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From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions


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The purpose of this study was to explore and develop a conceptual model for how individuals unlock insight. The concept of insight — the ‘out of the box’ or ‘aha!’ solution to a problem — offers a framework for exploring and understanding how best to enhance problem solving skills due to the cognitive shift insight requires. Creative problem solving (CPS) is inherent to a variety of performance realms including effective decision making, innovation, and organizational development; however, related processes of insight, innovation and creativity remain intangible. The model, based on a review of the problem solving literature, proposes that insight involves a five stage, cyclical process emerging as: primary appraisal of the problem, secondary appraisal based on prior knowledge, initial focus, problem representation, and solution generation when, if no solution is found, the cycle begins again. The research has implications for individual, team and organizational settings suggesting that performance on a wide variety of problems may be improved by utilizing an integrated focus rather than a barrier or goal focus alone.
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Journal of Creative Behavior
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers
as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
The purpose of this study was to explore and develop a conceptual model for
how individuals unlock insight. The concept of insight — the ‘out of the box’ or
‘aha!’ solution to a problem — offers a framework for exploring and understand-
ing how best to enhance problem solving skills due to the cognitive shift insight
requires. Creative problem solving (CPS) is inherent to a variety of performance
realms including effective decision making, innovation, and organizational devel-
opment; however, related processes of insight, innovation and creativity remain
intangible. The model, based on a review of the problem solving literature, pro-
poses that insight involves a five stage, cyclical process emerging as: primary
appraisal of the problem, secondary appraisal based on prior knowledge, initial
focus, problem representation, and solution generation when, if no solution is
found, the cycle begins again. The research has implications for individual, team
and organizational settings suggesting that performance on a wide variety of prob-
lems may be improved by utilizing an integrated focus rather than a barrier or
goal focus alone.
Keywords: insight, problem solving, creativity, decision making, problem
The concept of insight — the ‘out of the box’ or ‘aha!’ solution to a problem —
offers a framework for exploring and understanding how best to enhance prob-
lem solving skills and, consequently, performance in a variety of realms. The
sudden shift in thinking that characterizes the insightful solution seems to be an
important link in unlocking creative solutions to all manner of problems. Research-
ers of insight problem solving argue that the cognitive shift we seek happens not
at the solution end of the problem, but at the problem end. It is believed that
insight results from a restructuring or redefinition of the problem (Knoblich et al.,
Volume 44 Number 3 Third Quarter 2010
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
1999; Ohlsson, 1986) which leads to the abrupt and unanticipated change in the
solution path that leads the solver to immediate success with a problem (Weisberg,
1995). As the old adage says: a problem well defined is half solved. As such,
Wertheimer (1959) describes insight as a ‘new, more penetrating view of the
problem’, but what does ‘a more penetrating view’ really mean? And how does
one go about achieving ‘a more penetrating view’?
An historical example of creative insight occurred within the Mann Gulch fire
of 1949 and demonstrates aspects of the insight problem solving process. Mann
Gulch occurred when a wildfire in the Helena National Forest, Montana, United
States, spread out of control and ultimately claimed the lives of 13 firefighters.
Foreman Wagner Dodge led the team towards the Missouri River. The fire, how-
ever, spread faster than anticipated and had already cut off their path to safety.
The men had to turn around but the fire was quickly gaining on them. When
Dodge realized that they would not be able to outrun the fire, he started an es-
cape fire and motioned amidst the roar of the flames for everyone to lie down in
the area he was about to burn down. The other team members, thinking him
crazy, hurried towards the ridge of Mann Gulch instead (achieving heroic speeds
in their desperate attempts to escape!). Only two of them, Bob Sallee and Walter
Rumsey, managed to escape through a crevice and find a safe location — a rock
slide with little vegetation to fuel the fire. Two other members survived with heavy
injuries and died within a day. Only Dodge had the insight to remove fuel so as to
reduce the chance of being burned by the fire. Ironically the two other survivors
benefitted from the same principle that Dodge applied in his solution: though
they reached it purely by chance, the rocky slope they reached had no fuel for the
fire. Insight appears to require the ability to ‘shake loose’ from assumptions and
prior knowledge (that the problem was ‘how to outrun or escape the fire’) but,
perhaps most importantly, the ability to clearly define the problem (‘how do we
avoid being burned by the fire?’).
This study views insight as a critical component to the creative problem solv-
ing process. Creative problem solving (CPS) is an important component of high
performance in a variety of realms. The capacity for CPS is inherent to effective
decision making, innovation, and strategic planning (Ketchen, Snow & Street,
2004; Nutt, 2002, 2004; Vance, Groves, Paik & Kindler, 2007), as well as
individual physical, artistic, and mental tasks (Durand-Bush & Salmela, 2002;
D’Zurilla, & Sheedy, 1992; Kovác, 1998; Pugh, 1991; Smith, Carlsson, Sandström,
1985; Wang & Horng, 2002; Wanish, 2000); however, the creativity and insight
involved in the creative problem solving process remain intangible concepts.
Discussion abounds as to what creative problem solving involves (Callahan, 1991;
Khatena, 1982). Those familiar with the recurrent waves of interest in the field
will note an emerging framework that emphasizes divergent thinking coupled
with convergent thinking (Cropley, 1999; Runco, 2004). Divergence, or ‘out of
the box’ thinking seems to have begun with the father of brainstorming, Alex
Osborn (1963). However, others have since added to the literature on divergent
thinking including:
Journal of Creative Behavior
Bill Gordon (1956; 1961) and George Prince (1970) and their Synectics
approach which attributes creativity to connection-making
Edward deBono (1971) and the Six Hats or Lateral Thinking approach in
which creativity is described in terms of new ideas and new perceptions
Isaksen and Treffinger (1985) and Isaksen and Dorval (1994) who focus
on evaluating ideas using a Criterion Matrix
Rickards (1990) who explores intuitive and structured techniques for
‘choosing wisely’
Recently, Chrysikou (2006) found significantly positive results in training
participants to think divergently about the nature of the problem as well as
elements of the problem itself in order to ‘shake loose’ constrained thinking and
unlock creative solutions. But, while divergence — the ability to generate more
creative ideas or ‘shake loose’ from in-the-box thinking — can be useful at both
the problem and solution end of the problem solving process, it is also important
to ‘converge’ or ‘choose wisely’ from among a variety of alternatives. In general,
researchers have come to agree that training CPS involves facilitating both diver-
gent and convergent thinking skills, but it is unclear in what order or to what
extent. As well, we must be careful not to confuse creative problem solving
with creative thinking. While a certain amount of creative thinking may facilitate
problem solving, a creative solution is not necessarily the best, most in-
sightful, solution.
Those who emphasize the importance of ‘problem finding’ suggest that the
key to unlocking creative solutions lies in the reverse combination of divergence
and convergence, arguing that convergence comes first. Determining what con-
stitutes a wise solution demands convergence upon the true nature or definition
of the problem followed by the divergent generation of solutions (Basadur et al,
1982, 1992, 2000a; Kershaw & Ohlsson, 2004; Rickards & Puccio, 1991; Runco &
Chand, 1994; Volkema, 1995). Volkema (1995) cites the Challenge Shuttle disas-
ter when explaining the importance of problem formulation as a means to effec-
tive problem solving:
Preceding the fatal launch, there was considerable discussion regarding the
technical performance of Challenger’s O-rings in cold temperatures. Key
decision makers, however, were concerned about several previous launch
delays and about jeopardizing other scheduled missions. Furthermore,
political support for the space shuttle program could be bolstered if the
launch was to coincide with the president’s State-of-the-Union message. The
problem quickly became how to convince those engineers concerned
with the O-rings to go along with the launch, the corrupting lie, rather than
exploring ways to gain favorable publicity and ensure future missions
(p. 82-83).
