture, then, are visible. Those behaviours are practised daily by everyone in the company, almost without thinking about them. 

Creating such a culture requires an investment in training and ongoing communications. The benefits, though, are substantial and real. Organizations that successfully create and sustain a visibly strong problem-solving culture—one in which problems are identified, tackled, and solved more quickly and effectively than they are by competitors—have a clear and sustained competitive advantage that translates into better market share and better employee engagement.

Source: Industry Week

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Ryan Harmon

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Culture and problem-solving: Congruency between the cultural mindset of individualism versus collectivism and problem type


  • 1 University of Israel, and School of Business Administration, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • 2 School of Business Administration, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • PMID: 29888937
  • DOI: 10.1037/xge0000444

This research investigates how the cultural mindset influences problem-solving. Drawing on the notion that cultural mindset influences the cognitive process individuals bring to bear at the moment of judgment, we propose that the congruency between the cultural mindset (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and problem type (rule-based vs. context-based) affects success in problem-solving. In 7 studies we incorporated the traditional approach to studying the impact of culture (i.e., comparing cultural groups) with contemporary approaches viewing cultural differences in a more dynamic and malleable manner. We first show that members of an individualistic group (Jewish Americans) perform better on rule-based problems, whereas members of collectivistic groups (ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs from Israel) perform better on context-based problems (Study 1). We then study Arabs in Israel using language (Arabic vs. Hebrew) to prime their collectivistic versus individualistic mindsets (Study 2). As hypothesized, among biculturals (those who internalize both cultures) Arabic facilitated solving context-based problems, whereas Hebrew facilitated solving rule-based problems. We follow up with 5 experiments priming the cultural mindset of individualism versus collectivism, employing various manifestations of the cultural dimension: focusing on the individual versus the collective (Studies 3, 6, and 7); experiencing independence versus interdependence (Study 4); and directing attention to objects versus the context (Studies 5a-b). Finally, we took a meta-analytic approach, showing that the effects found in Studies 3-6 are robust across priming tasks, problems, and samples. Taken together, the differences between cultural groups (Studies 1-2) were recreated when the individualistic/collectivistic cultural mindset was primed. (PsycINFO Database Record

(c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Individuality*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

  • Israel Foundations Trustees/International
  • Hebrew University; Peter Lougheed center for Canadian studies/International
  • Israeli Science Foundation/International
  • Hebrew University; School of Business Administration/International

Book cover

Design Thinking Research pp 291–323 Cite as

The Cultural Construction of Creative Problem-Solving: A Critical Reflection on Creative Design Thinking, Teaching, and Learning

  • Xiao Ge 5 ,
  • Chunchen Xu 6 ,
  • Nanami Furue 7 ,
  • Daigo Misaki 8 ,
  • Cinoo Lee 6 &
  • Hazel Rose Markus 6  
  • First Online: 08 September 2022

842 Accesses

1 Citations

Part of the Understanding Innovation book series (UNDINNO)

While people around the world constantly come up with ingenious ideas to solve problems, the expressions of their ingenuity and their underlying motivations and experiences may vary greatly across cultures. Currently, the role of culture is often overlooked in research and practice aimed at understanding and promoting creativity. The lack of understanding of cultural variations in creative processes hinders cross-cultural collaboration in problem-solving and innovation. We challenge the unexamined American perspectives of creativity through a systematic analysis of how ideas, policies, norms, practices, and individual tendencies around creative problem-solving are shaped in American and East Asian cultural contexts, using the culture cycle framework. We share initial findings from several pilot studies that challenge the popular view that only agentic change-makers are seen as creative problem solvers. In the context of design, designers are culturally shaped shapers who are motivated to solve problems in creative ways that resonate with their cultural values. Our research seeks to empower designers from non-Western societies. We urge design educators and practitioners to explicitly incorporate culturally varied ideas about creative problem-solving into their design processes. Our ultimate goal is to ground the theories and practices of design thinking in cultural contexts around the world.

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22 Working in Diverse Teams

Learning Objectives

  • Describe how diversity can enhance decision-making and problem-solving
  • Identify challenges and best practices for working with multicultural teams
  • Discuss divergent cultural characteristics and list several examples of such characteristics in the culture(s) you identify with

Decision-making and problem-solving can be much more dynamic and successful when performed in a diverse team environment. The multiple diverse perspectives can enhance both the understanding of the problem and the quality of the solution. Yet, working in diverse teams can be challenging given different identities, cultures, beliefs, and experiences. In this chapter, we will discuss the effects of team diversity on group decision-making and problem-solving, identify best practices and challenges for working in and with multicultural teams, and dig deeper into divergent cultural characteristics that teams may need to navigate.

Does Team Diversity Enhance Decision Making and Problem Solving?

In the Harvard Business Review article “Why Diverse Teams are Smarter,” David Rock and Heidi Grant (2016) support the idea that increasing workplace diversity is a good business decision. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. Similarly, in a global analysis conducted by Credit Suisse, organizations with at least one female board member yielded a higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.

A photo shows a diverse team of business professionals working together on a laptop.

Additional research on diversity has shown that diverse teams are better at decision-making and problem-solving because they tend to focus more on facts, per the Rock and Grant article. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people from diverse backgrounds “might actually alter the behavior of a group’s social majority in ways that lead to improved and more accurate group thinking.” It turned out that in the study, the diverse panels raised more facts related to the case than homogeneous panels and made fewer factual errors while discussing available evidence. Another study noted in the article showed that diverse teams are “more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. They may also encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant. By breaking up workforce homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases—entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.” In other words, when people are among homogeneous and like-minded (non-diverse) teammates, the team is susceptible to groupthink and may be reticent to think about opposing viewpoints since all team members are in alignment. In a more diverse team with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, the opposing viewpoints are more likely to come out and the team members feel obligated to research and address the questions that have been raised. Again, this enables a richer discussion and a more in-depth fact-finding and exploration of opposing ideas and viewpoints in order to solve problems.

Diversity in teams also leads to greater innovation. A Boston Consulting Group article entitled “The Mix that Matters: Innovation through Diversity” explains a study in which they sought to understand the relationship between diversity in managers (all management levels) and innovation (Lorenzo et al., 2017). The key findings of this study show that:

  • The positive relationship between management diversity and innovation is statistically significant—and thus companies with higher levels of diversity derive more revenue from new products and services.
  • The innovation boost isn’t limited to a single type of diversity. The presence of managers who are either female or are from other countries, industries, or companies can cause an increase in innovation.
  • Management diversity seems to have a particularly positive effect on innovation at complex companies—those that have multiple product lines or that operate in multiple industry segments.
  • To reach its potential, gender diversity needs to go beyond tokenism. In the study, innovation performance only increased significantly when the workforce included more than 20% women in management positions. Having a high percentage of female employees doesn’t increase innovation if only a small number of women are managers.
  • At companies with diverse management teams, openness to contributions from lower-level workers and an environment in which employees feel free to speak their minds are crucial for fostering innovation.

When you consider the impact that diverse teams have on decision-making and problem-solving—through the discussion and incorporation of new perspectives, ideas, and data—it is no wonder that the BCG study shows greater innovation. Team leaders need to reflect upon these findings during the early stages of team selection so that they can reap the benefits of having diverse voices and backgrounds.

Challenges and Best Practices for Working with Multicultural Teams

As globalization has increased over the last decades, workplaces have felt the impact of working within multicultural teams. The earlier section on team diversity outlined some of the highlights and benefits of working on diverse teams, and a multicultural group certainly qualifies as diverse. However, there are some key practices that are recommended to those who are leading multicultural teams so that they can parlay the diversity into an advantage and not be derailed by it.

People may assume that communication is the key factor that can derail multicultural teams, as participants may have different languages and communication styles. In the Harvard Business Review article “Managing Multicultural Teams,” Brett et al. (2006) outline four key cultural differences that can cause destructive conflicts in a team. The first difference is direct versus indirect communication, also known as high-context vs. low-context communication . Some cultures are very direct and explicit in their communication, while others are more indirect and ask questions rather than pointing our problems. This difference can cause conflict because, at the extreme, the direct style may be considered offensive by some, while the indirect style may be perceived as unproductive and passive-aggressive in team interactions.

The second difference that multicultural teams may face is trouble with accents and fluency. When team members don’t speak the same language, there may be one language that dominates the group interaction—and those who don’t speak it may feel left out. The speakers of the primary language may feel that those members don’t contribute as much or are less competent. The next challenge is when there are differing attitudes toward hierarchy. Some cultures are very respectful of the hierarchy and will treat team members based on that hierarchy. Other cultures are more egalitarian and don’t observe hierarchical differences to the same degree. This may lead to clashes if some people feel that they are being disrespected and not treated according to their status. The final difference that may challenge multicultural teams is conflicting decision-making norms. Different cultures make decisions differently, and some will apply a great deal of analysis and preparation beforehand. Those cultures that make decisions more quickly (and need just enough information to make a decision) may be frustrated with the slow response and relatively longer thought process.

These cultural differences are good examples of how everyday team activities (decision-making, communication, interaction among team members) may become points of contention for a multicultural team if there isn’t adequate understanding of everyone’s culture. The authors propose that there are several potential interventions to try if these conflicts arise. One simple intervention is adaptation , which is working with or around differences. This is best used when team members are willing to acknowledge the cultural differences and learn how to work with them. The next intervention technique is structural intervention , or reorganizing to reduce friction on the team. This technique is best used if there are unproductive subgroups or cliques within the team that need to be moved around. Managerial intervention is the technique of making decisions by management and without team involvement. This technique is one that should be used sparingly, as it essentially shows that the team needs guidance and can’t move forward without management getting involved. Finally, exit is an intervention of last resort, and is the voluntary or involuntary removal of a team member. If the differences and challenges have proven to be so great that an individual on the team can no longer work with the team productively, then it may be necessary to remove the team member in question.

Developing Cultural Intelligence

There are some people who seem to be innately aware of and able to work with cultural differences on teams and in their organizations. These individuals might be said to have cultural intelligence . Cultural intelligence  is a competency and a skill that enables individuals to function effectively in cross-cultural environments. It develops as people become more aware of the influence of culture and more capable of adapting their behavior to the norms of other cultures. In the IESE Insight article entitled “Cultural Competence: Why It Matters and How You Can Acquire It,” Lee and Liao (2015) assert that “multicultural leaders may relate better to team members from different cultures and resolve conflicts more easily. Their multiple talents can also be put to good use in international negotiations.” Multicultural leaders don’t have a lot of “baggage” from any one culture, and so are sometimes perceived as being culturally neutral. They are very good at handling diversity, which gives them a great advantage in their relationships with teammates.

In order to help people become better team members in a world that is increasingly multicultural, there are a few best practices that the authors recommend for honing cross-cultural skills. The first is to “broaden your mind”—expand your own cultural channels (travel, movies, books) and surround yourself with people from other cultures. This helps to raise your own awareness of the cultural differences and norms that you may encounter. Another best practice is to “develop your cross-cultural skills through practice” and experiential learning. You may have the opportunity to work or travel abroad—but if you don’t, then getting to know some of your company’s cross-cultural colleagues or foreign visitors will help you to practice your skills. Serving on a cross-cultural project team and taking the time to get to know and bond with your global colleagues is an excellent way to develop skills.

Once you have a sense of the different cultures and have started to work on developing your cross-cultural skills, another good practice is to “boost your cultural metacognition” and monitor your own behavior in multicultural situations. When you are in a situation in which you are interacting with multicultural individuals, you should test yourself and be aware of how you act and feel. Observe both your positive and negative interactions with people, and learn from them. Developing “ cognitive complexity ” is the final best practice for boosting multicultural skills. This is the most advanced, and it requires being able to view situations from more than one cultural framework. In order to see things from another perspective, you need to have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, empathy, and sympathy, and be willing to engage in honest communications.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Cultural Intelligence,” Earley and Mosakowski (2004) describe three sources of cultural intelligence that teams should consider if they are serious about becoming more adept in their cross-cultural skills and understanding. These sources, very simply, are head, body, and heart . One first learns about the beliefs, customs, and taboos of foreign cultures via the head . Training programs are based on providing this type of overview information—which is helpful, but obviously isn’t experiential. This is the cognitive component of cultural intelligence. The second source, the body , involves more commitment and experimentation with the new culture. It is this physical component (demeanor, eye contact, posture, accent) that shows a deeper level of understanding of the new culture and its physical manifestations. The final source, the heart , deals with a person’s own confidence in their ability to adapt to and deal well with cultures outside of their own. Heart really speaks to one’s own level of emotional commitment and motivation to understand the new culture.

The authors have created a quick assessment to diagnose cultural intelligence, based on these cognitive, physical, and emotional/motivational measures (i.e., head, body, heart). Please refer to the table below for a short diagnostic that allows you to assess your cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence is an extension of emotional intelligence. An individual must have a level of awareness and understanding of the new culture so that he or she can adapt to the style, pace, language, nonverbal communication, etc. and work together successfully with the new culture. A multicultural team can only find success if its members take the time to understand each other and ensure that everyone feels included. Multiculturalism and cultural intelligence are traits that are taking on increasing importance in the business world today. By following best practices and avoiding the challenges and pitfalls that can derail a multicultural team, a team can find great success and personal fulfillment well beyond the boundaries of the project or work engagement.

Digging in Deeper: Divergent Cultural Dimensions

Let’s dig in deeper by examining several points of divergence across cultures and consider how these dimensions might play out in organizations and in groups or teams.

Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Comparison of 4 countries: US, China, Germany and Brazil in all 6 dimensions of the model.

Low-Power versus High-Power Distance

How comfortable are you with critiquing your boss’s decisions? If you are from a low-power distance culture, your answer might be “no problem.” In low-power distance cultures , according to Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede, people relate to one another more as equals and less as a reflection of dominant or subordinate roles, regardless of their actual formal roles as employee and manager, for example.

In a high-power distance culture , you would probably be much less likely to challenge the decision, to provide an alternative, or to give input. If you are working with people from a high-power distance culture, you may need to take extra care to elicit feedback and involve them in the discussion because their cultural framework may preclude their participation. They may have learned that less powerful people must accept decisions without comment, even if they have a concern or know there is a significant problem. Unless you are sensitive to cultural orientation and power distance, you may lose valuable information.

Individualistic versus Collectivist Cultures

People in individualistic cultures  value individual freedom and personal independence, and cultures always have stories to reflect their values. You may recall the story of Superman, or John McLean in the Diehard series, and note how one person overcomes all obstacles. Through personal ingenuity, in spite of challenges, one person rises successfully to conquer or vanquish those obstacles. Sometimes there is an assist, as in basketball or football, where another person lends a hand, but still the story repeats itself again and again, reflecting the cultural viewpoint.

When Hofstede explored the concepts of individualism and collectivism across diverse cultures (Hofstede, 1982, 2001, 2005), he found that in individualistic cultures like the United States, people perceived their world primarily from their own viewpoint. They perceived themselves as empowered individuals, capable of making their own decisions, and able to make an impact on their own lives.

Cultural viewpoint is not an either/or dichotomy, but rather a continuum or range. You may belong to some communities that express individualistic cultural values, while others place the focus on a collective viewpoint. Collectivist cultures  (Hofstede, 1982), including many in Asia and South America, focus on the needs of the nation, community, family, or group of workers. Ownership and private property is one way to examine this difference. In some cultures, property is almost exclusively private, while others tend toward community ownership. The collectively owned resource returns benefits to the community. Water, for example, has long been viewed as a community resource, much like air, but that has been changing as business and organizations have purchased water rights and gained control over resources. Public lands, such as parks, are often considered public, and individual exploitation of them is restricted. Copper, a metal with a variety of industrial applications, is collectively owned in Chile, with profits deposited in the general government fund. While public and private initiatives exist, the cultural viewpoint is our topic. How does someone raised in a culture that emphasizes the community interact with someone raised in a primarily individualistic culture? How could tensions be expressed and how might interactions be influenced by this point of divergence?

Masculine versus Feminine Orientation

There was a time when many cultures and religions valued a female figurehead, and with the rise of Western cultures we have observed a shift toward a masculine ideal. Each carries with it a set of cultural expectations and norms for gender behavior and gender roles across life, including business.

Hofstede describes the masculine-feminine dichotomy not in terms of whether men or women hold the power in a given culture, but rather the extent to which that culture values certain traits that may be considered masculine or feminine . Thus, “the assertive pole has been called ‘masculine’ and the modest, caring pole ‘feminine.’ The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values” (Hofstede, 2009).

