1. Define the problem.2. Diagnose the problem.3. Identify solutions.4. Execute your solution.

Be a generalist / strategic thinker as well as a specialist

By October 18, 2017 No Comments

Effective problem solvers have both deep and broad knowledge. Depth of knowledge usually isn’t the problem, because it is the central component of many formal training programs. However, most of us don’t receive much training on developing the broad, transferable or generalist skills that make us good strategic thinkers. So you need to take the matter in your own hands.

This is an excerpt of my post on MIT Sloan Executive Education’s innovation@work Blog. I’ve also included below an expanded list of resources.

Ideal problem solvers are t-shaped


On the value of being “t-shaped,” see for instance:

Gauch, H. G. (2003). Scientific method in practice, Cambridge University Press. [pp 2–3]

Grasso, D. and M. B. Burkins (2010). Beyond technology: The holistic advantage. Holistic Engineering Education. D. Grasso and M. B. Burkins, Springer1-10.

Katzenbach, J. R. (1993). The wisdom of teams: Creating the high-performance organization, Harvard Business Press.

Kulkarni, D. and H. A. Simon (1988). “The processes of scientific discovery: The strategy of experimentation.” Cognitive science 12(2): 139-175.

Perkins, D. N. and G. Salomon (1989). “Are cognitive skills context-bound?” Educational researcher 18(1): 16-25.

Pretz, J. E., et al. (2003). Recognizing, defining, and representing problems. The Psychology of Problem Solving. J. E. Davidson and R. J. Sternberg. New York, Cambridge University Press3-30.

Sanbonmatsu, D. M., et al. (1998). “Selective hypothesis testing.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 5(2): 197-220.

Savransky, S. D. (2002). Engineering of creativity: Introduction to TRIZ methodology of inventive problem solving, CRC Press.

Sheppard, S., et al. (2009). Educating engineers: Designing for the future of the field, Jossey-Bass San Francisco, CA.

Smith, M. U. (1991). A view from biology. Toward a unified theory of problem solving: Views from the content domains. M. U. Smith. New York, Routledge1-21.

Woods, D. R. (2000). “An Evidence‐Based Strategy for Problem Solving.” Journal of Engineering Education 89(4): 443-459.

For employer surveys, see:

American Association of Universities (2013). It take more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. [p. 4]

Casner-Lotto, J. and L. Barrington (2006). Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century US Workforce, ERIC. [p. 8]

National Association of Colleges and Employers (2014). The job outlook for the class of 2014. [p. 4]

Wendler, C., et al. (2012). “Pathways through Graduate School and into Careers.” Educational Testing Service. [p. 33]

Resources for learning strategic thinking:

Chevallier, Arnaud (2014). Strategic Thinking for Complex Problem Solving. Course syllabus and slide deck.

Davis, I., et al. (2007). “The McKinsey approach to problem solving.” McKinsey Staff Paper(66): 27.

Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit (2004). “Strategy survival guide.” Cabinet Office, Admiralty Arch, The Mall, London SW1A 2WH.

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