Because problem formulation is an important component of the creative
problem solving process and the phenomena of insight depends upon problem
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
formulation, insight represents a productive pathway of exploration. How one
arrives at or changes one’s definition of a problem remains elusive. Therefore,
the purpose of this literature review was to explore and develop a conceptual
model for how individuals unlock insight. The guiding questions for the study
were (1) What differentiates one problem definition from another? and (2) What
impedes or enables a problem solver’s ability to formulate a problem in a way
that solves the ‘right’ problem and results in a creative breakthrough as opposed
to a ‘corrupting lie’? The study drew upon theories of cognition and information
processing and sought to enlarge the theory of problem solving by building upon
the restructuring (Mumford et al., 1994; Ohlsson, 1996) and constraint relaxation
literature (Knoblich et al., 1999).
Insight is of particular interest due to implications for related areas of creativ-
ity, learning, and performance. For instance, the divergence, openness, loose-
ness, or ‘breadth of attentional focus’ typical of the creative thinker is enhanced
further with the unlocking of insight into the nature of the problem and would be
quite useful in a number of performance realms. Various explanations share the
view that the locus of insight difficulty is centered on the solver’s constrained
representation or formulation of the problem, though each points to different con-
straints (prior experience, perception, and assumptions) (MacGregor et al., 2001).
If generating sustainable solutions depends upon how the problem is defined, it is
important to understand the process of problem formulation and its consequences
for the problem solving process as a whole. Building upon the current theoretical
framework surrounding insight, the following section reviews the literature on the
topics of: the nature of insight, the insight process, obstacles to insight, and how
insight may be facilitated.
Creative problem solving requires a certain shift in thinking or letting go of
assumptions about the problem and its potential solutions at the same time as it
requires a sudden clarity of problem definition characterized as insight or the
‘aha’ moment. Many cognitive psychologists agree that insight plays a necessary
role in the development of creative solutions (Dominowski, 1995; Ohlsson, 1992;
Knoblich, Ohlsson, Haider, & Rhenius, 1999; Schooler & Melcher, 1995; Sternberg
& Davidson, 1995; Sternberg & Lubart, 1996). For Schooler, Ohlsson, and Brooks
(1993), the insight problem solving process involves:
a) a solution well within the competence of the average subject;
b) a high probability of an ‘impasse’, that is, a state in which the subject
does not know what to do next; and
c) an ‘Aha!’ experience resulting from sustained effort in which the impasse
is suddenly broken and insight into the solution is rapidly attained.
Journal of Creative Behavior
As well, the insightful solution seems to differ from a merely creative solution
or idea by being sustainable, systemic, and somewhat elegant. For instance, in
the Mann Gulch example, a creative solution would be to ‘airlift’ the firefighters
out of danger, but this solution is not systemic as it does not take into consider-
ation all aspects of the problem. For one of the problems in the study, the chal-
lenge was to secure a screw in a too-large hole. A creative solution would be to
jam a screwdriver into the hole to make it smaller, but this is not sustainable or
elegant because the screwdriver might fall out, and besides, who would want a
screwdriver sticking out of their living room wall? The NASA example needed a
systemic solution that took all stakeholders into account.
There exist a number of examples of creative insight from which we can gain a
more thorough understanding of the insight process:
Example 1: An example of insight occurred within NASA during the early days
of the space program. Scientists tried to solve the problem of heat
of re-entry by devising a substance that could withstand heat, and
met with repeated failure. Their ultimate solution — the ablative heat
shield that burns away as the space vehicle penetrates the atmo-
sphere, taking the heat with it — turned upside down their original
problem definition of ‘how to withstand the heat.’
Example 2: A large healthcare facility was operating with success in a large
urban centre (Caldwell et al., 2007). The centre employed over 1000
doctors and several thousand nurses and staff. A smaller health
center opened within the same area, offering good care at a reduced
rate, and soon lured a good portion of the clientele away from the
larger centre. One can imagine the implications that attempting cost
cutting would have upon both employee and client satisfaction.
A more insightful solution found the larger centre focusing instead
upon quality. Their new mandate of offering ‘quality care at a
moderate rate’ found commitment from organizational members
and was implemented over 2 years with a positive response
from clientele.
These examples suggest that the sustainable solution is one that shows insight
by illustrating a profound understanding of the problem at its core, and
sustainability by offering a practical and enduring application that is systemic
in nature.
The insightful problem-solving process has been proposed to involve three main
phases (Schooler, Ohlsson, and Brooks; 1993):
a) an initial representation phase, in which the solver inappropriately rep-
resents the problem
b) an initial search through the faulty problem space that may lead to im-
d) and a post-impasse restructuring phase.
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
There are gaps in the research concerning what factors might influence both
the representation and the restructuring phases and how these factors may be
facilitated more effectively to produce an insightful solution.
Problem Representation
If a problem solver develops a correct representation of a problem, the rel-
evant operators will be activated. Getzels (1982) coined ‘problem construction’,
Mumford and colleagues (1994) introduced ‘problem representations’, and Keeney
(1982) and Volkema (1997) ‘problem formulation’. Many have experienced the
phenomenon in which one has a problem and goes about searching for some-
thing to fix the problem. Or, in the words of one colleague, “I don’t know what I
am looking for but I know it is somewhere on this workbench.” Getzels (1975)
provides an excellent illustration of how problem construction sets the problem
solver up for insight:
An automobile is traveling on a deserted country road and blows a tire. The
occupants of the automobile go to the trunk and discover that there is no
jack. They define their dilemma by posing the problem: “Where can we get
a jack?” The look about, see some empty barns but no habitation, and
recall that, several miles back they had passed a service station. They
decide to walk back to the station to get a jack. While they are gone, an
automobile coming from the other direction also blows a tire. The occu-
pants of this automobile discover that they have no jack. They define their
dilemma by posing the problem: “How can we raise the automobile?” They
look around and see, adjacent to the road, a barn with a pulley for lifting
bales of hay to the loft. They roll the automobile to the barn, raise it on the
pulley, change the tire, and drive off (p. 38).
How solvers represent the problem determines the solution path. The way in
which the two groups constructed the problem (i.e. we must have a jack to solve
this problem vs. we must raise the car somehow to solve this problem) confirms
that though various explanations point to different constraints (prior experience,
problem display, assumptions), all share the view that the locus of problem diffi-
culty is centered on the solver’s constrained representation of the problem
(MacGregor et al., 2001).
Problem Search and Impasse
Problems demanding insight all seem to possess an impasse or a point at
which the problem solver gets ‘stuck’. Solvers meet with impasse when they have
incorrectly represented the problem. For instance, in the NASA example above,
the impasse seemed to occur at the realization that ‘there is no material that can
withstand the heat.’ Breaking through an impasse requires insight into the true
nature of the problem. Breaking through the NASA impasse required that
the engineers consider moving beyond the goal of ‘heat tolerance’ and toward
Journal of Creative Behavior
‘heat absorption.’ Problem solving often unfolds in a way that reflects the need to
overcome the imperatives of past experience. The thinker begins by exploring
the approaches to the problem suggested by past experience. When success does
not follow, he or she enters an impasse, a state of mind that is accompanied by a
subjective feeling of not knowing what to do and the cessation of overt problem-
solving behaviour (Ohlsson, 1992). Theorists suggest that breaking the impasse
may demand a restructuring of the problem representation or a relaxing of cogni-
tive constraints.