We can observe this difference in where people gather, how they interact, and how they dress. We can see it during business negotiations, where it may make an important difference in the success of the organizations involved. Cultural expectations precede the interaction, so someone who doesn’t match those expectations may experience tension. Business in the United States has a masculine orientation—assertiveness and competition are highly valued. In other cultures, such as Sweden, business values are more attuned to modesty (lack of self-promotion) and taking care of society’s weaker members. This range of difference is one aspect of intercultural communication that requires significant attention when the business communicator enters a new environment.

Uncertainty-Accepting Cultures versus Uncertainty-Rejecting Cultures

When we meet each other for the first time, we often use what we have previously learned to understand our current context. We also do this to reduce our uncertainty. Some cultures, such as the United States and Britain, are highly tolerant of uncertainty , while others go to great lengths to reduce the element of surprise. Cultures in the Arab world, for example, are high in uncertainty avoidance ; they tend to be resistant to change and reluctant to take risks. Whereas a U.S. business negotiator might enthusiastically agree to try a new procedure, the Egyptian counterpart would likely refuse to get involved until all the details are worked out.

Short-Term versus Long-Term Orientation

Do you want your reward right now or can you dedicate yourself to a long-term goal? You may work in a culture whose people value immediate results and grow impatient when those results do not materialize. Geert Hofstede discusses this relationship of time orientation to a culture as a “time horizon,” and it underscores the perspective of the individual within a cultural context. Many countries in Asia, influenced by the teachings of Confucius, value a long-term orientation, whereas other countries, including the United States, have a more short-term approach to life and results. Native American cultures are known for holding a long-term orientation, as illustrated by the proverb attributed to the Iroquois that decisions require contemplation of their impact seven generations removed.

If you work within a culture that has a short-term orientation ,  you may need to place greater emphasis on reciprocation of greetings, gifts, and rewards. For example, if you send a thank-you note the morning after being treated to a business dinner, your host will appreciate your promptness. While there may be a respect for tradition, there is also an emphasis on personal representation and honor, a reflection of identity and integrity. Personal stability and consistency are also valued in a short-term oriented culture, contributing to an overall sense of predictability and familiarity.

Long-term orientation  is often marked by persistence, thrift and frugality, and an order to relationships based on age and status. A sense of shame for the family and community is also observed across generations. What an individual does reflects on the family and is carried by immediate and extended family members.

Time Orientation

Edward T. Hall and Mildred Reed Hall (1987) state that monochronic time-oriented cultures consider one thing at a time, whereas polychronic time-oriented cultures schedule many things at one time, and time is considered in a more fluid sense. In monochromatic time , time is thought of as very linear, interruptions are to be avoided, and everything has its own specific time. Even the multitasker from a monochromatic culture will, for example, recognize the value of work first before play or personal time. The United States, Germany, and Switzerland are often noted as countries that value a monochromatic time orientation.

Polychromatic time  looks a little more complicated, with business and family mixing with dinner and dancing. Greece, Italy, Chile, and Saudi Arabia are countries where one can observe this perception of time; business meetings may be scheduled at a fixed time, but when they actually begin may be another story. Also note that the dinner invitation for 8 p.m. may in reality be more like 9 p.m. If you were to show up on time, you might be the first person to arrive and find that the hosts are not quite ready to receive you.

When in doubt, always ask before the event; many people from polychromatic cultures will be used to foreigner’s tendency to be punctual, even compulsive, about respecting established times for events. The skilled business communicator is aware of this difference and takes steps to anticipate it. The value of time in different cultures is expressed in many ways, and your understanding can help you communicate more effectively.

Review & Reflection Questions

  • Why are diverse teams better at decision-making and problem-solving?
  • What are some of the challenges that multicultural teams face?
  • How might you further cultivate your own cultural intelligence?
  • What are some potential points of divergence between cultures?
  • Brett, J., Behfar, K., Kern, M. (2006, November). Managing multicultural teams. Harvard Business Review .
  • Dodd, C. (1998). Dynamics of intercultural communication (5th ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row.
  • Earley, P.C., & Mosakowski, E. (2004, October). Cultural intelligence. Harvard Business Review .
  • Hall, M. R., & Hall, E. T. (1987). Hidden differences: Doing business with the Japanese . New York, NY: Doubleday.
  • Hofstede, G. (1982). Culture’s consequences (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  • Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Hofstede, G. (2005). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  • Lee, Y-T., & Liao, Y. (2015). Cultural competence: Why it matters and how you can acquire it. IESE Insight .
  • Lorenzo, R., Yoigt, N., Schetelig, K., Zawadzki, A., Welpe, I., & Brosi, P. (2017). The mix that matters: Innovation through diversity. Boston Consulting Group.
  • Rock, D., & Grant, H. (2016, November 4). Why diverse teams are smarter . Harvard Business Review .

Author & Attribution

This remix comes from Dr. Jasmine Linabary at Emporia State University. This chapter is also available in her book:  Small Group Communication: Forming and Sustaining Teams.

The sections “How Does Team Diversity Enhance Decision Making and Problem Solving?” and “Challenges and Best Practices for Working with Multicultural Teams” are adapted from Black, J.S., & Bright, D.S. (2019). Organizational behavior. OpenStax. . Access the full chapter for free here . The content is available under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license .

The section “Digging in Deeper: Divergent Cultural Dimensions” is adapted from “ Divergent Cultural Characteristics ” in Business Communication for Success from the University of Minnesota. The book was adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This work is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license .

A set of negative group-level processes, including illusions of invulnerability, self-censorship, and pressures to conform, that occur when highly cohesive groups seek concurrence when making a decision.

a culture that emphasize nonverbal communication and indirect communication styles

a culture that emphasizes verbal expression and direct communication styles

a competency and a skill that enables individuals to function effectively in cross-cultural environments

cultures in which people relate to one another more as equals and less as a reflection of dominant or subordinate roles, regardless of their actual formal roles

culture tends to accept power differences, encourage hierarchy, and show respect for rank and authority

cultures that place greater importance on individual freedom and personal independence

cultures that place more value on the needs and goals of the group, family, community or nation

cultures that tend to value assertiveness, and concentrate on material achievements and wealth-building

cultures that tend to value nurturing, care and emotion, and are concerned with the quality of life

cultures with a high tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk-taking. The unknown is more openly accepted, and rules and regulations tend to be more lax

cultures with a low tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk-taking. The unknown is minimized through strict rules and regulations

focus on the near future, involves delivering short-term success or gratification and places a stronger emphasis on the present than the future

cultures that focus on the future and delaying short-term success or gratification in order to achieve long-term success

an orientation to time is considered highly linear, where interruptions are to be avoided, and everything has its own specific time

an orientation to time where multiple things can be done at once and time is viewed more fluidly

Working in Diverse Teams Copyright © by Cameron W. Piercy, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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problem solving culture definition

Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning. —Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline [1]

Continuous Learning Culture

It is one of the seven core competencies of Business Agility, each of which is essential to achieving Business Agility. Each core competency is supported by a specific assessment, enabling the enterprise to assess its proficiency. The Measure and Grow article provides these core competency assessments and recommended improvement opportunities.

Why Continuous Learning Culture?

Organizations today face an onslaught of forces that create both uncertainty and opportunity. The pace of technological innovation is beyond exponential. Startup companies challenge the status quo by transforming, disrupting, and in some cases eliminating entire markets. Juggernaut companies like Amazon and Google are entering new markets like banking and healthcare. At any moment, political, economic, and environmental turmoil threatens to change the rules. Expectations from new generations of workers, customers, and society challenge companies to think and act beyond balance sheets and quarterly earnings reports. Due to these factors and more, one thing is sure: organizations in the digital age must be able to adapt rapidly and continuously or face decline—and, ultimately, extinction.

What’s the solution? Organizations must evolve into adaptive engines of change to thrive in the current climate, powered by a fast and effective learning culture. Learning organizations leverage the collective knowledge, experience, and creativity of their workforce, customers, supply chain, and the broader ecosystem. They harness the forces of change to their advantage. In these enterprises, curiosity, exploration, invention, entrepreneurship, and informed risk-taking replace commitment to the status quo while providing stability and predictability. Rigid, siloed top-down structures give way to fluid organizational constructs that can shift as needed to optimize the flow of value. Decentralized decision-making becomes the norm as leaders focus on vision and strategy and enable organization members to achieve their fullest potential.

Any organization can begin the journey to a continuous learning culture by focusing its transformation on three critical dimensions, as shown in Figure 1.

The three dimensions are:

  • Learning Organization – Employees at every level are learning and growing so that the organization can transform and adapt to an ever-changing world.
  • Innovation Culture – Employees are encouraged and empowered to explore and implement creative ideas that enable future value delivery.
  • Relentless Improvement – Every part of the enterprise focuses on continuously improving its solutions, products, and processes.

The sections below describe each of these dimensions.

Learning Organization

Learning organizations invest in and facilitate the ongoing growth of their employees. When everyone in the organization continuously learns, it fuels the enterprise’s ability to dynamically transform itself to anticipate and exploit opportunities that create a competitive advantage. Learning organizations excel at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge while modifying practices to integrate new insights [1,2]. These organizations understand and foster people’s intrinsic nature to learn and gain mastery, harnessing that impulse for the benefit of the enterprise [3].

Learning organizations are different from those using the scientific management methods promoted by Frederick Taylor. In Taylor’s model, learning is limited to those at the top while everyone else follows the policies and practices created by management. Becoming a learning organization is not an altruistic exercise. It’s an antidote to the status-quo thinking that drove many former market leaders to bankruptcy. Learning drives innovation, leads to greater information sharing, enhances problem-solving, increases the sense of community, and surfaces opportunities for more efficiency [4].

The transformation into a learning organization requires five distinct disciplines, as described by Senge. The best practices for developing these disciplines include:

Personal Mastery – Employees develop as ‘T-shaped’ people who build a breadth of knowledge in multiple disciplines for efficient collaboration and deep expertise aligned with their interests and skills. T-shaped employees are a critical foundation of Agile teams.

Shared Vision – Forward-looking leaders envision, align with, and articulate exciting possibilities. Then, they invite others to share and contribute to a common view of the future. The vision is compelling and motivates employees to contribute to achieving it.

Team Learning – Teams work collectively to achieve common objectives by sharing knowledge, suspending assumptions, and ‘thinking together.’ They complement each other’s skills for group problem-solving and learning.

Mental Models – Teams surface their existing assumptions and generalizations while working with an open mind to create new models based on a shared understanding of the Lean-Agile way of working and their customer domains. These models make complex concepts easy to understand and apply.

Systems Thinking – The organization sees the larger picture and recognizes that optimizing individual components does not optimize the system. Instead, the business takes a holistic learning, problem-solving, and solution-development approach. This optimization extends to business practices such as Lean Portfolio Management (LPM), which ensures that the enterprise invests in experimentation and learning to drive the system forward.

Many of SAFe’s principles and practices directly support these efforts, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. SAFe includes principles and practices that support the learning organization.

Here are some of the ways SAFe promotes a learning organization:

  • Lean-Agile leaders who are insatiable learners use successes and failures in SAFe practices as learning moments to build mastery.
  • A shared vision is iteratively refined during each PI Planning period. This shared vision influences Business Owners, the teams on each Agile Release Train (ART), and the entire organization.
  • Teams learn continuously through daily collaboration and problem-solving, supported by events such as team retrospectives and Inspect & Adapt.
  • Systems Thinking is a cornerstone of Lean-Agile and one of the ten SAFe principles.
  • SAFe also provides regular dedicated time and space for learning through the Innovation and Planning (IP) iteration that occurs every PI.
  • People working in a SAFe organization are encouraged to build learning networks across organizational boundaries and outside the organization. (Learning networks consist of trusted connections with whom an individual interacts and learns from regularly.)

Innovation Culture

An organization’s innovativeness is essential to competing in the digital age. Such efforts cannot be infrequent or random. It requires an innovation culture . An innovation culture exists when leaders create an environment that supports creative thinking and curiosity and challenges the status quo. When an organization has an innovation culture, employees are encouraged and enabled to:

  • Explore ideas for enhancements to existing products
  • Experiment with ideas for new products
  • Pursue fixes to chronic defects
  • Create improvements to processes that reduce waste
  • Remove impediments to productivity

Some organizations support innovation with paid time for exploring and experimenting, intrapreneurship programs, and innovation labs. SAFe goes further by providing consistent time each PI for all Agile Release Train (ART) participants to pursue innovation activities during the Innovation and Planning (IP) iteration. Innovation is also integral to Agile Product Delivery and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline.

The following sections provide practical guidance for initiating and continuously improving an innovation culture.

Innovative People

The foundation of an innovation culture recognizes that systems and cultures don’t innovate: people innovate. Instilling innovation as a core organizational capability requires cultivating the courage and aptitude for innovation and encouraging employee risk-taking. For existing organization members, this may necessitate coaching, mentoring, and formal training in the skills and behaviors of entrepreneurship and innovation. Individual goals and learning plans should include language that enables and empowers growth as an innovator. Rewards and recognition that balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation reinforce the importance of everyone as an innovator. Criteria for hiring new employees should include evaluating how candidates will fit in an innovation culture. Opportunities and paths for advancement should be clear and available for people who demonstrate exceptional talent and performance as innovation agents and champions [5].

Time and Space for Innovation

Building time and space for innovation includes providing work areas conducive to creative activities and setting aside dedicated time from routine work to explore and experiment. Innovation space can also include:

  • Broad cross-domain interactions involving customers, the supply chain, and even the physical or professional communities connected to the organization
  • Temporary and limited suspension of norms, policies, and systems (within legal, ethical, and safety boundaries) to challenge existing assumptions and explore what’s possible
  • Systematic activities (IP iteration, hackathons, dojos, and so on) and opportunistic innovation activities (continuous, accidental, unplanned)
  • Perpetual innovation forums on collaboration platforms and Communities of Practice (CoPs) create the opportunity for ongoing conversations across the organization.

The best innovation ideas are often sparked by seeing the problems to be solved first-hand—witnessing how customers interact with products or the challenges they face using existing processes and systems. Gemba is a Lean term and practice from Japan, meaning ‘the real place,’ where the customers’ work is performed. SAFe explicitly supports this concept through Continuous Exploration. First-hand observations and hypotheses channel the creative energy of the entire organization toward conceiving innovative solutions. Leaders should also openly share their views on the opportunities and challenges the organization faces to focus innovation efforts on the things with the highest potential to benefit the enterprise.

Experimentation and Feedback

Innovation cultures embrace the idea that conducting experiments designed to progress iteratively towards a goal is the most effective path to learning that creates successful breakthroughs. Regarding the many unsuccessful experiments to make an incandescent light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” [6] Experiments don’t fail in the scientific method; they produce the data needed to accept or reject a hypothesis. Many companies don’t innovate sufficiently due to a fear of failure culture. Such fear cripples innovation.

In contrast, innovation cultures depend on learning from experiments and incorporating those insights into future exploration. When leaders create the psychological safety described in the Lean-Agile Leadership article, people are encouraged to experiment (within guardrails). They feel they have permission to solve big problems, seize opportunities, and do so without fear of blame, even when the results of the experiments suggest moving in a different direction.

Pivot Without Mercy or Guilt

Every innovation begins as a hypothesis – a set of assumptions and beliefs regarding how a new or improved product will delight customers and help the organization achieve its business objectives. However, hypotheses are just informed guesses until real customers provide validated feedback. As Eric Ries promotes in The Startup Way , the fastest way to accept or reject a product development hypothesis is to experiment by building a Minimum Viable Product or MVP [7]. An MVP is the simplest thing that can possibly work to test the proposed innovation to see if it leads to the desired results. Customers and intended users of the system must test MVPs in the target market for fast feedback. In many cases, the feedback is positive, and further investment is warranted to bring the innovation to market or into production. In other instances, the feedback dictates a change in direction. This change could be as simple as a set of modifications to the product followed by additional experiments for feedback, or it could prompt a ‘pivot’ to an entirely different product or strategy. When the fact-based evidence indicates that a pivot is required, the shift in direction should occur as quickly as possible without blame or consideration of sunk costs in the initial experiments.

Innovation Riptides

Organizations must go beyond catchy slogans, ‘innovation teams,’ and popular techniques like hackathons and dojos to create an innovation culture. A fundamental rewiring of the enterprise’s DNA is needed to fully leverage the innovation mindset and develop the processes and systems that promote sustained innovation. As shown in Figure 3, SAFe provides these required structures.

Figure 3. SAFe includes critical elements to support a consistent, continuous flow of innovation

The continuous flow of innovation is built on SAFe principle #9, which promotes decentralized decision-making. Some innovation starts as strategic portfolio concerns realized through Epics and Lean Budgets applied to value streams. In building the solution to realize Epics, teams, suppliers, customers, and business leaders identify opportunities for improving the solution. The potential innovations that result can be considered an ‘innovation riptide’ that flows back into the structures SAFe provides for building solutions. Smaller, less expensive innovations flow into the ART Kanban as Features. In contrast, more significant, costly innovations require an Epic and Lean Business Case and flow into the Portfolio Kanban.

Relentless Improvement

Since its inception in the Toyota Production System, kaizen , or the relentless pursuit of perfection, has been one of the core tenets of Lean. While unattainable, striving for perfection leads to continuous improvements to products and services. In the process, companies have created more and better products for less money and with happier customers, leading to higher revenues and greater profitability. Taiichi Ohno, the creator of Lean, emphasized that the only way to achieve kaizen is for every employee always to have a mindset of continuous improvement. The entire enterprise as a system—executives, product development, accounting, finance, and sales—is continuously being challenged to improve [8].

But improvement requires learning. Rarely are the causes and solutions for problems that organizations face clear and easily identified. The Lean model for continuous improvement is based on small iterative and incremental improvements and experiments that enable the organization to learn its way to the most promising answer to a problem.

Relentless improvement is one of the four SAFe Core Values, conveying that improvement activities are essential to the survival of an organization and should be given priority, visibility, and resources. The following sections illustrate how a continuous learning culture is a critical component of relentless improvement.

Constant Sense of Urgency

Succeeding in the digital age requires sensing shifting market conditions and responding quickly. It requires inviting continuous feedback from customers even if the learning gained leads to change. Delivering needed improvements rapidly is as important as identifying what needs to change. Faster time-to-market requires a bias for action and a constant sense of urgency. In SAFe, this means addressing time-critical improvements frequently. Agile teams make improvements daily as needed and through the effective use of cadence-based SAFe events such as team retrospectives, the problem-solving workshop during Inspect & Adapt (I&A), and the IP iteration. Improvement Features and Stories that emerge from the I&A are incorporated into team plans and prioritized in work planned for the following PI. Time-critical improvements are addressed even more quickly using techniques such as an expedite lane in team and ART Kanbans or simply pausing routine work to swarm on high-impact issues.

Problem Solving Culture

In Lean, problem-solving is the driver for continuous improvement. It recognizes that a gap exists between the current and desired states, requiring an iterative process to achieve the target state. The steps of problem-solving are both fractal and scalable. They apply to teams trying to optimize response time in a software system and to enterprises attempting to reverse a steady decline in market share. Iterative Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) cycles, as shown in Figure 4, provide the process for iterative problem solving that is applied until the target state is achieved. This model treats problems as opportunities for improvement in a blameless process. Employees at all levels are empowered and equipped with the time and resources to identify and solve problems. More importantly, every employee views solving problems as part of their ongoing responsibilities, empowered by decentralized decision-making (SAFe Principle #9). Techniques such as retrospectives, problem-solving workshops, hackathons, and communities of practice are ways SAFe reinforces a problem-solving culture.

Reflect and Adapt Frequently

Improvement activities are often deferred in favor of ‘more urgent’ work, such as new feature development, fixing defects, and responding to the latest outage. Relentless improvement requires a disciplined structure to avoid neglecting this critical activity. For individual teams, SAFe encourages retrospectives at iteration boundaries at a minimum, daily as part of team sync events, and in real-time when possible through techniques like pairing, peer review, and swarming. ARTs and Solution Trains reflect every PI as part of the I&A problem-solving workshop. These cadence-based milestones provide predictability, consistency, and rigor to the process of relentless improvement in large enterprises.

Fact-based Improvement

Fact-based improvement leads to changes guided by the data surrounding the problem and informed solutions over opinions and conjecture. Tools and techniques like the Problem-Solving Workshop in SAFe can help determine the fact-based root cause of inefficiencies and lead to effective countermeasures that can be applied rapidly. Root cause analysis is exponentially more effective when supported by data. The self-assessments described in Measure and Grow provide one type of data-driven feedback to help focus improvement work. Organizations practicing the disciplines outlined in Big Data have even more powerful tools and analytics to deliver data-driven insights that lead to more targeted and effective improvement efforts.

Optimize the Whole

‘Optimize the whole’ suggests that improvements should be designed to increase the effectiveness of the entire system that produces the sustainable flow of value instead of optimizing individual teams, silos, or subsystems. Organizing around value in ARTs, Solution Trains, and value streams creates opportunities for people in all domains to have regular cross-functional conversations about enhancing overall quality, the flow of value, and customer satisfaction. Participants in Lean Portfolio Management bring leaders together from across the organization to prioritize investments for improvements and new solutions holistically, representing a fundamental shift from past funding practices and prioritizing initiatives within silos.

Too often, organizations assume that the culture, processes, and products that led to today’s success will also guarantee future results. That mindset increases the risk of decline and failure. The enterprises that will dominate their markets in the future will be adaptive learning organizations with the ability to learn, innovate, and relentlessly improve more effectively and faster than their competition.

Competing in the digital age requires investment in time and resources for innovation, built upon a culture of creative thinking and curiosity—an environment where norms can be challenged, and new products and processes emerge. Alongside this, relentless improvement acknowledges that the survival of an organization is never guaranteed. Everyone in the organization will be challenged to find and make incremental improvements, and leaders will give priority and visibility to this work.

A continuous learning culture will likely be the most effective way for this next generation of workers to improve relentlessly and ensure the success of the companies that employ them.

Last update: 11 October 2023

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The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Psychology

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The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Psychology

48 Problem Solving

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Published: 03 June 2013
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Problem solving refers to cognitive processing directed at achieving a goal when the problem solver does not initially know a solution method. A problem exists when someone has a goal but does not know how to achieve it. Problems can be classified as routine or nonroutine, and as well defined or ill defined. The major cognitive processes in problem solving are representing, planning, executing, and monitoring. The major kinds of knowledge required for problem solving are facts, concepts, procedures, strategies, and beliefs. Classic theoretical approaches to the study of problem solving are associationism, Gestalt, and information processing. Current issues and suggested future issues include decision making, intelligence and creativity, teaching of thinking skills, expert problem solving, analogical reasoning, mathematical and scientific thinking, everyday thinking, and the cognitive neuroscience of problem solving. Common themes concern the domain specificity of problem solving and a focus on problem solving in authentic contexts.

The study of problem solving begins with defining problem solving, problem, and problem types. This introduction to problem solving is rounded out with an examination of cognitive processes in problem solving, the role of knowledge in problem solving, and historical approaches to the study of problem solving.

Definition of Problem Solving

Problem solving refers to cognitive processing directed at achieving a goal for which the problem solver does not initially know a solution method. This definition consists of four major elements (Mayer, 1992 ; Mayer & Wittrock, 2006 ):

Cognitive —Problem solving occurs within the problem solver’s cognitive system and can only be inferred indirectly from the problem solver’s behavior (including biological changes, introspections, and actions during problem solving). Process —Problem solving involves mental computations in which some operation is applied to a mental representation, sometimes resulting in the creation of a new mental representation. Directed —Problem solving is aimed at achieving a goal. Personal —Problem solving depends on the existing knowledge of the problem solver so that what is a problem for one problem solver may not be a problem for someone who already knows a solution method.

The definition is broad enough to include a wide array of cognitive activities such as deciding which apartment to rent, figuring out how to use a cell phone interface, playing a game of chess, making a medical diagnosis, finding the answer to an arithmetic word problem, or writing a chapter for a handbook. Problem solving is pervasive in human life and is crucial for human survival. Although this chapter focuses on problem solving in humans, problem solving also occurs in nonhuman animals and in intelligent machines.

How is problem solving related to other forms of high-level cognition processing, such as thinking and reasoning? Thinking refers to cognitive processing in individuals but includes both directed thinking (which corresponds to the definition of problem solving) and undirected thinking such as daydreaming (which does not correspond to the definition of problem solving). Thus, problem solving is a type of thinking (i.e., directed thinking).

Reasoning refers to problem solving within specific classes of problems, such as deductive reasoning or inductive reasoning. In deductive reasoning, the reasoner is given premises and must derive a conclusion by applying the rules of logic. For example, given that “A is greater than B” and “B is greater than C,” a reasoner can conclude that “A is greater than C.” In inductive reasoning, the reasoner is given (or has experienced) a collection of examples or instances and must infer a rule. For example, given that X, C, and V are in the “yes” group and x, c, and v are in the “no” group, the reasoning may conclude that B is in “yes” group because it is in uppercase format. Thus, reasoning is a type of problem solving.

Definition of Problem

A problem occurs when someone has a goal but does not know to achieve it. This definition is consistent with how the Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker ( 1945 , p. 1) defined a problem in his classic monograph, On Problem Solving : “A problem arises when a living creature has a goal but does not know how this goal is to be reached.” However, today researchers recognize that the definition should be extended to include problem solving by intelligent machines. This definition can be clarified using an information processing approach by noting that a problem occurs when a situation is in the given state, the problem solver wants the situation to be in the goal state, and there is no obvious way to move from the given state to the goal state (Newell & Simon, 1972 ). Accordingly, the three main elements in describing a problem are the given state (i.e., the current state of the situation), the goal state (i.e., the desired state of the situation), and the set of allowable operators (i.e., the actions the problem solver is allowed to take). The definition of “problem” is broad enough to include the situation confronting a physician who wishes to make a diagnosis on the basis of preliminary tests and a patient examination, as well as a beginning physics student trying to solve a complex physics problem.

Types of Problems

It is customary in the problem-solving literature to make a distinction between routine and nonroutine problems. Routine problems are problems that are so familiar to the problem solver that the problem solver knows a solution method. For example, for most adults, “What is 365 divided by 12?” is a routine problem because they already know the procedure for long division. Nonroutine problems are so unfamiliar to the problem solver that the problem solver does not know a solution method. For example, figuring out the best way to set up a funding campaign for a nonprofit charity is a nonroutine problem for most volunteers. Technically, routine problems do not meet the definition of problem because the problem solver has a goal but knows how to achieve it. Much research on problem solving has focused on routine problems, although most interesting problems in life are nonroutine.

Another customary distinction is between well-defined and ill-defined problems. Well-defined problems have a clearly specified given state, goal state, and legal operators. Examples include arithmetic computation problems or games such as checkers or tic-tac-toe. Ill-defined problems have a poorly specified given state, goal state, or legal operators, or a combination of poorly defined features. Examples include solving the problem of global warming or finding a life partner. Although, ill-defined problems are more challenging, much research in problem solving has focused on well-defined problems.

Cognitive Processes in Problem Solving

The process of problem solving can be broken down into two main phases: problem representation , in which the problem solver builds a mental representation of the problem situation, and problem solution , in which the problem solver works to produce a solution. The major subprocess in problem representation is representing , which involves building a situation model —that is, a mental representation of the situation described in the problem. The major subprocesses in problem solution are planning , which involves devising a plan for how to solve the problem; executing , which involves carrying out the plan; and monitoring , which involves evaluating and adjusting one’s problem solving.

For example, given an arithmetic word problem such as “Alice has three marbles. Sarah has two more marbles than Alice. How many marbles does Sarah have?” the process of representing involves building a situation model in which Alice has a set of marbles, there is set of marbles for the difference between the two girls, and Sarah has a set of marbles that consists of Alice’s marbles and the difference set. In the planning process, the problem solver sets a goal of adding 3 and 2. In the executing process, the problem solver carries out the computation, yielding an answer of 5. In the monitoring process, the problem solver looks over what was done and concludes that 5 is a reasonable answer. In most complex problem-solving episodes, the four cognitive processes may not occur in linear order, but rather may interact with one another. Although some research focuses mainly on the execution process, problem solvers may tend to have more difficulty with the processes of representing, planning, and monitoring.

Knowledge for Problem Solving

An important theme in problem-solving research is that problem-solving proficiency on any task depends on the learner’s knowledge (Anderson et al., 2001 ; Mayer, 1992 ). Five kinds of knowledge are as follows:

Facts —factual knowledge about the characteristics of elements in the world, such as “Sacramento is the capital of California” Concepts —conceptual knowledge, including categories, schemas, or models, such as knowing the difference between plants and animals or knowing how a battery works Procedures —procedural knowledge of step-by-step processes, such as how to carry out long-division computations Strategies —strategic knowledge of general methods such as breaking a problem into parts or thinking of a related problem Beliefs —attitudinal knowledge about how one’s cognitive processing works such as thinking, “I’m good at this”

Although some research focuses mainly on the role of facts and procedures in problem solving, complex problem solving also depends on the problem solver’s concepts, strategies, and beliefs (Mayer, 1992 ).

Historical Approaches to Problem Solving

Psychological research on problem solving began in the early 1900s, as an outgrowth of mental philosophy (Humphrey, 1963 ; Mandler & Mandler, 1964 ). Throughout the 20th century four theoretical approaches developed: early conceptions, associationism, Gestalt psychology, and information processing.

Early Conceptions

The start of psychology as a science can be set at 1879—the year Wilhelm Wundt opened the first world’s psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, and sought to train the world’s first cohort of experimental psychologists. Instead of relying solely on philosophical speculations about how the human mind works, Wundt sought to apply the methods of experimental science to issues addressed in mental philosophy. His theoretical approach became structuralism —the analysis of consciousness into its basic elements.

Wundt’s main contribution to the study of problem solving, however, was to call for its banishment. According to Wundt, complex cognitive processing was too complicated to be studied by experimental methods, so “nothing can be discovered in such experiments” (Wundt, 1911/1973 ). Despite his admonishments, however, a group of his former students began studying thinking mainly in Wurzburg, Germany. Using the method of introspection, subjects were asked to describe their thought process as they solved word association problems, such as finding the superordinate of “newspaper” (e.g., an answer is “publication”). Although the Wurzburg group—as they came to be called—did not produce a new theoretical approach, they found empirical evidence that challenged some of the key assumptions of mental philosophy. For example, Aristotle had proclaimed that all thinking involves mental imagery, but the Wurzburg group was able to find empirical evidence for imageless thought .


The first major theoretical approach to take hold in the scientific study of problem solving was associationism —the idea that the cognitive representations in the mind consist of ideas and links between them and that cognitive processing in the mind involves following a chain of associations from one idea to the next (Mandler & Mandler, 1964 ; Mayer, 1992 ). For example, in a classic study, E. L. Thorndike ( 1911 ) placed a hungry cat in what he called a puzzle box—a wooden crate in which pulling a loop of string that hung from overhead would open a trap door to allow the cat to escape to a bowl of food outside the crate. Thorndike placed the cat in the puzzle box once a day for several weeks. On the first day, the cat engaged in many extraneous behaviors such as pouncing against the wall, pushing its paws through the slats, and meowing, but on successive days the number of extraneous behaviors tended to decrease. Overall, the time required to get out of the puzzle box decreased over the course of the experiment, indicating the cat was learning how to escape.

Thorndike’s explanation for how the cat learned to solve the puzzle box problem is based on an associationist view: The cat begins with a habit family hierarchy —a set of potential responses (e.g., pouncing, thrusting, meowing, etc.) all associated with the same stimulus (i.e., being hungry and confined) and ordered in terms of strength of association. When placed in the puzzle box, the cat executes its strongest response (e.g., perhaps pouncing against the wall), but when it fails, the strength of the association is weakened, and so on for each unsuccessful action. Eventually, the cat gets down to what was initially a weak response—waving its paw in the air—but when that response leads to accidentally pulling the string and getting out, it is strengthened. Over the course of many trials, the ineffective responses become weak and the successful response becomes strong. Thorndike refers to this process as the law of effect : Responses that lead to dissatisfaction become less associated with the situation and responses that lead to satisfaction become more associated with the situation. According to Thorndike’s associationist view, solving a problem is simply a matter of trial and error and accidental success. A major challenge to assocationist theory concerns the nature of transfer—that is, where does a problem solver find a creative solution that has never been performed before? Associationist conceptions of cognition can be seen in current research, including neural networks, connectionist models, and parallel distributed processing models (Rogers & McClelland, 2004 ).