Problem Restructuring
Continued attention to the problem sometimes leads to restructuring and the
appearance of a new idea, solution, or approach in consciousness. If the restruc-
turing turns out to be unhelpful, the impasse continues. However, if the new idea
does point the way to a solution, goal attainment is likely to be purposeful and
swift, in marked contrast to the hesitation and passivity of the impasse phase
(Knoblich, Ohlsson, Haider, & Rhenius, 1999). Several researchers in creative
problem solving suggest that restructuring or the formation of a new representa-
tion of the problem is the only manner by which activation can be redirected
(Ohlsson, 1984;1992). Some theories propose that the restructuring phase
involves controlled search processes (Davidson, 1995; Kaplan & Simon, 1990),
whereas other theories propose that restructuring is achieved through the auto-
matic redistribution of activation in long-term memory (Ohlsson, 1992; Seifert,
Meyer, Davidson, Patalano, &Yaniv, 1995) and constraint relaxation (Knoblich, &
Haider, 1996; Knoblich, Ohlsson, Haider, & Rhenius, 1999). Many have suggested
ways to achieve a new view of the problem (Clement, 1982, 1991; Newell and
Simon, 1972; Schoenfeld, 1982; Schoenfeld and Hermann, 1982). While helpful,
creative idea generation, divergence training, or simply ‘shaking loose’ from one’s
problem representation is not specific enough to lead to an insightful solution.
Wertheimer (1959) articulated well the challenge we face in attempting to train
creative problem solving: insight results from not only a new view of the problem
but the sudden realization of ‘a new, more penetrating view of a problem situa-
tion’. It seems that true insight involves insight into the nature of the problem. It
remains unclear how to go about restructuring a problem representation in a way
that is insightful.
Exploring obstacles to insight and what is believed to be happening within the
impasse stage may illustrate how a more insightful representation of the problem
may be facilitated. Though theories abound, what happens between the impasse
and ‘aha!’ moments remains a mystery to insight researchers. Kershaw and
Ohlsson (2004) distinguish three classes of difficulty factors in solving insight
problems: prior knowledge, perception of the problem, and processing of the
problem information.
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
Prior Knowledge
Prior knowledge or the experiences, beliefs, and assumptions that individuals
bring to a task, can support or constrain insight and the problem solving process
in general. Familiarity with or prior knowledge of the problem components should
hypothetically enhance participants’ performance (i.e. knowledge of mechanics
would assist a person in fixing a car problem). Alternatively, it could be argued
that familiarity may breed ‘fixation’ (Dominowski,1981) and lack of creativity (i.e.
assuming that a brick can only be used for building). Successful experiments,
begun as early as the 1920s by Gestalt psychologists Karl Duncker (1941) and,
later, Abraham Luchins (1942), demonstrated that habitual use of familiar
objects and problem-solving strategies limits the ways individuals employ them.
Psychologist Jennifer Wiley (1998) revived Duncker and Luchins’ work with a
study investigating the relation between expertise and blindness to alternatives.
Wiley found that “experts generally solve problems in their fields more effectively
than novices because their well-structured, easily activated knowledge allows
for efficient search of a solution space” (p. 716). Subjects with a large amount
of domain knowledge may actually be at a disadvantage because their knowl-
edge may confine them to an area of the search space in which the solution
does not reside.
Prior experience can lead a solver to make assumptions about the nature of
the problem which are inappropriate and constrain the problem representation
leading to a faulty search and impasse. Hashem, Chi and Friedman (2003) found
that physicians within a given specialty have a bias in diagnosing cases outside
their own domain as being within that domain and try to ‘pull’ cases toward their
specialty. In this way, domain knowledge may act as a mental set, promoting
fixation in problem solving attempts. In previous work, Ohlsson (1992) proposed
that past experience or prior knowledge biases the initial analysis and interpreta-
tion of a problem or a situation in particular ways. The initial interpretation con-
structs a problem representation which then activates potentially useful knowledge
elements (categories, chunks, concepts, constraints, methods, operators, proce-
dures, rules, schemas, etc.). These knowledge elements implicitly define a
space of possible solutions. If past experience is not helpful vis-à-vis the problem,
that initial problem space does not contain a workable solution and an impasse
will result.
Gestalt theory would suggest that problem representation is constructed based
on a number of factors that influence an individual’s perception. Max Wertheimer,
together with Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler, was the founder of Gestalt theory.
In his (1912) ‘Experimentelle Studien über das Sehen von Bewegung’ he exam-
ined the phenomenon of apparent motion, where a pair of alternately flashing
lights stimulate a perception of a single light moving back and forth. Wertheimer
recognized that this phenomenon revealed a constructive or generative aspect of
perception. DeBono (2005), father of lateral thinking, argued that “the majority
Journal of Creative Behavior
of mistakes in ordinary thinking (outside technical matters) are mistakes in per-
ception. Our traditional emphasis on logic does little for perception. If the percep-
tion is inadequate, no amount of excellence in logic will make up for that
deficiency”. Perception is biased by prior knowledge and appraisal. How one ap-
praises the problem determines how one might go about representing the prob-
lem which in turn determines how one might go about searching for and seeing
potential solutions.
How one represents or defines the problem (we need a jack vs we need to raise
the car) determines attentional focus (focusing on finding a jack vs. focusing on
raising the car). Focus in turn determines the degree and kind of cognitive con-
straint (only a jack will work vs. there are many ways to raise a car), and influ-
ences creativity (where can I find a jack? vs. how else can we raise the car?). If
you are not looking in the right direction it does not matter how clever you are,
you will not see what you need to see. Perception, therefore, seems to offer a
pivotal point of leverage for impacting problem representation. It is important to
understand what factors influence how an individual perceives a problem and
whether or not it is possible to facilitate the perception process in a way that
reflects insight into the nature of the problem and consequently promotes both
an insightful representation of the problem and an insightful solution.
Processing of Problem Information
Processing of the problem information is mediated by a variety of cognitive
and physiological processes that serve to either enhance or constrain the insight
problem solving process. How one interprets an event or a problem is the
result of infinite factors as seen above and can change from one day to the next.
Researchers have illustrated that conciseness of problem representation also var-
ies with ‘experience level’ in the areas of accounting (Choo & Tan, 1995; Choo &
Trotman, 1991; Christ, 1993; Chung & Monroe, 2000; Lehman & Norman, 2006),
academics (Gagne et al., 1993), foreign policy (Sylvan & Voss, 1998), and medi-
cine (Bordage, 1994; Boshuizen & Schmidt, 1992; Rickers et al., 2003; Schmidt,
Norman & Boshuizen, 1990, 1993; Van de Weil et al., 2000). Myriad personality,
temperament, socio-cultural, and genetic factors may be influencing the mecha-
nism of cognitive appraisal (Cloninger, Przybeck, & Svrakic, 1993; Penley &
Tomaka, 2002); Svrakic, Svrakic, and Cloninger (1996) found that their factors
of temperament were invariant despite socio-cultural influences. A colleague
described how, though he was able to solve a coin problem in his colleague’s
office, when asked to do so in front of a classroom of students, he was not able to
solve it, despite his earlier success that very day. Leverage for changing personal
or biological factors impacting appraisal and perception may be elusive due to
their sheer complexity and number. However, it is not so much what causes the
imposition of cognitive constraints that concerns us, but rather that such an
imposition indeed takes place and how it might be possible to resolve imposed
constraints or at least navigate past them to a clarified view of the problem.
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
Exploring information processing mechanisms offers a window into how per-
ception works and what perceptual factors may be influenced to facilitate greater
insight. According to the theory of cognitive appraisal, perception is governed by
cognitive, emotional and physiological factors. An individual first appraises a situ-
ation as threatening or not, then appraises his resources for resolving the threat
(Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). If an individual appraises a problem as ‘threatening’
and then appraises it as ‘beyond his locus of control,’ he becomes hypervigilant
to threat cues, and his attention narrows (Ansburg, 2002; Easterbrook, 1959;
Eysenck & Calvo, 1992; Hertel, Mathews, Peterson, & Kintner, 2003; Mogg,
Mathews, Bird, & Macgregor-Morris, 1990) resulting in a limited capacity to utilize
cues as they are presented and negatively impacting performance (Ansburg, 2000;
Baumeister, 1984; Mednick, 1962). In this way, perceived stress has been shown
to impact perception and focus.