Gestalt Psychology

The Gestalt approach to problem solving developed in the 1930s and 1940s as a counterbalance to the associationist approach. According to the Gestalt approach, cognitive representations consist of coherent structures (rather than individual associations) and the cognitive process of problem solving involves building a coherent structure (rather than strengthening and weakening of associations). For example, in a classic study, Kohler ( 1925 ) placed a hungry ape in a play yard that contained several empty shipping crates and a banana attached overhead but out of reach. Based on observing the ape in this situation, Kohler noted that the ape did not randomly try responses until one worked—as suggested by Thorndike’s associationist view. Instead, the ape stood under the banana, looked up at it, looked at the crates, and then in a flash of insight stacked the crates under the bananas as a ladder, and walked up the steps in order to reach the banana.

According to Kohler, the ape experienced a sudden visual reorganization in which the elements in the situation fit together in a way to solve the problem; that is, the crates could become a ladder that reduces the distance to the banana. Kohler referred to the underlying mechanism as insight —literally seeing into the structure of the situation. A major challenge of Gestalt theory is its lack of precision; for example, naming a process (i.e., insight) is not the same as explaining how it works. Gestalt conceptions can be seen in modern research on mental models and schemas (Gentner & Stevens, 1983 ).

Information Processing

The information processing approach to problem solving developed in the 1960s and 1970s and was based on the influence of the computer metaphor—the idea that humans are processors of information (Mayer, 2009 ). According to the information processing approach, problem solving involves a series of mental computations—each of which consists of applying a process to a mental representation (such as comparing two elements to determine whether they differ).

In their classic book, Human Problem Solving , Newell and Simon ( 1972 ) proposed that problem solving involved a problem space and search heuristics . A problem space is a mental representation of the initial state of the problem, the goal state of the problem, and all possible intervening states (based on applying allowable operators). Search heuristics are strategies for moving through the problem space from the given to the goal state. Newell and Simon focused on means-ends analysis , in which the problem solver continually sets goals and finds moves to accomplish goals.

Newell and Simon used computer simulation as a research method to test their conception of human problem solving. First, they asked human problem solvers to think aloud as they solved various problems such as logic problems, chess, and cryptarithmetic problems. Then, based on an information processing analysis, Newell and Simon created computer programs that solved these problems. In comparing the solution behavior of humans and computers, they found high similarity, suggesting that the computer programs were solving problems using the same thought processes as humans.

An important advantage of the information processing approach is that problem solving can be described with great clarity—as a computer program. An important limitation of the information processing approach is that it is most useful for describing problem solving for well-defined problems rather than ill-defined problems. The information processing conception of cognition lives on as a keystone of today’s cognitive science (Mayer, 2009 ).

Classic Issues in Problem Solving

Three classic issues in research on problem solving concern the nature of transfer (suggested by the associationist approach), the nature of insight (suggested by the Gestalt approach), and the role of problem-solving heuristics (suggested by the information processing approach).

Transfer refers to the effects of prior learning on new learning (or new problem solving). Positive transfer occurs when learning A helps someone learn B. Negative transfer occurs when learning A hinders someone from learning B. Neutral transfer occurs when learning A has no effect on learning B. Positive transfer is a central goal of education, but research shows that people often do not transfer what they learned to solving problems in new contexts (Mayer, 1992 ; Singley & Anderson, 1989 ).

Three conceptions of the mechanisms underlying transfer are specific transfer , general transfer , and specific transfer of general principles . Specific transfer refers to the idea that learning A will help someone learn B only if A and B have specific elements in common. For example, learning Spanish may help someone learn Latin because some of the vocabulary words are similar and the verb conjugation rules are similar. General transfer refers to the idea that learning A can help someone learn B even they have nothing specifically in common but A helps improve the learner’s mind in general. For example, learning Latin may help people learn “proper habits of mind” so they are better able to learn completely unrelated subjects as well. Specific transfer of general principles is the idea that learning A will help someone learn B if the same general principle or solution method is required for both even if the specific elements are different.

In a classic study, Thorndike and Woodworth ( 1901 ) found that students who learned Latin did not subsequently learn bookkeeping any better than students who had not learned Latin. They interpreted this finding as evidence for specific transfer—learning A did not transfer to learning B because A and B did not have specific elements in common. Modern research on problem-solving transfer continues to show that people often do not demonstrate general transfer (Mayer, 1992 ). However, it is possible to teach people a general strategy for solving a problem, so that when they see a new problem in a different context they are able to apply the strategy to the new problem (Judd, 1908 ; Mayer, 2008 )—so there is also research support for the idea of specific transfer of general principles.

Insight refers to a change in a problem solver’s mind from not knowing how to solve a problem to knowing how to solve it (Mayer, 1995 ; Metcalfe & Wiebe, 1987 ). In short, where does the idea for a creative solution come from? A central goal of problem-solving research is to determine the mechanisms underlying insight.

The search for insight has led to five major (but not mutually exclusive) explanatory mechanisms—insight as completing a schema, insight as suddenly reorganizing visual information, insight as reformulation of a problem, insight as removing mental blocks, and insight as finding a problem analog (Mayer, 1995 ). Completing a schema is exemplified in a study by Selz (Fridja & de Groot, 1982 ), in which people were asked to think aloud as they solved word association problems such as “What is the superordinate for newspaper?” To solve the problem, people sometimes thought of a coordinate, such as “magazine,” and then searched for a superordinate category that subsumed both terms, such as “publication.” According to Selz, finding a solution involved building a schema that consisted of a superordinate and two subordinate categories.

Reorganizing visual information is reflected in Kohler’s ( 1925 ) study described in a previous section in which a hungry ape figured out how to stack boxes as a ladder to reach a banana hanging above. According to Kohler, the ape looked around the yard and found the solution in a flash of insight by mentally seeing how the parts could be rearranged to accomplish the goal.

Reformulating a problem is reflected in a classic study by Duncker ( 1945 ) in which people are asked to think aloud as they solve the tumor problem—how can you destroy a tumor in a patient without destroying surrounding healthy tissue by using rays that at sufficient intensity will destroy any tissue in their path? In analyzing the thinking-aloud protocols—that is, transcripts of what the problem solvers said—Duncker concluded that people reformulated the goal in various ways (e.g., avoid contact with healthy tissue, immunize healthy tissue, have ray be weak in healthy tissue) until they hit upon a productive formulation that led to the solution (i.e., concentrating many weak rays on the tumor).

Removing mental blocks is reflected in classic studies by Duncker ( 1945 ) in which solving a problem involved thinking of a novel use for an object, and by Luchins ( 1942 ) in which solving a problem involved not using a procedure that had worked well on previous problems. Finding a problem analog is reflected in classic research by Wertheimer ( 1959 ) in which learning to find the area of a parallelogram is supported by the insight that one could cut off the triangle on one side and place it on the other side to form a rectangle—so a parallelogram is really a rectangle in disguise. The search for insight along each of these five lines continues in current problem-solving research.

Heuristics are problem-solving strategies, that is, general approaches to how to solve problems. Newell and Simon ( 1972 ) suggested three general problem-solving heuristics for moving from a given state to a goal state: random trial and error , hill climbing , and means-ends analysis . Random trial and error involves randomly selecting a legal move and applying it to create a new problem state, and repeating that process until the goal state is reached. Random trial and error may work for simple problems but is not efficient for complex ones. Hill climbing involves selecting the legal move that moves the problem solver closer to the goal state. Hill climbing will not work for problems in which the problem solver must take a move that temporarily moves away from the goal as is required in many problems.

Means-ends analysis involves creating goals and seeking moves that can accomplish the goal. If a goal cannot be directly accomplished, a subgoal is created to remove one or more obstacles. Newell and Simon ( 1972 ) successfully used means-ends analysis as the search heuristic in a computer program aimed at general problem solving, that is, solving a diverse collection of problems. However, people may also use specific heuristics that are designed to work for specific problem-solving situations (Gigerenzer, Todd, & ABC Research Group, 1999 ; Kahneman & Tversky, 1984 ).

Current and Future Issues in Problem Solving

Eight current issues in problem solving involve decision making, intelligence and creativity, teaching of thinking skills, expert problem solving, analogical reasoning, mathematical and scientific problem solving, everyday thinking, and the cognitive neuroscience of problem solving.

Decision Making

Decision making refers to the cognitive processing involved in choosing between two or more alternatives (Baron, 2000 ; Markman & Medin, 2002 ). For example, a decision-making task may involve choosing between getting $240 for sure or having a 25% change of getting $1000. According to economic theories such as expected value theory, people should chose the second option, which is worth $250 (i.e., .25 x $1000) rather than the first option, which is worth $240 (1.00 x $240), but psychological research shows that most people prefer the first option (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984 ).

Research on decision making has generated three classes of theories (Markman & Medin, 2002 ): descriptive theories, such as prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky), which are based on the ideas that people prefer to overweight the cost of a loss and tend to overestimate small probabilities; heuristic theories, which are based on the idea that people use a collection of short-cut strategies such as the availability heuristic (Gigerenzer et al., 1999 ; Kahneman & Tversky, 2000 ); and constructive theories, such as mental accounting (Kahneman & Tversky, 2000 ), in which people build a narrative to justify their choices to themselves. Future research is needed to examine decision making in more realistic settings.

Intelligence and Creativity

Although researchers do not have complete consensus on the definition of intelligence (Sternberg, 1990 ), it is reasonable to view intelligence as the ability to learn or adapt to new situations. Fluid intelligence refers to the potential to solve problems without any relevant knowledge, whereas crystallized intelligence refers to the potential to solve problems based on relevant prior knowledge (Sternberg & Gregorenko, 2003 ). As people gain more experience in a field, their problem-solving performance depends more on crystallized intelligence (i.e., domain knowledge) than on fluid intelligence (i.e., general ability) (Sternberg & Gregorenko, 2003 ). The ability to monitor and manage one’s cognitive processing during problem solving—which can be called metacognition —is an important aspect of intelligence (Sternberg, 1990 ). Research is needed to pinpoint the knowledge that is needed to support intelligent performance on problem-solving tasks.

Creativity refers to the ability to generate ideas that are original (i.e., other people do not think of the same idea) and functional (i.e., the idea works; Sternberg, 1999 ). Creativity is often measured using tests of divergent thinking —that is, generating as many solutions as possible for a problem (Guilford, 1967 ). For example, the uses test asks people to list as many uses as they can think of for a brick. Creativity is different from intelligence, and it is at the heart of creative problem solving—generating a novel solution to a problem that the problem solver has never seen before. An important research question concerns whether creative problem solving depends on specific knowledge or creativity ability in general.

Teaching of Thinking Skills

How can people learn to be better problem solvers? Mayer ( 2008 ) proposes four questions concerning teaching of thinking skills:

What to teach —Successful programs attempt to teach small component skills (such as how to generate and evaluate hypotheses) rather than improve the mind as a single monolithic skill (Covington, Crutchfield, Davies, & Olton, 1974 ). How to teach —Successful programs focus on modeling the process of problem solving rather than solely reinforcing the product of problem solving (Bloom & Broder, 1950 ). Where to teach —Successful programs teach problem-solving skills within the specific context they will be used rather than within a general course on how to solve problems (Nickerson, 1999 ). When to teach —Successful programs teaching higher order skills early rather than waiting until lower order skills are completely mastered (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988 ).

Overall, research on teaching of thinking skills points to the domain specificity of problem solving; that is, successful problem solving depends on the problem solver having domain knowledge that is relevant to the problem-solving task.

Expert Problem Solving

Research on expertise is concerned with differences between how experts and novices solve problems (Ericsson, Feltovich, & Hoffman, 2006 ). Expertise can be defined in terms of time (e.g., 10 years of concentrated experience in a field), performance (e.g., earning a perfect score on an assessment), or recognition (e.g., receiving a Nobel Prize or becoming Grand Master in chess). For example, in classic research conducted in the 1940s, de Groot ( 1965 ) found that chess experts did not have better general memory than chess novices, but they did have better domain-specific memory for the arrangement of chess pieces on the board. Chase and Simon ( 1973 ) replicated this result in a better controlled experiment. An explanation is that experts have developed schemas that allow them to chunk collections of pieces into a single configuration.

In another landmark study, Larkin et al. ( 1980 ) compared how experts (e.g., physics professors) and novices (e.g., first-year physics students) solved textbook physics problems about motion. Experts tended to work forward from the given information to the goal, whereas novices tended to work backward from the goal to the givens using a means-ends analysis strategy. Experts tended to store their knowledge in an integrated way, whereas novices tended to store their knowledge in isolated fragments. In another study, Chi, Feltovich, and Glaser ( 1981 ) found that experts tended to focus on the underlying physics concepts (such as conservation of energy), whereas novices tended to focus on the surface features of the problem (such as inclined planes or springs). Overall, research on expertise is useful in pinpointing what experts know that is different from what novices know. An important theme is that experts rely on domain-specific knowledge rather than solely general cognitive ability.

Analogical Reasoning

Analogical reasoning occurs when people solve one problem by using their knowledge about another problem (Holyoak, 2005 ). For example, suppose a problem solver learns how to solve a problem in one context using one solution method and then is given a problem in another context that requires the same solution method. In this case, the problem solver must recognize that the new problem has structural similarity to the old problem (i.e., it may be solved by the same method), even though they do not have surface similarity (i.e., the cover stories are different). Three steps in analogical reasoning are recognizing —seeing that a new problem is similar to a previously solved problem; abstracting —finding the general method used to solve the old problem; and mapping —using that general method to solve the new problem.

Research on analogical reasoning shows that people often do not recognize that a new problem can be solved by the same method as a previously solved problem (Holyoak, 2005 ). However, research also shows that successful analogical transfer to a new problem is more likely when the problem solver has experience with two old problems that have the same underlying structural features (i.e., they are solved by the same principle) but different surface features (i.e., they have different cover stories) (Holyoak, 2005 ). This finding is consistent with the idea of specific transfer of general principles as described in the section on “Transfer.”

Mathematical and Scientific Problem Solving

Research on mathematical problem solving suggests that five kinds of knowledge are needed to solve arithmetic word problems (Mayer, 2008 ):

Factual knowledge —knowledge about the characteristics of problem elements, such as knowing that there are 100 cents in a dollar Schematic knowledge —knowledge of problem types, such as being able to recognize time-rate-distance problems Strategic knowledge —knowledge of general methods, such as how to break a problem into parts Procedural knowledge —knowledge of processes, such as how to carry our arithmetic operations Attitudinal knowledge —beliefs about one’s mathematical problem-solving ability, such as thinking, “I am good at this”

People generally possess adequate procedural knowledge but may have difficulty in solving mathematics problems because they lack factual, schematic, strategic, or attitudinal knowledge (Mayer, 2008 ). Research is needed to pinpoint the role of domain knowledge in mathematical problem solving.

Research on scientific problem solving shows that people harbor misconceptions, such as believing that a force is needed to keep an object in motion (McCloskey, 1983 ). Learning to solve science problems involves conceptual change, in which the problem solver comes to recognize that previous conceptions are wrong (Mayer, 2008 ). Students can be taught to engage in scientific reasoning such as hypothesis testing through direct instruction in how to control for variables (Chen & Klahr, 1999 ). A central theme of research on scientific problem solving concerns the role of domain knowledge.

Everyday Thinking

Everyday thinking refers to problem solving in the context of one’s life outside of school. For example, children who are street vendors tend to use different procedures for solving arithmetic problems when they are working on the streets than when they are in school (Nunes, Schlieman, & Carraher, 1993 ). This line of research highlights the role of situated cognition —the idea that thinking always is shaped by the physical and social context in which it occurs (Robbins & Aydede, 2009 ). Research is needed to determine how people solve problems in authentic contexts.

Cognitive Neuroscience of Problem Solving

The cognitive neuroscience of problem solving is concerned with the brain activity that occurs during problem solving. For example, using fMRI brain imaging methodology, Goel ( 2005 ) found that people used the language areas of the brain to solve logical reasoning problems presented in sentences (e.g., “All dogs are pets…”) and used the spatial areas of the brain to solve logical reasoning problems presented in abstract letters (e.g., “All D are P…”). Cognitive neuroscience holds the potential to make unique contributions to the study of problem solving.

Problem solving has always been a topic at the fringe of cognitive psychology—too complicated to study intensively but too important to completely ignore. Problem solving—especially in realistic environments—is messy in comparison to studying elementary processes in cognition. The field remains fragmented in the sense that topics such as decision making, reasoning, intelligence, expertise, mathematical problem solving, everyday thinking, and the like are considered to be separate topics, each with its own separate literature. Yet some recurring themes are the role of domain-specific knowledge in problem solving and the advantages of studying problem solving in authentic contexts.

Future Directions

Some important issues for future research include the three classic issues examined in this chapter—the nature of problem-solving transfer (i.e., How are people able to use what they know about previous problem solving to help them in new problem solving?), the nature of insight (e.g., What is the mechanism by which a creative solution is constructed?), and heuristics (e.g., What are some teachable strategies for problem solving?). In addition, future research in problem solving should continue to pinpoint the role of domain-specific knowledge in problem solving, the nature of cognitive ability in problem solving, how to help people develop proficiency in solving problems, and how to provide aids for problem solving.

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Further Reading

Baron, J. ( 2008 ). Thinking and deciding (4th ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Duncker, K. ( 1945 ). On problem solving. Psychological Monographs , 58(3) (Whole No. 270).

Holyoak, K. J. , & Morrison, R. G. ( 2005 ). The Cambridge handbook of thinking and reasoning . New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. , & Wittrock, M. C. ( 2006 ). Problem solving. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed., pp. 287–304). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sternberg, R. J. , & Ben-Zeev, T. ( 2001 ). Complex cognition: The psychology of human thought . New York: Oxford University Press.

Weisberg, R. W. ( 2006 ). Creativity . New York: Wiley.

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What is Cultural Competence and How to Develop It?

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This article will help better understand cultural competence and its components. Adopted cross-cultural attitude strategies will help to develop and enhance the ability to practice effective communication in intercultural situations.

Working and living in a global society requires the ability to create interactions and relationships with people who are different from oneself. It is critical to know how to assess our cultural competency and evaluate our own cultural behaviors. Globalization and diversity lowered the barriers that once separated cultures both internationally and domestically (Garneau & Pepin, 2015). Cultural competency skills can help businesses run more productively, and efficiently. Practicing cultural competency skills can also elevate your customer service skills. Exceptional customer service gives you the ability to set your business apart from your competitors and keeps your customers returning to your business.

What is culture?

In 1951, Kluckhohn explained culture as sharing a pattern of thinking, feeling, reacting, and problem-solving. Culture is a dynamic relational process of shared meanings that originate in the interactions between individuals (Carpenter-Song, Schwallie, & Longhofer, 2007). In 2010, Gregory and colleagues emphasized that culture must be considered in historical, social, political, and economic contexts. Betancourt (2004) defined culture as a pattern of learned beliefs, values, and behavior that are shared within a group; it includes language, styles of communication, practices, customs, and views on roles and relationships. Edgar Schein (2010) described a culture as "shared beliefs, values, and assumptions of a group of people who learn from one another and teach to others that their behaviors, attitudes, and perspectives are the correct ways to think, act, and feel." Psychologists argue that unfamiliar culture negatively affects an individual's sensemaking mechanisms and determine their behavioral responses. As a result, individuals cannot accurately perceive, interpret, explain, and predict the behavior of people with different cultural background(s) (Muzychenko, 2008).

What is cultural intelligence?

Cultural intelligence is the ability to interpret the stranger's behavior the way the stranger's compatriots would (Muzychenko 2008). For example, if employees don't feel as if their manager understands or respects their culture, employees may find it hard to trust the leader or work as a team.

What is cultural competence?

Current research on cultural competence focuses on sensitivity to cross-cultural differences and the ability to adapt to other cultural environments (e.g., Hansen, Pepitone-Arreola-Rockwell, & Greene, 2000), or reflective awareness of cultural influences on one's thoughts and behaviors (Chao, Okazaki, & Hong, 2011). Muzychenko (2008) defined cultural competence as the appropriateness and effectiveness of one's behavior in an alien cultural environment. Wilson, Ward, and Fischer (2013) defined cultural competence as "the acquisition and maintenance of culture-specific skills" for very practical reasons:

  • function effectively within a new cultural context. 
  • interact effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds.

Williams (2001) defined cultural competence as " the ability of individuals and systems to work or respond effectively across cultures in a way that acknowledges and respects the culture of the person or organization being served " p.1.

Why do we need to develop cultural competence?

Developing cultural competence helps us understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures. It gives us the ability to compare different cultures with our own and better understand the differences. Unconsciously, we bring our own cultural frame of interpretation to any situation. This is not to say that culture alone determines how one interprets a situation. One's own unique history and personality also play an important role (Hofstede, 2002).

How do we develop an attitude and components of cultural competence?

Developing cross-cultural attitudes allows one to develop skills for better engaging with people from all kinds of cultures. Cross-cultural skills demonstrated through the ability to communicate with respect; recognize others' values, accept knowledge, skills, and talents; and tolerate, engage, and celebrate the success of others. Deardorff defined competence as " the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations based on one's intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes " (Deardorff, 2006, pp. 247-248). We adopted Deardorff (2006) cross-cultural attitude strategies that help you to develop and enhance one's ability to practice effective communication in intercultural situations:

  • Practice openness by demonstrating acceptance of difference.
  • Be flexible by demonstrating acceptance of ambiguity.
  • Demonstrate humility through suspension of judgment and the ability to learn.
  • Be sensitive to others by appreciating cultural differences.
  • Show a spirit of adventure by showing curiosity and seeing opportunities in different situations.
  • Use a sense of humor through the ability to laugh at ourselves.
  • Practice positive change or action by demonstrating a successful interaction with the identified culture.

Borchum (2002) described cultural competence as " a non-linear dynamic process that is never-ending and ever expending. It is built on increases in knowledge and skill development related to its attributes " p. 5. We synthesized and adopted Williams's (2001) and Martin and Vaughn's (2007) studies that can assist in better understanding of components of cultural competency. These attributes will guide you in developing cultural competence:

  • Self-knowledge and awareness about one's own culture.
  • Awareness of one's own cultural worldview.
  • Experience and knowledge of different cultural practices.
  • Attitude toward cultural differences.

In conclusion, our global society necessitates interactions and relationships with people who are different from oneself. By developing one's own cultural competence, productivity and efficiency may increase and in turn improve one's customer service skills. Customers who feel valued and understood will return for repeat business.

Burchum, J. L. R. (2002, October). Cultural competence: An evolutionary perspective . In: Nursing Forum : (Vol. 37, No. 4, p. 5). Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Carpenter-Song, E. A., Schwallie, M. N., & Longhofer, J. (2007). Cultural competence reexamined: critique and directions for the future.  Psychiatric Services ,  58 (10), 1362-1365.

Betancourt, J. R. (2004). Cultural competence—marginal or mainstream movement?  New England Journal of Medicine ,  351 (10), 953-955.

Chiu, C.-Y., Lonner, W. J., Matsumoto, D., & Ward, C. (2013). Cross-Cultural Competence: Theory, Research, and Application . Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology , 44 (6), 843–848.

Garneau, A. B., & Pepin, J. (2015). Cultural competence: A constructivist definition.  Journal of Transcultural Nursing ,  26 (1), 9-15.

Gregory, D., Harrowing, J., Lee, B., Doolittle, L., & O'Sullivan, P. S. (2010). Pedagogy as influencing nursing students' essentialized understanding of culture. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 7(1), 30. doi:10.2202/1548-923X.2025

Hofstede, G. J., Hofstede, G., & Pedersen, P. B. (2012). Exploring culture: exercises, stories, and synthetic cultures . Boston: Intercultural Press.

Hofstede, G. J., Pedersen, P. B., & Hofstede, G. (2002).  Exploring culture: Exercises, stories, and synthetic cultures . Nicholas Brealey.

Martin, M., & Vaughn, B. (2007). Cultural competence: The nuts and bolts of diversity and inclusion.  Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management ,  1 (1), 31-38.

Muzychenko, O. (2008). Cross-cultural entrepreneurial competence in identifying international business opportunities .  European Management Journal ,  26 (6), 366-377.

Schein, E. H. (2010).  Organizational culture and leadership  (Vol. 2). John Wiley & Sons.

Williams, B. (2001). Accomplishing cross cultural competence in youth development programs.   Journal of Extension ,  39 (6), 1-6.

Wilson, J., Ward, C., & Fischer, R. (2013). Beyond culture learning theory: What can personality tell us about cultural competence?  Journal of cross-cultural psychology ,  44 (6), 900-927.

Suzanna Windon, Ph.D.

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Problem solving through values: A challenge for thinking and capability development

  • • This paper introduces the 4W framework of consistent problem solving through values.
  • • The 4W suggests when, how and why the explication of values helps to solve a problem.
  • • The 4W is significant to teach students to cope with problems having crucial consequences.
  • • The paper considers challenges using such framework of thinking in different fields of education.

The paper aims to introduce the conceptual framework of problem solving through values. The framework consists of problem analysis, selection of value(s) as a background for the solution, the search for alternative ways of the solution, and the rationale for the solution. This framework reveals when, how, and why is important to think about values when solving problems. A consistent process fosters cohesive and creative value-based thinking during problem solving rather than teaching specific values. Therefore, the framework discloses the possibility for enabling the development of value-grounded problem solving capability.The application of this framework highlights the importance of responsibility for the chosen values that are the basis for the alternatives which determine actions. The 4W framework is meaningful for the people’s lives and their professional work. It is particularly important in the process of future professionals’ education. Critical issues concerning the development of problem solving through values are discussed when considering and examining options for the implementation of the 4W framework in educational institutions.

1. Introduction

The core competencies necessary for future professionals include problem solving based on complexity and collaborative approaches ( OECD, 2018 ). Currently, the emphasis is put on the development of technical, technological skills as well as system thinking and other cognitive abilities (e.g., Barber, 2018 ; Blanco, Schirmbeck, & Costa, 2018 ). Hence, education prepares learners with high qualifications yet lacking in moral values ( Nadda, 2017 ). Educational researchers (e.g., Barnett, 2007 ; Harland & Pickering, 2010 ) stress that such skills and abilities ( the how? ), as well as knowledge ( the what? ), are insufficient to educate a person for society and the world. The philosophy of education underlines both the epistemological and ontological dimensions of learning. Barnett (2007) points out that the ontological dimension has to be above the epistemological one. The ontological dimension encompasses the issues related to values that education should foster ( Harland & Pickering, 2010 ). In addition, values are closely related to the enablement of learners in educational environments ( Jucevičienė et al., 2010 ). For these reasons, ‘ the why ?’ based on values is required in the learning process. The question arises as to what values and how it makes sense to educate them. Value-based education seeks to address these issues and concentrates on values transfer due to their integration into the curriculum. Yazdani and Akbarilakeh (2017) discussed that value-based education could only convey factual knowledge of values and ethics. However, such education does not guarantee the internalization of values. Nevertheless, value-based education indicates problem solving as one of the possibilities to develop values.

Values guide and affect personal behavior encompassing the ethical aspects of solutions ( Roccas, Sagiv, & Navon, 2017 ; Schwartz, 1992 , 2012 ; Verplanken & Holland, 2002 ). Therefore, they represent the essential foundation for solving a problem. Growing evidence indicates the creative potential of values ( Dollinger, Burke, & Gump, 2007 ; Kasof, Chen, Himsel, & Greenberger, 2007 ; Lebedeva et al., 2019) and emphasizes their significance for problem solving. Meanwhile, research in problem solving pays little attention to values. Most of the problem solving models (e.g., Newell & Simon, 1972 ; Jonassen, 1997 ) utilize a rational economic approach. Principally, the research on the mechanisms of problem solving have been conducted under laboratory conditions performing simple tasks ( Csapó & Funke, 2017 ). Moreover, some of the decision-making models share the same steps as problem solving (c.f., Donovan, Guss, & Naslund, 2015 ). This explains why these terms are sometimes used interchangeably ( Huitt, 1992 ). Indeed, decision-making is a part of problem solving, which emerges while choosing between alternatives. Yet, values, moral, and ethical issues are more common in decision-making research (e.g., Keeney, 1994 ; Verplanken & Holland, 2002 ; Hall & Davis, 2007 ; Sheehan & Schmidt, 2015 ). Though, research by Shepherd, Patzelt, and Baron (2013) , Baron, Zhao, and Miao (2015) has affirmed that contemporary business decision makers rather often leave aside ethical issues and moral values. Thus, ‘ethical disengagement fallacy’ ( Sternberg, 2017, p.7 ) occurs as people think that ethics is more relevant to others. In the face of such disengagement, ethical issues lose their prominence.

The analysis of the literature revealed a wide field of problem solving research presenting a range of more theoretical insights rather empirical evidence. Despite this, to date, a comprehensive model that reveals how to solve problems emphasizing thinking about values is lacking. This underlines the relevance of the chosen topic, i.e. a challenge for thinking and for the development of capabilities addressing problems through values. To address this gap, the following issues need to be investigated: When, how, and why a problem solver should take into account values during problem solving? What challenges may occur for using such framework of thinking in different fields of education? Aiming this, the authors of the paper substantiated the conceptual framework of problem solving grounded in consistent thinking about values. The substantiation consists of several parts. First, different approaches to solving problems were examined. Second, searching to reveal the possibilities of values integration into problem solving, value-based approaches significant for problem solving were critically analyzed. Third, drawing on the effect of values when solving a problem and their creative potential, the authors of this paper claim that the identification of values and their choice for a solution need to be specified in the process of problem solving. As a synthesis of conclusions coming from the literature review and conceptual extensions regarding values, the authors of the paper created the coherent framework of problem solving through values (so called 4W).

The novelty of the 4W framework is exposed by several contributions. First, the clear design of overall problem solving process with attention on integrated thinking about values is used. Unlike in most models of problem solving, the first stage encompass the identification of a problem, an analysis of a context and the perspectives that influence the whole process, i.e. ‘What?’. The stage ‘What is the basis for a solution?’ focus on values identification and their choice. The stage ‘Ways how?’ encourages to create alternatives considering values. The stage ‘Why?’ represent justification of a chosen alternative according particular issues. Above-mentioned stages including specific steps are not found in any other model of problem solving. Second, even two key stages nurture thinking about values. The specificity of the 4W framework allows expecting its successful practical application. It may help to solve a problem more informed revealing when and how the explication of values helps to reach the desired value-based solution. The particular significance is that the 4W framework can be used to develop capabilities to solve problems through values. The challenges to use the 4W framework in education are discussed.

2. Methodology

To create the 4W framework, the integrative literature review was chosen. According to Snyder (2019) , this review is ‘useful when the purpose of the review is not to cover all articles ever published on the topic but rather to combine perspectives to create new theoretical models’ (p.334). The scope of this review focused on research disclosing problem solving process that paid attention on values. The following databases were used for relevant information search: EBSCO/Hostdatabases (ERIC, Education Source), Emerald, Google Scholar. The first step of this search was conducted using integrated keywords problem solving model , problem solving process, problem solving steps . These keywords were combined with the Boolean operator AND with the second keywords values approach, value-based . The inclusion criteria were used to identify research that: presents theoretical backgrounds and/or empirical evidences; performed within the last 5 years; within an educational context; availability of full text. The sources appropriate for this review was very limited in scope (N = 2).

We implemented the second search only with the same set of the integrated keywords. The inclusion criteria were the same except the date; this criterion was extended up to 10 years. This search presented 85 different sources. After reading the summaries, introductions and conclusions of the sources found, the sources that do not explicitly provide the process/models/steps of problem solving for teaching/learning purposes and eliminates values were excluded. Aiming to see a more accurate picture of the chosen topic, we selected secondary sources from these initial sources.

Several important issues were determined as well. First, most researchers ground their studies on existing problem solving models, however, not based on values. Second, some of them conducted empirical research in order to identify the process of studies participants’ problem solving. Therefore, we included sources without date restrictions trying to identify the principal sources that reveal the process/models/steps of problem solving. Third, decision-making is a part of problem solving process. Accordingly, we performed a search with the additional keywords decision-making AND values approach, value-based decision-making . We used such inclusion criteria: presents theoretical background and/or empirical evidence; no date restriction; within an educational context; availability of full text. These all searches resulted in a total of 16 (9 theoretical and 7 empirical) sources for inclusion. They were the main sources that contributed most fruitfully for the background. We used other sources for the justification the wholeness of the 4W framework. We present the principal results of the conducted literature review in the part ‘The background of the conceptual framework’.