Attentional Focus
If one is too busy focusing on the obstacles, it is impossible to see the open-
ings. Knoblich, Ohlsson and Raney (2001), in a study of problem solving found
that ‘gaze’ predicted problem solving ability. They concluded that a problem
solver’s focus (in the case of matchstick problems upon either the number or the
operand) was a critical factor in the problem solving process. A threat appraisal
can cause the individual to focus unproductively and debilitatively on, among
other things, the stress itself (Jones & Swain, 1992, 1995; Jones, Swain, & Hardy,
1993a, 1993b), associated negative emotions, thoughts or images (Hayes, Barnes-
Holmes, & Roche, 2001), the step-by-step processes of a task (Wulf, McNevin,
and Shea, 2001), or distractions such as the crowd or external expectations
(Eysenck, 1992). A threat appraisal can also cause the solver to fixate on prema-
ture solutions or representations of the problem, making it difficult to see the
problem for what it truly is (Ormerod et al., 2002). Focus offers a point of
leverage in facilitating insight.
Positive Interpretation
Accepting or positively interpreting perceived threats appears to free up the
cognitive resources required to focus on the task at hand (Bond & Bunce, 2003;
Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001; Jones, Swain, & Hardy, 1993b; Macleod
& Mathews, 1988; Walinga, 2008). However, the mechanism that enables indi-
viduals to accept or positively appraise stressors and thereby sustain a more pro-
ductive focus eludes researchers. Studies in performance and problem solving
have demonstrated that focusing on perceived threats diverts attention from goal
achievement thereby detracting from performance (Baumeister, 1984; Eysenck,
1992; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001; Jones & Swain, 1992; Wulf, McNevin,
and Shea, 2001); however, efforts to focus solely on the goal when a threatening
barrier exists have proven ineffective because the act of replacing the negative
with the positive also diverts energy and focus from the task at hand (Baumeister
Journal of Creative Behavior
et al., 2001; Beilock, Afremow, Rabe, & Carr, 2001). Focus seems to offer a start-
ing point for facilitating insight but it is difficult to simply ‘shift’ focus because
threat focus overpowers a goal focus. In fact, threatening information receives
more processing and contributes more strongly to the final impression than posi-
tive information, perhaps explaining the phenomena of ‘fixation’ and ‘rumina-
tion’ (Dominowski, 1981) — the experience of going over and over a problem in
one’s mind while lying awake in bed at night. Attempting to override an individual’s
need to address perceived threats will likely result in resistance (Baumeister et al,
2001). The question arises whether it is possible to influence attentional focus in
a way that accommodates or relaxes the strength of a threat focus.
Divergence Training
The emerging challenge for training CPS has been how to facilitate the diver-
gence necessary to cast a wide attentional net, along with the convergence that
enables one to choose well among many alternative solutions. Scott, Leritz, &
Mumford (2004) performed a meta-analysis of creativity training programs and,
based upon 70 studies, found that successful programs were likely to focus on
both idea generation (divergence) and cognitive skills training. Chrysikou (2006)
found that divergence training with a specific focus on elements of a problem (i.e.
how else might one use a matchbox?) helps the solver to reach insight. But, while
a correlation may exist between divergent thinking and creativity (Feldhusen &
Clinkenbeard, 1986; Harrington, Block & Block, 1983; Mednick, 1959), insight
does not appear to be a function of divergent thinking alone. For instance, Fontenot
(2001) found that creative problem solving skill depended upon a combination
of fluency in data and problem finding (number of ideas and problem representa-
tions), flexibility in problem finding (variety of ideas and problem representa-
tions), and quality of problem statement (degree to which the needs and motives
were satisfied as established by the owner, goal and constraints of the final prob-
lem statement). Divergence applied to the problem representation (Ansburg,
2000) will not ensure an insightful problem representation or that a solution will
be found. The ability to think of many ideas, or to link remote ideas, does not
necessarily mean one is creative or insightful (Feldhusen & Clinkenbeard, 1986).
While a solver may stumble upon an insightful representation of a problem through
exercises in divergent thinking, we are concerned with a more intentional process
that leads a person more directly to the insightful representation of a problem.
While divergent training programs like Synectics ask for a suspension of judg-
ment, openness and divergence of thinking (Harriman & Mauzy, 2003; Hicks,
1991; Nolan, 1989), the Synectic approach is an imposed open mindedness as
opposed to an emergent openness. Not everyone responds to being told to think
openly. We have also seen that a threat focus makes such a voluntary shift diffi-
cult (Baumeister, 2001). However, most people have the capacity to think openly
and thus could be facilitated to open up their thinking processes. In line with all
great pedagogical theory, in order to truly understand, a learner must navigate
their own path to a solution.
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
Constraint Relaxation
Theorists argue that the key to facilitating insight and overcoming impasse is
constraint relaxation (Ohlsson, 1984; 1992). Constraint relaxation is based on
the idea that an impasse can be broken if certain constraints can be relaxed. For
example, opening a door is normally subject to the constraint that the door should
not become damaged in the process. In an emergency, it might be necessary to
relax this constraint and break through a locked door. In this type of situation,
problem solving might be less a matter of searching among possibilities than of
redefining what to search for. To break through a locked door in time, one should
perhaps search for an axe rather than a key. Knoblich and colleagues (1996)
argue that arriving at the need to search for an axe requires that the constraint to
avoid damaging the door be relaxed by realizing that it does not matter if the door
is damaged. However, it is very difficult to identify constraining assumptions by
their very sub-cognitive nature. In fact, the process of relaxing constraints may be
more complex than is presumed and may represent the crux of problem solving.
Constraining assumptions seem to be linked to problem representation (I need
to unlock this door but I cannot damage the door therefore the problem is finding
a key). If one is able to inquire into one’s constrained representation (the problem
is there is no key) one can reveal underlying assumptions (this is based on the
assumption that I need a key to open a door) and the barriers this assumption
helps to construct (there is no key). By exploring the constrained representation
itself, it may be possible to reveal the problems this representation and resulting
barrier pose to one’s goal of reaching safety which would help the solver to relin-
quish assumptions, release from a threat focus, and define the problem in a way
that would promote more productive solutions (without a key, the fundamental
problem is how can we get through this door?) Therefore problem representa-
tion, assumptions, and focus emerge as important factors to explore in this study
of insight and creative problem solving.
Cognitive Readiness
A certain amount of cognitive readiness may also be necessary to both seek
insightful problem representations and see insightful solutions as they arise. One
might argue that the ability to see insightful solutions is predicated upon the
insightful representation. Pasteur once said “Dans les champs d l’observation, le
hazard ne favourise que les esprits prepares” — “In the field of observation, chance
favours only the prepared mind” (Vallery-Radot, 1939). The American physicist
Joseph Henry (1797-1898) echoed this axiom when he said “the seeds of great
discoveries are constantly floating around us, but they only take root in minds
well- prepared to receive them.” How many others alongside Newton had also
witnessed an apple fall from a tree? The problem must be represented in such a
way that the solver is not only generating viable solutions but also ‘ready’ to see
the sustainable solution as it emerges (Seifert et al., 1995). Ohlsson (1992)
extends the definition of insight to one of ‘full insight’ which consists of the break-
ing of the impasse plus the completion of the entire solution in the mind’s eye.
Journal of Creative Behavior
Ohlsson points out that sometimes solvers continue to struggle even after break-
ing the impasse or cognitive constraint. Ormerod and colleagues (2002) show
how, ‘even when a move capture(d) the conceptual insight necessary to solve the
problem’, the solver would often return to the original constrained thinking (p.
798) further supporting the power of threat focus and ‘fixation’. In this case the
impasse is broken accidentally or without the awareness of the solver. Such a
concept points to Ormerod and colleagues’ (2002) suggestion that a certain level
of preparedness is necessary for full insight to occur: the solver must be ready to
see that an impasse has in fact been broken and that a whole new realm of solu-
tion possibilities are available. Ohlsson, Ormerod and colleagues add to the case
against divergence applied to problem representation suggesting that the solver
must be intentional in their representation of the problem in order to recognize
that an impasse has been broken.
Solvers must also be ready to restructure their problem representation. Navi-
gating one’s way past imposed constraints may demand a certain ‘letting go’ of
assumptions about the nature of the problem itself. Perhaps the problem finding
process may be more accurately described as a route finding process as well as a
root finding process, in that we must navigate a pathway through the perception
process to a more fundamental representation of the problem.
The mechanism whereby one might become ready to restructure a problem
representation may exist within the problem itself. Ormerod and colleagues (2002)
point to an unusual approach: failure. Ormerod and colleagues (2002) suggest
that meeting with failure can inspire the solver to look for alternative solution
paths, or ‘let go’ of their fixation on a pathway that is ineffective. With failure,
individuals may be driven to restructure the initial representation of the problem
and open up their attentional focus. Gary Klein (1996), in his work on non-linear
problem solving, also proposes that possibilities for solution reside within failure
for “as options are generated and rejected, the reasons for the failures will sug-
gest ways of changing the course of action, while at the same time changing the
way the goal is perceived” (p. 199). MacGregor and colleagues (2001), and
Knoblich and colleagues (1999) suggest that experiencing ‘criterion failure’ may
induce an impulse to ‘seek alternatives’ while creating ‘a state of preparedness
that disposes the solver to attend to solution-relevant information’. However, if
a state of mental readiness is necessary for capitalizing upon novel, solution-
relevant information, while it is suggested that ‘repeated failure’ can serve to relax
constraints, unless the underlying mechanism of appraisal causing constraints is
changed, the solver may simply impose new constraints (i.e. we must find some-
thing like a jack to fix a flat tire). It is not clear in either of these studies how or
whether criterion failure serves to generate a ‘state of preparedness’.
Intriguing is the concept of solution within failure. Perhaps within failure, the
problem presents itself again and demands a fresh approach or at least forces
the solver to re-evaluate the true nature of the problem. In the case of the flat tire,
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
having no recollection of a service station would mean criterion failure, offering a
prime opportunity to not only restructure but to reevaluate the fundamental prob-
lem. The group might simply look for other ways to find a jack, or they might ask
‘Why do we need a jack anyway? What else could we use?’ Criterion failure may
not only signal the ‘need to abandon the current operator and to search for an
alternative operator’, but may also reveal the root problem. It may be most pos-
sible to facilitate a shift in problem perception and representation at the point of
failure because the threat becomes hopeless and no longer worth focusing upon.
Simply asking people to reconstruct the problem without facilitating an actual
shift in cognitive bias or focus may result in a construction still focused on the
threat ( i.e. ‘where else can we get a jack?’ or ‘how can we make a jack?’) Shifting
representation of the problem can occur by exploring actual threats and not only
serves to restructure the problem representation, but does so free of constraints:
‘what if there is no jack?’ ‘what is the problem this creates?’, the answer being
‘because we need to lift the car in order to change the tire’ which is the insightful
problem representation. If there had been no way of getting a jack, the group
would have met with criterion failure and would have been forced to accept ‘no
jack’ as a reality rather than as a problem. Accepting the barrier as a reality in
turn leads to a new focus of ‘what problem does this barrier pose to the original
goal of this problem?’ and a new problem representation of ‘how to lift the car
without a jack.’ Once the group constructs the problem in this new, more pen-
etrating manner, they are mentally prepared to ‘see’ the barn and all of the ‘lift-
ing’ possibilities held within it. In this way, the threat focus can act as a pathway to
the ‘more penetrating view’ of the problem, relaxing constrained thinking and
facilitating the cognitive readiness to both re-represent the problem and see in-
sightful solutions.
Helping the solver to see that representing the problem as barrier leads to fail-
ure, and then using that barrier as a pathway to a new representation of the prob-
lem may increase capacity to process problem information and activate prior
knowledge (Eubanck, Collins, & Smith, 2000; Eysenck & Calvo, 1992; Mogg,
Mathews, Bird, & Macgregor-Morris, 1990). The key to removing constraints upon
problem representation may lie within the constraints themselves. Therefore, along
with the concepts of prior knowledge, perception, information processing, and
attentional focus this study explored factors of cognitive readiness, barriers and
failure as they relate to problem solving and insight.
The key to the cognitive shift required to achieve insight seems to be both a
root and route finding process. It is important not simply to return the solver to
the root problem, but to help them navigate the various assumptions, constraints,
and appraisals that they naturally make during the problem solving process in a
way that leads them to both an acceptance of perceived barriers and a view of the
root problem or an ‘integrated focus’. In fact, a perceived barrier may elucidate
the root problem for a problem solver. We propose that the pathway to creative
Journal of Creative Behavior
insight involves the following cyclic stages:
a) Primary and Secondary Appraisal (using prior knowledge)
b) Initial Focus and Representation (barrier or problem focused)
c) Solution Generation (impasse or insight)
d) Re-appraisal (of result and resources)
e) Re-focus and Re-representation (barrier, non, integrated)
f) Solution Re-generation (impasse, insight, or stuck)
appraisal of
appraisal of
primary and
re-focuses and
FIGURE 1. Problem solving pathways.
Figure 1 illustrates and describes the proposed insight process. In the first cycle,
the solver primarily appraises the problem (i.e. is this a problem?), draws on prior
knowledge and assumptions as part of secondary appraisal of the problem (i.e.
I’ve seen this before . . . this means . . . I usually), initially focuses and represents
the problem in a constrained (i.e. therefore the problem must be . . .) or uncon-
strained manner (i.e. I’ve never seen this before . . . what is the problem?), gener-
ates solutions and either meets with a barrier due to constrained thinking (i.e. but
this solution isn’t working!) or attains insight (i.e. aha!). In the second cycle, if the
solver meets with a barrier, she then moves into the first cycle again and re-
appraises the result and her resources. At this point, she may appraise the barrier
as threatening or non threatening. If she appraises the barrier as threatening, she
will continue to attempt to overcome it. Is she accepts the barrier as non threaten-
ing, she is able to consider the barrier as a reality and consider the problems it
poses to the initial goal or challenge. If she appraises her lack of ability to over-
come the barrier as threatening, she will attempt to increase her ability and ‘try
harder’ to overcome the barrier. In this way she re-focuses and re-represents the
problem as either the barrier (i.e. this is the only way, I have to make this strategy
work!), or a lack of solution / lack of ability (i.e. this isn’t possible! I suck! I need to
try harder), or a need to refocus (i.e. this doesn’t seem to be working, there must
be another way to make this work), or the problem the barrier poses to the goal
(i.e. this doesn’t seem to be working . . . if I can’t do this, what’s the real problem?)
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
Our conceptual model proposed that the cognitive mechanisms of appraisal
and focus determine readiness to both seek and see insightful solutions, resulting
in either a state of insight, impasse, or being stuck. At the point of impasse, the
individual cycles through the phases having either a) re-focused and restructured
the problem representation or b) retained the same problem representation but
with renewed vigour or c) reached a point of complete failure or ‘stuckedness’.