3. The background of the conceptual framework

3.1. different approaches of how to solve a problem.

Researchers from different fields focus on problem solving. As a result, there still seems to be a lack of a conventional definition of problem solving. Regardless of some differences, there is an agreement that problem solving is a cognitive process and one of the meaningful and significant ways of learning ( Funke, 2014 ; Jonassen, 1997 ; Mayer & Wittrock, 2006 ). Differing in approaches to solving a problem, researchers ( Collins, Sibthorp, & Gookin, 2016 ; Jonassen, 1997 ; Litzinger et al., 2010 ; Mayer & Wittrock, 2006 ; O’Loughlin & McFadzean, 1999 ; ect.) present a variety of models that differ in the number of distinct steps. What is similar in these models is that they stress the procedural process of problem solving with the focus on the development of specific skills and competences.

For the sake of this paper, we have focused on those models of problem solving that clarify the process and draw attention to values, specifically, on Huitt (1992) , Basadur, Ellspermann, and Evans (1994) , and Morton (1997) . Integrating the creative approach to problem solving, Newell and Simon (1972) presents six phases: phase 1 - identifying the problem, phase 2 - understanding the problem, phase 3 - posing solutions, phase 4 - choosing solutions, phase 5 - implementing solutions, and phase 6 - final analysis. The weakness of this model is that these phases do not necessarily follow one another, and several can coincide. However, coping with simultaneously occurring phases could be a challenge, especially if these are, for instance, phases five and six. Certainly, it may be necessary to return to the previous phases for further analysis. According to Basadur et al. (1994) , problem solving consists of problem generation, problem formulation, problem solving, and solution implementation stages. Huitt (1992) distinguishes four stages in problem solving: input, processing, output, and review. Both Huitt (1992) and Basadur et al. (1994) four-stage models emphasize a sequential process of problem solving. Thus, problem solving includes four stages that are used in education. For example, problem-based learning employs such stages as introduction of the problem, problem analysis and learning issues, discovery and reporting, solution presentation and evaluation ( Chua, Tan, & Liu, 2016 ). Even PISA 2012 framework for problem solving composes four stages: exploring and understanding, representing and formulating, planning and executing, monitoring and reflecting ( OECD, 2013 ).

Drawing on various approaches to problem solving, it is possible to notice that although each stage is named differently, it is possible to reveal some general steps. These steps reflect the essential idea of problem solving: a search for the solution from the initial state to the desirable state. The identification of a problem and its contextual elements, the generation of alternatives to a problem solution, the evaluation of these alternatives according to specific criteria, the choice of an alternative for a solution, the implementation, and monitoring of the solution are the main proceeding steps in problem solving.

3.2. Value-based approaches relevant for problem solving

Huitt (1992) suggests that important values are among the criteria for the evaluation of alternatives and the effectiveness of a chosen solution. Basadur et al. (1994) point out to visible values in the problem formulation. Morton (1997) underlines that interests, investigation, prevention, and values of all types, which may influence the process, inspire every phase of problem solving. However, the aforementioned authors do not go deeper and do not seek to disclose the significance of values for problem solving.

Decision-making research shows more possibilities for problem solving and values integration. Sheehan and Schmidt (2015) model of ethical decision-making includes moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral action where values are presented in the component of moral motivation. Another useful approach concerned with values comes from decision-making in management. It is the concept of Value-Focused Thinking (VFT) proposed by Keeney (1994) . The author argues that the goals often are merely means of achieving results in traditional models of problem solving. Such models frequently do not help to identify logical links between the problem solving goals, values, and alternatives. Thus, according to Keeney (1994) , the decision-making starts with values as they are stated in the goals and objectives of decision-makers. VFT emphasizes the core values of decision-makers that are in a specific context as well as how to find a way to achieve them by using means-ends analysis. The weakness of VFT is its restriction to this means-ends analysis. According to Shin, Jonassen, and McGee (2003) , in searching for a solution, such analysis is weak as the problem solver focuses simply on removing inadequacies between the current state and the goal state. The strengths of this approach underline that values are included in the decision before alternatives are created. Besides, values help to find creative and meaningful alternatives and to assess them. Further, they include the forthcoming consequences of the decision. As VFT emphasizes the significant function of values and clarifies the possibilities of their integration into problem solving, we adapt this approach in the current paper.

3.3. The effect of values when solving a problem

In a broader sense, values provide a direction to a person’s life. Whereas the importance of values is relatively stable over time and across situations, Roccas et al. (2017) argue that values differ in their importance to a person. Verplanken and Holland (2002) investigated the relationship between values and choices or behavior. The research revealed that the activation of a value and the centrality of a value to the self, are the essential elements for value-guided behavior. The activation of values could happen in such cases: when values are the primary focus of attention; if the situation or the information a person is confronted with implies values; when the self is activated. The centrality of a particular value is ‘the degree to which an individual has incorporated this value as part of the self’ ( Verplanken & Holland, 2002, p.436 ). Thus, the perceived importance of values and attention to them determine value-guided behavior.

According to Argandoña (2003) , values can change due to external (changing values in the people around, in society, changes in situations, etc.) and internal (internalization by learning) factors affecting the person. The research by Hall and Davis (2007) indicates that the decision-makers’ applied value profile temporarily changed as they analyzed the issue from multiple perspectives and revealed the existence of a broader set of values. The study by Kirkman (2017) reveal that participants noticed the relevance of moral values to situations they encountered in various contexts.

Values are tightly related to personal integrity and identity and guide an individual’s perception, judgment, and behavior ( Halstead, 1996 ; Schwartz, 1992 ). Sheehan and Schmidt (2015) found that values influenced ethical decision-making of accounting study programme students when they uncovered their own values and grounded in them their individual codes of conduct for future jobs. Hence, the effect of values discloses by observing the problem solver’s decision-making. The latter observations could explain the abundance of ethics-laden research in decision-making rather than in problem solving.

Contemporary researchers emphasize the creative potential of values. Dollinger et al. (2007) , Kasof et al. (2007) , Lebedeva, Schwartz, Plucker, & Van De Vijver, 2019 present to some extent similar findings as they all used Schwartz Value Survey (respectively: Schwartz, 1992 ; ( Schwartz, 1994 ), Schwartz, 2012 ). These studies disclosed that such values as self-direction, stimulation and universalism foster creativity. Kasof et al. (2007) focused their research on identified motivation. Stressing that identified motivation is the only fully autonomous type of external motivation, authors define it as ‘the desire to commence an activity as a means to some end that one greatly values’ (p.106). While identified motivation toward specific values (italic in original) fosters the search for outcomes that express those specific values, this research demonstrated that it could also inhibit creative behavior. Thus, inhibition is necessary, especially in the case where reckless creativity could have painful consequences, for example, when an architect creates a beautiful staircase without a handrail. Consequently, creativity needs to be balanced.

Ultimately, values affect human beings’ lives as they express the motivational goals ( Schwartz, 1992 ). These motivational goals are the comprehensive criteria for a person’s choices when solving problems. Whereas some problem solving models only mention values as possible evaluation criteria, but they do not give any significant suggestions when and how the problem solver could think about the values coming to the understanding that his/her values direct the decision how to solve the problem. The authors of this paper claim that the identification of personal values and their choice for a solution need to be specified in the process of problem solving. This position is clearly reflected in humanistic philosophy and psychology ( Maslow, 2011 ; Rogers, 1995 ) that emphasize personal responsibility for discovering personal values through critical questioning, honest self-esteem, self-discovery, and open-mindedness in the constant pursuit of the truth in the path of individual life. However, fundamental (of humankind) and societal values should be taken into account. McLaughlin (1997) argues that a clear boundary between societal and personal values is difficult to set as they are intertwined due to their existence in complex cultural, social, and political contexts at a particular time. A person is related to time and context when choosing values. As a result, a person assumes existing values as implicit knowledge without as much as a consideration. This is particularly evident in the current consumer society.

Moreover, McLaughlin (1997) stresses that if a particular action should be tolerated and legitimated by society, it does not mean that this action is ultimately morally acceptable in all respects. Education has possibilities to reveal this. One such possibility is to turn to the capability approach ( Sen, 1990 ), which emphasizes what people are effectively able to do and to be. Capability, according to Sen (1990) , reflects a person’s freedom to choose between various ways of living, i.e., the focus is on the development of a person’s capability to choose the life he/she has a reason to value. According to Webster (2017) , ‘in order for people to value certain aspects of life, they need to appreciate the reasons and purposes – the whys – for certain valuing’ (italic in original; p.75). As values reflect and foster these whys, education should supplement the development of capability with attention to values ( Saito, 2003 ). In order to attain this possibility, a person has to be aware of and be able to understand two facets of values. Argandoña (2003) defines them as rationality and virtuality . Rationality refers to values as the ideal of conduct and involves the development of a person’s understanding of what values and why he/she should choose them when solving a problem. Virtuality approaches values as virtues and includes learning to enable a person to live according to his/her values. However, according to McLaughlin (1997) , some people may have specific values that are deep or self-evidently essential. These values are based on fundamental beliefs about the nature and purpose of the human being. Other values can be more or less superficial as they are based on giving priority to one or the other. Thus, virtuality highlights the depth of life harmonized to fundamentally rather than superficially laden values. These approaches inform the rationale for the framework of problem solving through values.

4. The 4W framework of problem solving through values

Similar to the above-presented stages of the problem solving processes, the introduced framework by the authors of this paper revisits them (see Fig. 1 ). The framework is titled 4W as its four stages respond to such questions: Analyzing the Problem: W hat ? → Choice of the value(s): W hat is the background for the solution? → Search for the alternative w ays of the solution: How ? → The rationale for problem solution: W hy is this alternative significant ? The stages of this framework cover seven steps that reveal the logical sequence of problem solving through values.

Fig. 1

The 4 W framework: problem solving through values.

Though systematic problem solving models are criticized for being linear and inflexible (e.g., Treffinger & Isaksen, 2005 ), the authors of this paper assume a structural view of the problem solving process due to several reasons. First, the framework enables problem solvers to understand the thorough process of problem solving through values. Second, this framework reveals the depth of each stage and step. Third, problem solving through values encourages tackling problems that have crucial consequences. Only by understanding and mastering the coherence of how problems those require a value-based approach need to be addressed, a problem solver will be able to cope with them in the future. Finally, this framework aims at helping to recognize, to underline personal values, to solve problems through thinking about values, and to take responsibility for choices, even value-based. The feedback supports a direct interrelation between stages. It shapes a dynamic process of problem solving through values.

The first stage of problem solving through values - ‘ The analysis of the problem: What? ’- consists of three steps (see Fig. 1 ). The first step is ‘ Recognizing the problematic situation and naming the problem ’. This step is performed in the following sequence. First, the problem solver should perceive the problematic situation he/she faces in order to understand it. Dostál (2015) argues that the problematic situation has the potential to become the problem necessary to be addressed. Although each problem is limited by its context, not every problematic situation turns into a problem. This is related to the problem solver’s capability and the perception of reality: a person may not ‘see’ the problem if his/her capability to perceive it is not developed ( Dorst, 2006 ; Dostál, 2015 ). Second, after the problem solver recognizes the existence of the problematic situation, the problem solver has to identify the presence or absence of the problem itself, i.e. to name the problem. This is especially important in the case of the ill-structured problems since they cannot be directly visible to the problem solver ( Jonassen, 1997 ). Consequently, this step allows to determine whether the problem solver developed or has acquired the capability to perceive the problematic situation and the problem (naming the problem).

The second step is ‘ Analysing the context of the problem as a reason for its rise ’. At this step, the problem solver aims to analyse the context of the problem. The latter is one of the external issues, and it determines the solution ( Jonassen, 2011 ). However, if more attention is paid to the solution of the problem, it diverts attention from the context ( Fields, 2006 ). The problem solver has to take into account both the conveyed and implied contextual elements in the problematic situation ( Dostál, 2015 ). In other words, the problem solver has to examine it through his/her ‘contextual lenses’ ( Hester & MacG, 2017 , p.208). Thus, during this step the problem solver needs to identify the elements that shape the problem - reasons and circumstances that cause the problem, the factors that can be changed, and stakeholders that are involved in the problematic situation. Whereas the elements of the context mentioned above are within the problematic situation, the problem solver can control many of them. Such control can provide unique ways for a solution.

Although the problem solver tries to predict the undesirable results, some criteria remain underestimated. For that reason, it is necessary to highlight values underlying the various possible goals during the analysis ( Fields, 2006 ). According to Hester and MacG (2017) , values express one of the main features of the context and direct the attention of the problem solver to a given problematic situation. Hence, the problem solver should explore the value-based positions that emerge in the context of the problem.

The analysis of these contextual elements focus not only on a specific problematic situation but also on the problem that has emerged. This requires setting boundaries of attention for an in-depth understanding ( Fields, 2006 ; Hester & MacG, 2017 ). Such understanding influences several actions: (a) the recognition of inappropriate aspects of the problematic situation; (b) the emergence of paths in which identified aspects are expected to change. These actions ensure consistency and safeguard against distractions. Thus, the problem solver can now recognize and identify the factors that influence the problem although they are outside of the problematic situation. However, the problem solver possesses no control over them. With the help of such context analysis, the problem solver constructs a thorough understanding of the problem. Moreover, the problem solver becomes ready to look at the problem from different perspectives.

The third step is ‘ Perspectives emerging in the problem ’. Ims and Zsolnai (2009) argue that problem solving usually contains a ‘problematic search’. Such a search is a pragmatic activity as the problem itself induces it. Thus, the problem solver searches for a superficial solution. As a result, the focus is on control over the problem rather than a deeper understanding of the problem itself. The analysis of the problem, especially including value-based approaches, reveals the necessity to consider the problem from a variety of perspectives. Mitroff (2000) builds on Linstone (1989) ideas and claims that a sound foundation of both naming and solving any problem lays in such perspectives: the technical/scientific, the interpersonal/social, the existential, and the systemic (see Table 1 ).

The main characteristics of four perspectives for problem solving

Whereas all problems have significant aspects of each perspective, disregarding one or another may lead to the wrong way of solving the problem. While analysing all four perspectives is essential, this does not mean that they all are equally important. Therefore, it is necessary to justify why one or another perspective is more relevant and significant in a particular case. Such analysis, according to Linstone (1989) , ‘forces us to distinguish how we are looking from what we are looking at’ (p.312; italic in original). Hence, the problem solver broadens the understanding of various perspectives and develops the capability to see the bigger picture ( Hall & Davis, 2007 ).

The problem solver aims to identify and describe four perspectives that have emerged in the problem during this step. In order to identify perspectives, the problem solver search answers to the following questions. First, regarding the technical/scientific perspective: What technical/scientific reasons are brought out in the problem? How and to what extent do they influence a problem and its context? Second, regarding the interpersonal/social perspective: What is the impact of the problem on stakeholders? How does it influence their attitudes, living conditions, interests, needs? Third, regarding the existential perspective: How does the problem affect human feelings, experiences, perception, and/or discovery of meaning? Fourth, regarding the systemic perspective: What is the effect of the problem on the person → community → society → the world? Based on the analysis of this step, the problem solver obtains a comprehensive picture of the problem. The next stage is to choose the value(s) that will address the problem.

The second stage - ‘ The choice of value(s): What is the background for the solution?’ - includes the fourth and the fifth steps. The fourth step is ‘ The identification of value(s) as a base for the solution ’. During this step, the problem solver should activate his/her value(s) making it (them) explicit. In order to do this, the problem solver proceeds several sub-steps. First, the problem solver reflects taking into account the analysis done in previous steps. He/she raises up questions revealing values that lay in the background of this analysis: What values does this analyzed context allow me to notice? What values do different perspectives of the problem ‘offer’? Such questioning is important as values are deeply hidden ( Verplanken & Holland, 2002 ) and they form a bias, which restricts the development of the capability to see from various points of view ( Hall & Paradice, 2007 ). In the 4W framework, this bias is relatively eliminated due to the analysis of the context and exploration of the perspectives of a problem. As a result, the problem solver discovers distinct value-based positions and gets an opportunity to identify the ‘value uncaptured’ ( Yang, Evans, Vladimirova, & Rana, 2017, p.1796 ) within the problem analyzed. The problem solver observes that some values exist in the context (the second step) and the disclosed perspectives (the third step). Some of the identified values do not affect the current situation as they are not required, or their potential is not exploited. Thus, looking through various value-based lenses, the problem solver can identify and discover a congruence between the opportunities offered by the values in the problem’s context, disclosed perspectives and his/her value(s). Consequently, the problem solver decides what values he/she chooses as a basis for the desired solution. Since problems usually call for a list of values, it is important to find out their order of priority. Thus, the last sub-step requires the problem solver to choose between fundamentally and superficially laden values.

In some cases, the problem solver identifies that a set of values (more than one value) can lead to the desired solution. If a person chooses this multiple value-based position, two options emerge. The first option is concerned with the analysis of each value-based position separately (from the fifth to the seventh step). In the second option, a person has to uncover which of his/her chosen values are fundamentally laden and which are superficially chosen, considering the desired outcome in the current situation. Such clarification could act as a strategy where the path for the desired solution is possible going from superficially chosen value(s) to fundamentally laden one. When a basis for the solution is established, the problem solver formulates the goal for the desired solution.

The fifth step is ‘ The formulation of the goal for the solution ’. Problem solving highlights essential points that reveal the structure of a person’s goals; thus, a goal is the core element of problem solving ( Funke, 2014 ). Meantime, values reflect the motivational content of the goals ( Schwartz, 1992 ). The attention on the chosen value not only activates it, but also motivates the problem solver. The motivation directs the formulation of the goal. In such a way, values explicitly become a basis of the goal for the solution. Thus, this step involves the problem solver in formulating the goal for the solution as the desired outcome.

The way how to take into account value(s) when formulating the goal is the integration of value(s) chosen by the problem solver in the formulation of the goal ( Keeney, 1994 ). For this purpose the conjunction of a context for a solution (it is analyzed during the second step) and a direction of preference (the chosen value reveals it) serves for the formulation of the goal (that represents the desired solution). In other words, a value should be directly included into the formulation of the goal. The goal could lose value, if value is not included into the goal formulation and remains only in the context of the goal. Let’s take the actual example concerning COVID-19 situation. Naturally, many countries governments’ preference represents such value as human life (‘it is important of every individual’s life’). Thus, most likely the particular country government’s goal of solving the COVID situation could be to save the lifes of the country people. The named problem is a complex where the goal of its solution is also complex, although it sounds simple. However, if the goal as desired outcome is formulated without the chosen value, this value remains in the context and its meaning becomes tacit. In the case of above presented example - the goal could be formulated ‘to provide hospitals with the necessary equipment and facilities’. Such goal has the value ‘human’s life’ in the context, but eliminates the complexity of the problem that leads to a partial solution of the problem. Thus, this step from the problem solver requires caution when formulating the goal as the desired outcome. For this reason, maintaining value is very important when formulating the goal’s text. To avoid the loss of values and maintain their proposed direction, is necessary to take into account values again when creating alternatives.

The third stage - ‘ Search for the alternative ways for a solution: How? ’ - encompasses the sixth step, which is called ‘ Creation of value-based alternatives ’. Frequently problem solver invokes a traditional view of problem identification, generation of alternatives, and selection of criteria for evaluating findings. Keeney (1994) ; Ims and Zsolnai (2009) criticize this rational approach as it supports a search for a partial solution where an active search for alternatives is neglected. Moreover, a problematic situation, according to Perkins (2009) , can create the illusion of a fully framed problem with some apparent weighting and some variations of choices. In this case, essential and distinct alternatives to the solution frequently become unnoticeable. Therefore, Perkins (2009) suggest to replace the focus on the attempts to comprehend the problem itself. Thinking through the ‘value lenses’ offers such opportunities. The deep understanding of the problem leads to the search for the alternative ways of a solution.

Thus, the aim of this step is for the problem solver to reveal the possible alternative ways for searching a desired solution. Most people think they know how to create alternatives, but often without delving into the situation. First of all, the problem solver based on the reflection of (but not limited to) the analysis of the context and the perspectives of the problem generates a range of alternatives. Some of these alternatives represent anchored thinking as he/she accepts the assumptions implicit in generated alternatives and with too little focus on values.

The chosen value with the formulated goal indicates direction and encourages a broader and more creative search for a solution. Hence, the problem solver should consider some of the initial alternatives that could best support the achievement of the desired solution. Values are the principles for evaluating the desirability of any alternative or outcome ( Keeney, 1994 ). Thus, planned actions should reveal the desirable mode of conduct. After such consideration, he/she should draw up a plan setting out the actions required to implement each of considered alternatives.

Lastly, after a thorough examination of each considered alternative and a plan of its implementation, the problem solver chooses one of them. If the problem solver does not see an appropriate alternative, he/she develops new alternatives. However, the problem solver may notice (and usually does) that more than one alternative can help him/her to achieve the desired solution. In this case, he/she indicates which alternative is the main one and has to be implemented in the first place, and what other alternatives and in what sequence will contribute in searching for the desired solution.

The fourth stage - ‘ The rationale for the solution: Why ’ - leads to the seventh step: ‘ The justification of the chosen alternative ’. Keeney (1994) emphasizes the compatibility of alternatives in question with the values that guide the action. This underlines the importance of justifying the choices a person makes where the focus is on taking responsibility. According to Zsolnai (2008) , responsibility means a choice, i.e., the perceived responsibility essentially determines its choice. Responsible justification allows for discovering optimal balance when choosing between distinct value-based alternatives. It also refers to the alternative solution that best reflects responsibility in a particular value context, choice, and implementation.

At this stage, the problem solver revisits the chosen solution and revises it. The problem solver justifies his/her choice based on the following questions: Why did you choose this? Why is this alternative significant looking from the technical/scientific, the interpersonal/social, the existential, and the systemic perspectives? Could you take full responsibility for the implementation of this alternative? Why? How clearly do envisaged actions reflect the goal of the desired solution? Whatever interests and for what reasons do this alternative satisfies in principle? What else do you see in the chosen alternative?

As mentioned above, each person gives priority to one aspect or another. The problem solver has to provide solid arguments for the justification of the chosen alternative. The quality of arguments, according to Jonassen (2011) , should be judged based on the quality of the evidence supporting the chosen alternative and opposing arguments that can reject solutions. Besides, the pursuit of value-based goals reflects the interests of the individual or collective interests. Therefore, it becomes critical for the problem solver to justify the level of responsibility he/she takes in assessing the chosen alternative. Such a complex evaluation of the chosen alternative ensures the acceptance of an integral rather than unilateral solution, as ‘recognizing that, in the end, people benefit most when they act for the common good’ ( Sternberg, 2012, p.46 ).

5. Discussion

The constant emphasis on thinking about values as explicit reasoning in the 4W framework (especially from the choice of the value(s) to the rationale for problem solution) reflects the pursuit of virtues. Virtues form the features of the character that are related to the choice ( Argandoña, 2003 ; McLaughlin, 2005 ). Hence, the problem solver develops value-grounded problem solving capability as the virtuality instead of employing rationality for problem solving.

Argandoña (2003) suggests that, in order to make a sound valuation process of any action, extrinsic, transcendent, and intrinsic types of motives need to be considered. They cover the respective types of values. The 4W framework meets these requirements. An extrinsic motive as ‘attaining the anticipated or expected satisfaction’ ( Argandoña, 2003, p.17 ) is reflected in the formulation of the goal of the solution, the creation of alternatives and especially in the justification of the chosen alternative way when the problem solver revisits the external effect of his/her possible action. Transcendent motive as ‘generating certain effects in others’ ( Argandoña, 2003, p.17 ) is revealed within the analysis of the context, perspectives, and creating alternatives. When the learner considers the creation of alternatives and revisits the chosen alternative, he/she pays more attention to these motives. Two types of motives mentioned so far are closely related to an intrinsic motive that emphasizes learning development within the problem solver. These motives confirm that problem solving is, in fact, lifelong learning. In light of these findings, the 4W framework is concerned with some features of value internalization as it is ‘a psychological outcome of conscious mind reasoning about values’ ( Yazdani & Akbarilakeh, 2017, p.1 ).

The 4W framework is complicated enough in terms of learning. One issue is concerned with the educational environments ( Jucevičienė, 2008 ) required to enable the 4W framework. First, the learning paradigm, rather than direct instruction, lies at the foundation of such environments. Second, such educational environments include the following dimensions: (1) educational goal; (2) learning capacity of the learners; (3) educational content relevant to the educational goal: ways and means of communicating educational content as information presented in advance (they may be real, people among them, as well as virtual); (5) methods and means of developing educational content in the process of learners’ performance; (6) physical environment relevant to the educational goal and conditions of its implementation as well as different items in the environment; (7) individuals involved in the implementation of the educational goal.

Another issue is related to exercising this framework in practice. Despite being aware of the 4W framework, a person may still not want to practice problem solving through values, since most of the solutions are going to be complicated, or may even be painful. One idea worth looking into is to reveal the extent to which problem solving through values can become a habit of mind. Profound focus on personal values, context analysis, and highlighting various perspectives can involve changes in the problem solver’s habit of mind. The constant practice of problem solving through values could first become ‘the epistemic habit of mind’ ( Mezirow, 2009, p.93 ), which means a personal way of knowing things and how to use that knowledge. This echoes Kirkman (2017) findings. The developed capability to notice moral values in situations that students encountered changed some students’ habit of mind as ‘for having “ruined” things by making it impossible not to attend to values in such situations!’ (the feedback from one student; Kirkman, 2017, p.12 ). However, this is not enough, as only those problems that require a value-based approach are addressed. Inevitably, the problem solver eventually encounters the challenges of nurturing ‘the moral-ethical habit of mind’ ( Mezirow, 2009, p.93 ). In pursuance to develop such habits of mind, the curriculum should include the necessity of the practising of the 4W framework.

Thinking based on values when solving problems enables the problem solver to engage in thoughtful reflection in contrast to pragmatic and superficial thinking supported by the consumer society. Reflection begins from the first stage of the 4W framework. As personal values are the basis for the desired solution, the problem solver is also involved in self-reflection. The conscious and continuous reflection on himself/herself and the problematic situation reinforce each step of the 4W framework. Moreover, the fourth stage (‘The rationale for the solution: Why’) involves the problem solver in critical reflection as it concerned with justification of ‘the why , the reasons for and the consequences of what we do’ (italic, bold in original; Mezirow, 1990, p.8 ). Exercising the 4W framework in practice could foster reflective practice. Empirical evidence shows that reflective practice directly impacts knowledge, skills and may lead to changes in personal belief systems and world views ( Slade, Burnham, Catalana, & Waters, 2019 ). Thus, with the help of reflective practice it is possible to identify in more detail how and to what extent the 4W framework has been mastered, what knowledge gained, capabilities developed, how point of views changed, and what influence the change process.

Critical issues related to the development of problem solving through values need to be distinguished when considering and examining options for the implementation of the 4W framework at educational institutions. First, the question to what extent can the 4W framework be incorporated into various subjects needs to be answered. Researchers could focus on applying the 4W framework to specific subjects in the humanities and social sciences. The case is with STEM subjects. Though value issues of sustainable development and ecology are of great importance, in reality STEM teaching is often restricted to the development of knowledge and skills, leaving aside the thinking about values. The special task of the researchers is to help practitioners to apply the 4W framework in STEM subjects. Considering this, researchers could employ the concept of ‘dialogic space’ ( Wegerif, 2011, p.3 ) which places particular importance of dialogue in the process of education emphasizing both the voices of teachers and students, and materials. In addition, the dimensions of educational environments could be useful aligning the 4W framework with STEM subjects. As STEM teaching is more based on solving various special tasks and/or integrating problem-based learning, the 4W framework could be a meaningful tool through which content is mastered, skills are developed, knowledge is acquired by solving pre-prepared specific tasks. In this case, the 4W framework could act as a mean addressing values in STEM teaching.

Second is the question of how to enable the process of problem solving through values. In the current paper, the concept of enabling is understood as an integral component of the empowerment. Juceviciene et al. (2010) specify that at least two perspectives can be employed to explain empowerment : a) through the power of legitimacy (according to Freire, 1996 ); and b) through the perspective of conditions for the acquisition of the required knowledge, capabilities, and competence, i.e., enabling. In this paper the 4W framework does not entail the issue of legitimacy. This issue may occur, for example, when a teacher in economics is expected to provide students with subject knowledge only, rather than adding tasks that involve problem solving through values. Yet, the issue of legitimacy is often implicit. A widespread phenomenon exists that teaching is limited to certain periods that do not have enough time for problem solving through values. The issue of legitimacy as an organizational task that supports/or not the implementation of the 4W framework in any curriculum is a question that calls for further discussion.

Third (if not the first), the issue of an educator’s competence to apply such a framework needs to be addressed. In order for a teacher to be a successful enabler, he/she should have the necessary competence. This is related to the specific pedagogical knowledge and skills, which are highly dependent on the peculiarities of the subject being taught. Nowadays actualities are encouraging to pay attention to STEM subjects and their teacher training. For researchers and teacher training institutions, who will be interested in implementing the 4W framework in STEM subjects, it would be useful to draw attention to ‘a material-dialogic approach to pedagogy’ ( Hetherington & Wegerif, 2018, p.27 ). This approach creates the conditions for a deep learning of STEM subjects revealing additional opportunities for problem solving through values in teaching. Highlighting these opportunities is a task for further research.

In contrast to traditional problem solving models, the 4W framework is more concerned with educational purposes. The prescriptive approach to teaching ( Thorne, 1994 ) is applied to the 4W framework. This approach focuses on providing guidelines that enable students to make sound decisions by making explicit value judgements. The limitation is that the 4W framework is focused on thinking but not executing. It does not include the fifth stage, which would focus on the execution of the decision how to solve the problem. This stage may contain some deviation from the predefined process of the solution of the problem.

6. Conclusions

The current paper focuses on revealing the essence of the 4W framework, which is based on enabling the problem solver to draw attention to when, how, and why it is essential to think about values during the problem solving process from the perspective of it’s design. Accordingly, the 4W framework advocates the coherent approach when solving a problem by using a creative potential of values.

The 4W framework allows the problem solver to look through the lens of his/her values twice. The first time, while formulating the problem solving goal as the desired outcome. The second time is when the problem solver looks deeper into his/her values while exploring alternative ways to solve problems. The problem solver is encouraged to reason about, find, accept, reject, compare values, and become responsible for the consequences of the choices grounded on his/her values. Thus, the problem solver could benefit from the 4W framework especially when dealing with issues having crucial consequences.

An educational approach reveals that the 4W framework could enable the development of value-grounded problem solving capability. As problem solving encourages the development of higher-order thinking skills, the consistent inclusion of values enriches them.

The 4W framework requires the educational environments for its enablement. The enablement process of problem solving through values could be based on the perspective of conditions for the acquisition of the required knowledge and capability. Continuous practice of this framework not only encourages reflection, but can also contribute to the creation of the epistemic habit of mind. Applying the 4W framework to specific subjects in the humanities and social sciences might face less challenge than STEM ones. The issue of an educator’s competence to apply such a framework is highly important. The discussed issues present significant challenges for researchers and educators. Caring that the curriculum of different courses should foresee problem solving through values, both practicing and empirical research are necessary.

Declaration of interests

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Both authors have approved the final article.

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Cultural Differences and Problem Solving: An Interview with Jerome Vadon

Cultural Differences and Problem Solving: An Interview with Jerome Vadon

You may have seen this amazing graphic going viral in the past couple of days.

How did such a simple and funny representation of stereotype become viral so quickly?

To find out more, we interviewed it’s creator – Jerome Vadon.

1. How did you come to think about the “joke” for each country? J.V: Almost 2 years ago I posted my first language-based joke (see it here ). It was a simple one and it got very popular too (way less than the last one, but still good for a first). Later I made a fast sketch to a American friend of mine, “quick and dirty”, on “problem resolution – international techniques”, making fun of the different solutions between US, German, English and French ways of facing the same problem (it was during the crisis). Somehow this sketch ended up on the internet, and slowly became a Meme, as people modified and posted their own version of the initial four countries by adding a fifth of their own. This first sketch never intended to be published. I didn’t put a signature but I knew it was from me… That bugged me for months, then it came back again to me, through Facebook and Twitter on the same day. That was more than I was about to handle. This is how I decided to make it cleaner: the version 1. A few days after, as the sharing started to grow, I thought it was stupid to not go further and have my Facebook friends laugh all together. Then ideas started to pop into my mind… I made an update, the version 2 and then... more than 20000 shares (Facebook & Twitter). As I am quite busy, I did not really gave time to seriously make it. So I decided to take a weekend and to make it more serious. And this Sunday I released version 3. Only 72 hours after the post, V3 is has over 300,000 shares via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and all other networks... Although this is very good for the Ego, it’s more than that, I am so happy to have been able to make people laugh from all around the world, somehow together... I just love the idea!