Being stuck describes the state an individual reaches in which they ‘give up’ or
throw up their hands in defeat because they see no alternative. At times, impasse
seems to facilitate further restructuring and insight by causing individuals to
accept and move beyond their barrier representation of the problem; at other
times impasse leads to renewed efforts to overcome the barrier. Because over-
coming the barrier is usually unsustainable or impossible, this avenue eventually
leads to re-representation or a state of being stuck. For instance, after ‘pushing
through several injuries’ an individual may become exhausted and have a
complete physical breakdown. The breakdown may lead to a restructuring,
insightful representation of the problem, and more integrated focus (i.e. what
problems does my inability to work create for me and how can I solve these given
my injured status?) The breakdown may also lead to a feeling of being stuck (i.e.
I am useless).
It appears that threat appraisal plays a role in how strongly an individual clings
to their constrained representation and barrier focus. If the barrier is perceived as
very threatening then the tendency would be to focus on the barrier with great
intensity. Asking a person to let go of the barrier would be unproductive since
attempting to override the individual’s need to address perceived threats will likely
result in resistance (Baumeister, 1984; Baumeister et al, 2001). In order to facili-
tate a more integrated focus, it may be necessary to ‘drill down’ through the con-
strained representation or ‘unpack’ the barrier to better understand what problems
it poses to the original goal of the problem. Unpacking the barrier exposes, clarifies
and elucidates the individual’s actual challenge or goal. Utilizing the barrier as a
pathway to a more goal oriented representation of the challenge still enables the
individual to address the threatening nature of the barrier while moving toward a
new, more productive representation of the challenge. Understanding what goals
the barrier is threatening will serve to represent the problem more insightfully.
Checking assumptions can be helpful, but it is also important to see the con-
straint one has set up because of the assumption. “Perspective transformation is
the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions have
come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world;
changing these structures of habitual expectation to make possible a more inclu-
sive, discriminating, and integrating perspective; and, finally, making choices or
otherwise acting upon these new understandings” (Cranton, 1994, p. 22). While
assumptions may well impact and constrain cognitive processing on ill-defined
problems (Bowe et al, 2003; Schommer, 1990), checking assumptions, though
important, may not always realistic.
Journal of Creative Behavior
Researchers have found that solvers would at times represent the problem cor-
rectly but would be unable to generate creative solutions. At this point, a brain-
storming intervention may help. Presently, creative problem solving strategies
focus on generating creative solutions to a problem at the outset. While it is pos-
sible to intuitively arrive at a problem representation or an insightful solution,
such a strategy is unreliable and at times the problem solver seems ‘surprised’
when arriving at the answer. While it is possible to ‘stumble upon a solution’ it is
just as easy to stumble past it. Divergence and openness can be helpful to the
problem solving process, but alone creativity exercises and strategies are not
enough to ensure an insightful solution. Creativity may not be productive or pur-
poseful until after the problem has been represented correctly and focus has been
recomposed to include both the barrier and the goal. It is not enough to simply
see the solution or see the problem, one has to be ready to see solutions due to a
clear representation of the problem, or ready to see and pursue the problem due
to confidence in personal resources. At this point of insightful representation of
the problem, it is believed that creativity exercises such as divergent thinking and
brainstorming would be most effective.
One further theme emerging is the idea that each individual must follow their
own path to the solution. A certain level of failure seems to be necessary before
solvers are willing to move on or release a strategy that was not productive. Solv-
ers perhaps need to recognize the failure of their solutions before they are willing
to attempt other solutions or recognize the barrier as a barrier rather than as the
actual problem. Some solvers may be unable to accept failure. For instance, even
when it is clear that a strategy will not work, some solvers may continue to try to
make their strategy work. Perhaps in time, they would come to recognize the
immovability of these barriers, reach an impasse, accept the barrier, and recon-
struct the problem more insightfully. Perhaps a certain level of self efficacy (belief
in one’s ability to and resources for addressing a challenge, Bandura, 1980; Lazarus
& Folkman, 1984) is required in order for individuals to let go of uncontrollable
threats. Such individuals may be better able to tolerate a level of uncontrollability
because, though they do not necessarily know what alternative solutions exist,
they are confident in their ability to generate ‘some kind of alternative solution
somehow.’ Alternatively, perhaps a high internal locus of control leads such an
individual to believe that ‘there must be some way to make this work.’ Opportuni-
ties for leverage are limited, however, for it is difficult to change or enhance self
efficacy or locus of control especially when under time constraints posed by an
athletic, professional or academic challenge. The present research suggests that
manipulating focus may be a more productive avenue for facilitating problem
solving outcome.
In order to ‘drill down’ or ‘unpack’ perceived barriers and the threats associ-
ated with these, the question: “what problems does this barrier pose to your over-
all goal?” would appear to offer leverage for clarifying the actual goals that the
barrier is threatening, thereby clarifying the actual problem. Unpacking the threat
From Walls to Windows: Using Barriers as Pathways to Insightful Solutions
both addresses perceived threats and generates a pathway to the goals that the
threat threatens, bypassing constrained thinking and the barriers that constrained
thinking constructs as illustrated in Figure 2.
FIGURE 2. Achieving an Integrated Focus.
In the example of the Mann Gulch fire from our introduction, only Dodge was
able to appraise the barrier that they could not outrun the fire as a reality, not a
threat. He re-represented the problem as the challenge this reality created for
him: the prospect of being consumed by the fire. His younger crewmembers re-
mained focused on the barrier. For them the problem became escape (how can
we run faster? How else can we escape?) causing them to lose sight of the root
problem of how to avoid burning. Appraising the barrier as reality rather than a
threat perhaps allowed Dodge to focus upon the goal of survival and the need to
remove fuel so as to reduce the chance of being burned by the fire.
Knoblich and colleagues (2001) prefer the hypothesis that “initial representa-
tions are inappropriate or misleading rather than incomplete, and thus have to be
deactivated or inhibited rather than extended or elaborated” (p. 10), but the present
study would argue that rather than turning one’s gaze from the barrier and ‘deac-
tivating or inhibiting’ a representation, it would be more productive to follow one’s
gaze from the barrier to the goal, creating an integrated focus and insightful prob-
lem representation. Klein and Weitzenfeld (1978) proposed the importance of
identifying the properties of the goal, and simultaneously attempting to find
procedures for accomplishing the goal in their work on ill-defined problem
solving. The current study proposes that by penetrating the barrier, one arrives at
the goal while keeping the barrier in view generating a more integrated represen-
tation of the problem, and subsequently unlocking more creative and relevant
solutions. It is hypothesized that an integrated focus would enhance problem
solving ability and outcome on a variety of problem solving tasks.
Journal of Creative Behavior
The purpose of the study was to explore the nature of the insight problem
solving process. A more integrated focus may serve to enhance performance by
attending to the challenges a barrier poses to a goal while sustaining a goal focus
overall. The conceptual model of insight presented here enlarges the theory of
problem solving by proposing that prior knowledge and cognitive appraisal con-
strain thinking and lead to an initial representation of the problem as a barrier or
threat (i.e. the fire is coming, it’s going to burn me, therefore I must escape it).
Secondary appraisal determines whether one has the resources to overcome the
threat (i.e. can I outrun it?). If one does not have the resources to overcome the
threat, the problem becomes creating the resources. This shift in attentional
focus from the actual problem to perceived threat constrains problem represen-
tation to one of a threat focus limiting the definition of the problem to that of
‘escape’ and narrowing solutions to only those that have to do with escaping. If
the solution does not work, it becomes a barrier. The process of appraisal, repre-
sentation and focus begins again. If the barrier is perceived as threatening, a bar-
rier focus intensifies. The current study makes recommendations for facilitating
insight suggesting that perceived threats when explored or followed leads the
solver to articulate the problem the barrier poses to the original goal which facili-
tates an insightful representation of the problem and increases the odds of an
insightful solution.
The conceptual framework, though preliminary, indicates that it is important
for future researchers to explore the roles that appraisal and focus play in the
problem solving process, specifically as these factors influence problem repre-
sentation. It is difficult to generalize from such specific samples suggesting that
future researchers expand the inquiry into a wide array of problem scenarios
in both lab and field settings. Further research is also necessary to identify the
mediating variables accounting for the tendency of human beings to fixate on
barriers or barrier focused strategies. Studies to explore the roles of perceived
control, appraisal and attentional focus, including a broader sample derived from
a variety of problem solving and performance scenarios, would further elucidate
the topic. More specifically, research to explore the negative effects of internal
locus of control under objective uncontrollability would serve to expand under-
standing of the role that stress appraisal and perceived control plays in the prob-
lem solving process. Finally, the results of this study encourage a quasi
experimental study testing an intervention designed to help individuals develop
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Dr. Jennifer Walinga, Royal Roads University, 2005 Sooke Road, Victoria, BC Canada,, 250-391-2600 x4869, 250-391-2694 (fax)
... Mitchell and Walinga [7] further argue that the approach of insight problem solving (IPS) overcomes the limitation of CPS; it focuses particularly on the "Aha!" experience [13] that results from sustained effort in which sudden insight breaks the impasse with systemic problem formulation and elegant sustainable solutions. Walinga [14] proposes a cyclic IPS procedure with five stages: (1) Primary appraisal of the problem; (2) secondary appraisal based on prior knowledge; (3) initial focus; (4) problem representation; and (5) solution generation. On this basis, she proposes pathways to overcome the obstacles of insightful problem (re)framing, as detailed below. ...
... After listing several factors hindering insight problem (re)structuring, Walinga [14] lists several pathways to overcome such obstacles. They are: (1) Positive interpretation; (2) divergence training; ...
... (3) constraint relaxation; and (4) cognitive readiness. Failure, listed as the fifth item, is omitted in this study because Walinga [14] implies that failure to reframe a problem might encourage problem solvers to overcome obstacles by using some of the first four pathways. ...
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Human societies face various unsustainability problems, often characterized as “wicked” in the sense that they have no single definitive formulation. Thus, the role of creativity or insight in solving such problems has attracted a lot of attention from scholars. Therefore, this study investigated how an emerging methodology, Future Design (and its unique intervention of asking problem solvers to take a future generation’s perspective), can facilitate insight problem solving (IPS) and the generation of sustainable solutions. In a municipality in Japan, nine officers from a bureau responsible for water supply management participated in a series of seven Future Design workshops. In two groups, these officers created visions of water supply management 30 years into the future, taking the perspective of a future generation working in the same municipality. On the basis of in-depth transcription analyses of these workshops, we obtained a hypothetical framework demonstrating that four factors mediate the influence of perspective taking on IPS: (a) Discounting the present generation’s cost, (b) contrasting the future with the present, (c) deconstructing hierarchy, and (d) intellectual joy. While the first three mediators (a, b, and c) were considered to be contributors to the problem reframing and IPS via constraint relaxation, the fourth (d) was considered to do so via positive interpretation. Further, the reason why taking a future generation’s perspective is likely to lead to sustainable solutions, useful for the future—rather than the present—generation, is also discussed.
... Just as the leadership literature prefers to broadcast the image and myth of the leader as a "winner", a "hero", either in business, sports or even the military, so does the problem solving literature prefer to focus on linear, rational, and zero-sum approaches in these same realms (Durand-Bush & Salmela, 2002;D'Zurilla, & Sheedy, 1992;Ketchen, Snow & Street, 2004;Kovác, 1998;Nutt, 2002Nutt, , 2004Pugh, 1991;Smith, Carlsson, Sandström, 1985;Wang & Horng, 2002;Vance, Groves, Paik & Kindler, 2007;Wanish, 2000). In their research on problem solving and leadership practice, Walinga and colleagues built a conceptual model of integrative problem solving, called 'integrated focus' (Walinga, Cunningham & MacGregor, 2010;Walinga, 2011), designed to enhance performance in a variety of realms including leadership practice. An integrated focus approach extends problem solving theory beyond linear, rational models, demands a more holistic, inclusive process, and results in more systemic, sustainable solutions. ...
... Integrative problem solving elaborates upon the principles of insight -the 'out of the box' or 'aha!' solution to what is perceived to be an intractable or 'wicked' problem (Knoblich et al., 1999;Knoblich & Oellinger, 2006;Ohlsson, 1984). Walinga (2011) expands upon insight problem solving theory by proposing that achieving insight relies on restructuring the problem frame to be more integrative and holistic. The insightful solution differs from a merely creative solution or idea by being sustainable, systemic, and elegant: an integrative solution shows insight by illustrating a profound understanding of the problem at its core, elegance through simplicity, and sustainability by offering a practical and enduring application that is systemic in nature (Walinga, 2011). ...
... Walinga (2011) expands upon insight problem solving theory by proposing that achieving insight relies on restructuring the problem frame to be more integrative and holistic. The insightful solution differs from a merely creative solution or idea by being sustainable, systemic, and elegant: an integrative solution shows insight by illustrating a profound understanding of the problem at its core, elegance through simplicity, and sustainability by offering a practical and enduring application that is systemic in nature (Walinga, 2011). Implementing an integrated focus approach demands inclusive, collaborative, participative processes. ...
... Given the "wickedness" of the problem, researchers also propose that solutions are secondary, and problem understanding is primary. What emerges is the need for a capacity to sense, define, frame and solve problems that includes multiple interacting factors involving creative competencies based on thinking more imaginatively (Conklin et al., 2007), integratively (Walinga, 2010), holistically and systemically (Lozano, 2014). Solving the sustainability challenge also requires a capacity for surfacing and questioning implicit and deeply entrenched assumptions (Starkey and Crane, 2003), and thinking in paradoxes (Westenholz, 1993), in order to facilitate full consideration of opposing views in order to adopt different perspectives (Ryan et al., 2012). ...
... Schooler et al. (1993) define insight as: (a) a high probability of an impasse, that is, a state in which the subject does not know what to do next; and (b) an "Aha!" experience resulting from sustained effort in which the impasse is suddenly broken and insight into the solution is rapidly attained. Insight problem solving (IPS) involves a more integrative thinking process, one that results in a sudden and more systemic problem frame, and generates more systemic, elegant, and sustainable solutions (Chu and MacGregor, 2011;Walinga, 2010;Walinga et al., 2011). The premise of IPS is that emotional, cognitive and psychological factors complicate the development of a quality problem statement and thus must be understood in order to create and facilitate more breakthrough sustainable solutions. ...
... Ohlsson (1992) re-conceptualized insight as problems characterized by initial failure followed by eventual and often sudden success. Ohlsson, later supported by Walinga (2010), pointed out that sometimes solvers continue to struggle even after breaking the impasse or cognitive constraint. In these cases, the impasse is broken accidentally or without the awareness of the solver. ...
... The knowledge base has unique characteristics of immovability and heterogeneity which is pivotal to enhance the organization's knowledge repository and transform that into tool to gain competitive advantage that leads to the success of a business [71]. Further, it can help to generate insightful solutions related to a problem [72]. Therefore, organization's capability to up-skill the employees' capabilities lead to better productivity of the employees and overall firm performance. ...