2. What do you think these “stereotypes” about other cultures say about them AND us? J.V: Stereotypes are wonderful tools: they ease tension between nations, make defaults funny and help us face some of our most characteristic traits. They give us a fair chance to evolve, without getting angry at anyone.

They say that we are just like kids - teasing and laughing gently about each other. Nobody is perfect. And it’s probably better this way? But they also can be a deadly weapon of misleading communication. History is sadly full of examples, and we don’t have to look very far… WWII, South Africa, Serbia. Most ethnic conflicts are based on stereotypes, manipulated in an evil design. As in real life, it depends in which hands the tool is. In the case of stereotypes, humour is necessary, so that everyone, wherever they come from and wherever they are understands well the message "just for fun".

3. Do you think stereotypes are useful in any way? J.V: As soon as they are not intended to be bad or to hurt someone deliberately. Humour is always a good way for auto-critics and send “polite” message to others. Stereotypes are an opportunity for everyone to raise the question: am I really like that? For example, I became fully aware of foreigner's views about the French when I settled in Iceland. Most of my friends (not French) were always making jokes about French, their arrogant way or about their abilities to complain. I've never really thought of myself as "pure" French (which I am) and I have many times taken my distances with the behaviour of my fellow countrymen, as there is no excuse to act such a way. Then I asked myself "Am I really grumpy?" And even though I'm probably less so than the average French or most of my French friends, I discovered that I was much more than my friends in other countries! So, in this case (as often) it was true! I just have to find a way to work on my unsuspected arrogant side, and then I will be the most perfect man in the universe, and humility will be one of my greatest qualities…

4. So are you looking to add more countries? J.V: Yes. I am actually fighting to find free time to finish and release the next V4, and already have ideas for a V5. Maybe a Christmas one. As I usually like to say “shortest jokes are usually… the less long” (that sounds much better in French actually!). Seriously I got several thousand of messages, comments and ideas.

So far, they are all very political, and miss the “funny” points. If stereotypes have to be more or less accurate, they have to be funny somehow and not badly intended. I have, since V3, excellent ones for Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine. I am still thinking about the pros and cons.  Eventually I will try to make all countries, with time. Though, there is some ideas are very good, and I will probably use them to update some of the actual countries, but again, people does not see often the complexity of this joke: - It has to be funny. - It has to be accurate (more or less) and understandable by anyone, all around the world, despite culture and background. - It can be acid (or black humour), but it cannot be badly intended. I am not here to judge or take position for anyone (that’s a fine line). There is always a “recto” to any “verso”… I am not one to impose to others my point of view. That said, I want to keep my freedom and ultimately, publish what I think is funny and right.

5. Can people get involved? J.V: Sure. That why I have invited people (since V2) to send me comments, feedback, inputs and ideas. But I never promised to anyone that I will use their ideas (which would be impossible as most of them are contradictory…).

But I did patent the “concept” with an international company, based in Swiss, in order to allow me to bring the project to another level, sort of worldwide crowd sourced jokes. I will keep you update on this very fresh project in my mind… Thank you Jerome for taking the time to speak to us. And we also wanted to share what you also told us earlier, that “laugh (with love maybe) is the common point between all people, from all around the world, regardless of their origin, skin colour, nation, religion, culture and even age. I am not talking about sense of humour, which is deeply related to the previous list. Just the simple joy of laughing”. We look forward to your next versions! Follow Jerome: @jeromevadon

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Blame Culture Is Toxic. Here’s How to Stop It.

  • Michael Timms

problem solving culture definition

Reward accountability and kindness.

At work, we show kindness by doing things like paying someone a compliment with no ulterior motive or holding the door open for a colleague. Now think about the rare occasions when we’re feeling stressed and snap at a coworker or criticize their ideas. Are we still kind?

  • It turns out we may not be nearly as kind as we think we are. A study shows that the brain responds more strongly to bad experiences than good ones and that it retains the memory of bad experiences longer. In fact, about five positive experiences are equal to one negative experience.
  • While the most destructive behavior in relationships at work may be criticism or stonewalling, the most lethal is blame. We’re naturally hardwired to blame other people when things go wrong. But a bigger challenge is that we don’t realize how often we blame.
  • To eliminate blame and promote kindness on your teams, switch your mindset to a learning mindset and openly share mistakes. That way, teammates will be more likely to acknowledge their part in making a mistake, and stop passing the buck. Next, focus on what you can change. Use a systems approach to problem solving. Instead of asking, “Who’s at fault?” ask, “Where did the process break down?”

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Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .

Picture this: Your team is racing against time and working weekends to submit a new client proposal. You finally manage to put all the documents together, and just in the nick of time, you press “send.” You take a deep breath and thank the team for their hard work. The proposal looks great and you’re confident that you’ll probably win it.

problem solving culture definition

  • Michael Timms is a leadership development consultant , author, and speaker specializing in succession planning and creating accountable cultures. His latest book is How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability .

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How the Seven Reasons Restaurant Group Won a Michelin Star by Telling a Mystical Story With Food Seven Reasons co-owners Chef Enrique Limardo and Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger discuss the joy of problem-solving, the triumph of getting a Michelin star, and the power of creating an intentional culture in business.

By Shawn P. Walchef • Nov 7, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Branding starts with naming the business properly, and the story attached to the name is what makes it memorable. The mystical story behind Seven Reasons ties deeply to Chef Enrique Limardo’s belief system, making it the perfect name for the company.
  • Ezequiel Vazquez-Ger says his joy of being a problem-solver and Chef Limardo’s passion for creating great food make them a powerful team.
  • With so many moving parts, it is important for the two that Seven Reasons's culture remains intact. For Ezequiel Vázques-Ger, one of the ways to accomplish that is to ensure the employees they hire are both great workers and have their own ambitions.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Seven Reasons was built to tell a story.

Co-owned by Chef Enrique Limardo and Managing Partner Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger , the Michelin star restaurant group has a laser-focused mission to guide patrons on a culinary journey to uncover their own magical and gastronomical Seven Reasons .

Seven Reasons is not your usual dining experience; it's an exploration of the senses, a celebration of heritage, and an invitation to embark on a gastronomic adventure.

The name Seven Reasons is deeply rooted in a belief system crafted by Chef Enrique Limardo. The mystical significance of the number seven, representing the seeker always in pursuit, led to the birth of the Seven Reasons restaurant group.

The restaurant's name serves as a catalyst for a unique dialogue between the restaurant and its patrons, further fostering a memorable and personalized dining experience unlike any other.

"For me, the number seven is so strong in whatever sense that means in every culture." Chef Limardo explains to Shawn Walchef of Cali BBQ Media . "Seven is the number of the seeker; a person that is always looking for more."

The food takes guests through "a route of exquisite flavors and textures, each presented in his unique way."

The synergy between co-founders Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger and Enrique Limardo has propelled Seven Reasons into culinary prominence, even leading to a vaunted Michelin star in 2022.

Vázquez-Ger, a passionate problem-solver, found a perfect match in Limardo's dedication to creating exceptional food.

"I love fixing problems… there's nothing that satisfies me more than fixing a problem," says Vázquez-Ger. That tenacity to problem-solve couples well with Limardo's amazing culinary talents.

"When I tried Enrique's food and I saw his talent, I knew that opening a restaurant with him was going to be a success."

Together, they have forged a formidable team, making Seven Reasons a force to be reckoned with in the competitive restaurant industry.

Maintaining the unique culture of Seven Reasons is paramount for them. They emphasize the importance of hiring employees who not only excel in their roles but also harbor personal ambitions to grow in their careers.

Vázquez-Ger believes in understanding the individual goals of each team member and fostering a work environment that supports their aspirations.

This commitment to understanding and supporting the personal and professional growth of the team underscores the group's dedication to creating a holistic and thriving culinary culture and aligns well with Seven Reason's overall vision.

"I would be very happy if, one day, someone that started working for us told us on day one that at some point he wants to own his own restaurant," he says.

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About Restaurant Influencers

Restaurant Influencers is brought to you by Toast, the powerful restaurant point of sale and management system that helps restaurants improve operations, increase sales and create a better guest experience.

Toast — Powering Successful Restaurants. Learn more about Toast .

Founder of Cali BBQ Media

“Be the show, not the commercial.”

Cali BBQ Media  Founder Shawn Walchef helps brands and leaders leverage the new Business Creator Economy with strategic Smartphone Storytelling and Digital Hospitality.

His Cali BBQ restaurant company has generated more than $35 million since opening in 2008. They operate numerous locations in San Diego and beyond.

Shawn’s weekly video series Restaurant Influencers (published by Entrepreneur Media and produced by Cali BBQ Media) has been seen by over 25 million people.

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  1. Developing a Problem Solving Culture

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  2. A four-step guide to create a problem-solving work culture that

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  3. 5 Principles of a Problem Solving Culture (21-slide PowerPoint

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  1. Building a problem-solving culture that lasts

    in the problem-solving effort, and develop the organization's problem-solving muscles. An effective process for identifying and solving problems involves five steps: 1. Define the problem. Clarify what should be happening and what is happening. The gap between the two is where the problem lies. Defining the problem well ensures that the team

  2. What Does a Good Problem-Solving Culture Look Like?

    The behaviors that underlie a positive problem-solving culture, then, are visible. Those behaviors are practiced daily by everyone in the company, almost without thinking about them. Creating such a culture requires an investment in training and ongoing communications. The benefits, though, are substantial and real.

  3. How to Foster a Problem-Solving Culture in Your Organization

    Here are a few insights on why and how to master the art of problem definition: 1. Avoid Ambiguity 2. Dig Deep 3. ... Fostering a problem-solving culture within an organization requires a multi ...

  4. How a Problem-Solving Culture Takes Root

    How a Problem-Solving Culture Takes Root. By Jim Luckman and David Verble. March 4, 2014. Changing one's own leadership behaviors is no easy task, but it can be done. Leaders can shift away from giving top-down commands and solutions to a more engaging and collaborative way of addressing problems that both gets results and develops people.

  5. Engage the workforce by creating a problem-solving culture

    Organisational culture is not a plug-in. In changing your current culture into a problem-solving one, the two methods most commonly tried are top-down corporate-driven programmes with announcements, cheerleading, mass training and problem-solving specialists; and bottom-up employee involvement initiatives with rapid improvement events, we-want-your-ideas messages, and specialist facilitators.

  6. Create A Culture Of Problem-Solving

    Further, problem-solving-being a habit as much as a skill-both creates and is dependent upon a kind of culture in your classroom. To remedy the situation, and grow fruitful and happy students within the confines of the syllabus you are bound to, start to fix the problem yourself by creating an atmosphere of problem-solving in your classes.

  7. What Does a Good Problem-Solving Culture Look Like?

    The behaviours that underlie a positive problem-solving culture, then, are visible. Those behaviours are practised daily by everyone in the company, almost without thinking about them. Creating such a culture requires an investment in training and ongoing communications. The benefits, though, are substantial and real.

  8. Core Values

    Build a problem-solving culture. Problem-solving is the driver for relentless improvement. It recognizes that a gap exists between the current and desired states, requiring an iterative process to achieve the target state. Iterative Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) cycles provide the process for iterative problem-solving on small adjustments as well ...

  9. Culture and problem-solving: Congruency between the cultural ...

    This research investigates how the cultural mindset influences problem-solving. Drawing on the notion that cultural mindset influences the cognitive process individuals bring to bear at the moment of judgment, we propose that the congruency between the cultural mindset (individualistic vs. collectivistic) and problem type (rule-based vs. context-based) affects success in problem-solving.

  10. The Cultural Construction of Creative Problem-Solving: A Critical

    In delineating how creative problem-solving is culturally constructed, we use a culturally responsive analytical framework, called "culture cycle" (Markus & Hamedani, 2019; Plaut et al., 2012), to frame and analyze prior research on creativity and problem-solving. Where the word "culture" is used, we intend to align with Adams and ...

  11. Working in Diverse Teams

    Decision-making and problem-solving can be much more dynamic and successful when performed in a diverse team environment. The multiple diverse perspectives can enhance both the understanding of the problem and the quality of the solution. Yet, working in diverse teams can be challenging given different identities, cultures, beliefs, and ...

  12. Continuous Learning Culture

    Problem Solving Culture. In Lean, problem-solving is the driver for continuous improvement. It recognizes that a gap exists between the current and desired states, requiring an iterative process to achieve the target state. The steps of problem-solving are both fractal and scalable. They apply to teams trying to optimize response time in a ...

  13. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below. Step. Characteristics. 1. Define the problem. Differentiate fact from opinion. Specify underlying causes. Consult each faction involved for information. State the problem specifically.

  14. Problem Solving

    Problem solving refers to cognitive processing directed at achieving a goal when the problem solver does not initially know a solution method. A problem exists when someone has a goal but does not know how to achieve it. Problems can be classified as routine or nonroutine, and as well defined or ill defined.

  15. What is Cultural Competence and How to Develop It?

    What is culture? In 1951, Kluckhohn explained culture as sharing a pattern of thinking, feeling, reacting, and problem-solving. Culture is a dynamic relational process of shared meanings that originate in the interactions between individuals (Carpenter-Song, Schwallie, & Longhofer, 2007). ... Cultural competence: A constructivist definition.

  16. Problem solving through values: A challenge for thinking and capability

    Abstract. The paper aims to introduce the conceptual framework of problem solving through values. The framework consists of problem analysis, selection of value (s) as a background for the solution, the search for alternative ways of the solution, and the rationale for the solution. This framework reveals when, how, and why is important to ...

  17. How to Learn from Successes and Failures for Creative Problem Solving

    Feedback is essential for learning from both successes and failures. It helps you gain insights, perspectives, and suggestions from others who may have different experiences, knowledge, or skills ...

  18. Cultural and Tactical Perspectives on Problem Solving

    A successful problem solving culture requires involvement from all employees, especially those on the front lines. When it comes to the How, Jim emphasized a few pertinent points to keep in mind: Requirements. Problem-solving must be approached systematically - it's a process; Stay focused - solve meaningful problems

  19. Cultural Differences and Problem Solving: An Interview with Jerome Vadon

    To find out more, we interviewed it's creator - Jerome Vadon. 1. How did you come to think about the "joke" for each country? J.V: Almost 2 years ago I posted my first language-based joke (see it here ). It was a simple one and it got very popular too (way less than the last one, but still good for a first).

  20. PDF Definition Methods and Techniques Mindset and Culture

    establishing a problem-solving culture is necessary to keep organizations moving forward. Team-based problem-solving becomes part of daily work as employees, driven ... See below for a brief definition of various types of problem-solving methods: METHODS AND TECHNIQUES. Productivity Inc. 375 Bridgeport Avenue, 3rd Floor, Shelton, CT 06484 1-800 ...

  21. Blame Culture Is Toxic. Here's How to Stop It.

    To eliminate blame and promote kindness on your teams, switch your mindset to a learning mindset and openly share mistakes. That way, teammates will be more likely to acknowledge their part in ...

  22. Without a Problem-Solving Culture, AI Is an Expensive Mistake

    Nonetheless, managers and engineers didn't seem much interested in tackling the unplanned downtime problem. They didn't trust the data being gathered by the operators. And so, the downtime problem continued. Mostly, leaders just shook their heads and said, "Ain't it awful." That client lacked a culture of good problem-solving.

  23. How the Seven Reasons Restaurant Group Won a Michelin ...

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    The outcome. Transformational leadership capabilities - strategic alignment - engagement/empowerment - teaching and learning - gemba walks - problem solving - daily management. Develop transformational leaders, build a lean customer-focused management system, and drive long-term success. Unlock your company's potential with us.

  25. Culture: 'The Problem I Was Solving Was Making Wine Approachable,' Says

    One of the things Sarah Pierre, proprietor of 3 Parks Wine Shop in Atlanta, learned from years in the restaurant industry was never to say no to a customer. If that meant sending someone to run down the street to buy theater tickets so a dallying diner wouldn't miss their show or running to the supermarket to grab an ingredient that would delight a guest, Pierre did it.