Digital transformation has become the new norm and is perceived as an important component to transform the firms' businesses. It has revolutionized the way in which firms conduct their businesses. However, the literature has not widely examined the holistic impact of key antecedents of digital transformation on manufacturing firm performance. The study aims to identify the antecedents of digital transformation and demonstrates the mediating role of digital transformation on firm performance. Using PLS-SEM modeling reveals that there is a considerable impact of competitive pressure, organizational mindfulness, IT readiness, and strategic alignment on digital transformation. Also, digital transformation mediates the effects of the antecedents on the performance of the firm. The practitioners and firms would be motivated to seize the digital transformation advantages as an opportunity to improve firm performance.
... trajectory (Foss, Frederiksen and Rullani, 2015;Frishammar, Dahlskog, Krumlinde and Yazgan, 2016). When a failure occurs along that trajectory it may be necessary to reconsider the problem representation (Walinga, 2010) driving the projects trajectory, or it may be necessary to frame a new representation of the problem from a new perspective based on the knowledge surfaced by the failure. Revising the project's problem representation, or reframing the representation of the failure anew, is important in order to set the project on a different trajectory; one that can potentially enable the project to become successful postfailure (Ormerod, MacGregor and Chronicle, 2002). ...
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This chapter introduces two perspectives on the management of innovation and product development – a linear perspective and a network process perspective – and discusses the differences and implications of these perspectives for innovation management. Our goal is to stimulate reflection on the management of innovation and to increase awareness of the available choices that can be made, as the two perspectives also represent great differences in relevant management technologies. Thus, these represent more than two perspectives, they lay two very different claims on how innovation happens and how innovation should or could be managed. The linear perspective on management of innovation has emerged from studies on structured approaches to management of projects and innovation and was later supplemented with (especially survey) studies of critical factors in innovation and product development – rather popular with many consultancy companies. The network process perspective has grown out of case-based studies, longitudinal studies, and sociological and ethnographic studies. The process perspective attempts to understand how innovation happens from inside, focusing less on how managers can structure and manage innovation from a distance. Until recently it focused less on demonstrating what the process perspective offered in terms of understanding managing innovation. This work present a network process perspective in an attempt to promote the perspective more actively.
This article is a revised narrative based on a visual presentation delivered 15th July, at the 2022 Southern Oregon University (SOU) Creativity Conference, Ashland, Oregon, USA. The article discusses a fresh, accessible, framework researched and developed about Breakthrough, witnessed through familiar attributes that add value, and which appears to be universal. The article suggests that, compared with typical outcomes from mainstream disciplines – including Creativity and Management – the value of a Breakthrough outcome is superior. The article also notes that, while most disciplines involve processes that take decision-making so far, an emergent General Theory of Breakthrough goes even further. Exposing some anomalies and shortcomings among mainstream best practices, the article also suggests how this approach to Breakthrough can upgrade disciplines, and help decision-makers become more valuable, as game-changers.
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Failure is an inevitable feature of innovation, and management research promulgates the importance of learning from it. Key to excelling at an innovation‐based strategy is understanding the processes that can turn failures into successes. However, post‐failure success remains elusive. Although failure signals that the innovation journey is off course, shifting trajectory is difficult, because it may require revising assumptions and reformulating the project’s problem representation. Using comparative case studies, this study set out to understand how problem representations are reformulated. Employing case method and comparing data versus theory iteratively, the important role of sensemaking and of leadership behaviors in driving post‐failure success was salient. Findings show that problem representations post‐failure require a process of problem formulation characterized by sensemaking and that innovative solutions are enabled by the reformulation of problem representations that spring from prospective sensemaking. Furthermore, this article identifies leadership change behavior as the linchpin driving a problem formulation process characterized by prospective sensemaking that catalyzes innovative solutions and explains why some projects thrive post‐failure and others do not. This article provides empirical support to the theoretical work of the literature on problem formulation, while extending the learning‐from‐failure literature by emphasizing and demonstrating the process driving post‐failure success. The major implication of our study is that different leadership behaviors may foster different types of sensemaking (retrospective or prospective), and that, in turn, the type of sensemaking matters for how a problem is reformulated. Ultimately, this article concludes that in the context of project failure, problem reformulation that springs from prospective sensemaking enables innovative solutions post‐failure.
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The 9-dot problem is widely regarded as a difficult insight problem. The authors present a detailed information-processing model to explain its difficulty, based on maximization and progress-monitoring heuristics with lookahead. In Experiments 1 and 2, the model predicted performance for the 9-dot and related problems. Experiment 3 supported an extension of the model that accounts for insightful moves. Experiments 4 and 5 provided a critical test of model predictions versus those of previous accounts. On the basis of these findings, the authors claim that insight problem solving can be modeled within a means-ends analysis framework. Maximization and progress-monitoring heuristics are the source of problem difficulty, but also create the conditions necessary for insightful moves to be sought. Furthermore, they promote the discovery and retention of promising states that meet the progress-monitoring criterion and attenuate the problem space.
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This article reports 2 experiments that investigated performance on a novel insight problem, the 8-coin problem. The authors hypothesized that participants would make certain initial moves (strategic moves) that seemed to make progress according to the problem instructions but that nonetheless would guarantee failure to solve the problem. Experiment I manipulated the starting state of the problem and showed that overall solution rates were lower when such strategic moves were available. Experiment 2 showed that failure to capitalize on visual hints about the correct first move was also associated with the availability of strategic moves. The results are interpreted in terms of an information-processing framework previously applied to the 9-dot problem. The authors argue that in addition to the operation of inappropriate constraints, a full account of insight problem solving must incorporate a dynamic that steers solution-seeking activity toward the constraints.
Presents an integrative theoretical framework to explain and to predict psychological changes achieved by different modes of treatment. This theory states that psychological procedures, whatever their form, alter the level and strength of self-efficacy. It is hypothesized that expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences. Persistence in activities that are subjectively threatening but in fact relatively safe produces, through experiences of mastery, further enhancement of self-efficacy and corresponding reductions in defensive behavior. In the proposed model, expectations of personal efficacy are derived from 4 principal sources of information: performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. Factors influencing the cognitive processing of efficacy information arise from enactive, vicarious, exhortative, and emotive sources. The differential power of diverse therapeutic procedures is analyzed in terms of the postulated cognitive mechanism of operation. Findings are reported from microanalyses of enactive, vicarious, and emotive modes of treatment that support the hypothesized relationship between perceived self-efficacy and behavioral changes. (21/2 p ref)
25 grammar-school students - soccer players (17 years of age) from a Private Secondary School specialized in soccer underwent a special psychological creativity training. It consisted of divergent problem solving tasks, methods of directed imagination and role playing. They were applied during the whole school-year (10 months). The effects were measured by the Second Subtest of TTCT, Urban's Creativity Test and Creative Memory Test - The Pictographs. The control group comprised 25 state secondary school students. The results showed the extent of effectiveness of the creativity training program and are discussed in the text.
In the effort to improve a firm's profitability, managers continuously make decisions about whether to launch new strategic initiatives as well as how to respond to other firms' moves. Managers are more likely to make effective decisions if they fully understand the firm's competitive environment. We examine four key questions that managers regularly confront: How should a firm decide (1) Whether to enter a new market? (2) How to respond to a competitive attack? (3) If and how to pursue growth in existing markets? and (4) Whether to compete or cooperate? We suggest that firm success is enhanced when managers base the amount of participation and comprehensiveness in the decision process on the competitive dynamics surrounding these questions.
Problem formulation plays a crucial role in planning, problem solving, and decision making, potentially affecting all the succeeding phases, including idea generation, design, and implementation. Yet formulation is a very difficult process that often is rushed or taken for granted, particularly by new and unskilled team leaders/facilitators. With the advent of team-based organizations, more responsibility now falls on newly-appointed team leaders to manage the formulation process. This paper describes the role of a team leader or facilitator in managing the problem formulation process to reduce Type III errors (solving the "wrong" problem or a sub-optimal problem).