May 10, 2024

Understanding wisdom: a look at the 6p unified framework

Prof. Surya Tahora

In today’s rapidly changing world, where challenges from global pandemics to climate crises demand not only quick but also wise responses, the understanding of wisdom has never been more crucial. The concept of wisdom transcends mere knowledge; it involves a deeper level of understanding, reflecting, and acting that collectively benefits society.

In a rapidly evolving and complex business landscape, the role of wisdom is also increasingly recognised as a vital asset for navigating challenges that extend beyond technical expertise and managerial skills. Wisdom in leadership encompasses a deep understanding of both the internal dynamics of an organisation and the external forces shaping its environment. It enables leaders to make judicious decisions that are not only effective but also ethically sound and sustainable in the long term.

The wisdom research field is recent and has been developing quickly in the past 30 years. Researchers have proposed their own definitions of wisdom and recently, several papers have attempted to provide a common definition of wisdom [1] [2] and formulated integrative frameworks for understanding wisdom across various domains and contexts. [3] [4]

I will present here a brief summary of the 6P wisdom model presented by Robert Sternberg and Sareh Karami in their paper “What Is Wisdom? A Unified 6P Framework“. [5] Along this review, I will add my comments on how it can be applied in a business context. This article will first focus on elaborating each of the six dimensions of this framework: Purpose, Press, Problems, Persons, Processes, and Products. Then show how they are interrelated dynamically by giving some examples.


The ‘Purpose’ of wisdom refers to the ultimate aim or goal that wise actions are intended to achieve. In the context of wisdom, this usually involves the pursuit of the common good, ethical decision-making, and actions that enhance collective well-being and minimise suffering. Wisdom uses intellectual and moral capabilities not just to solve problems but to solve them in a way that improves the human condition.

In a business context, ‘Purpose’ refers to the underlying intentions and goals that guide a company’s actions and strategies. This is not merely about achieving financial success but also encompasses the organisation’s commitment to ethical practices, social responsibility, and long-term sustainability. A wise corporate purpose integrates the interests of various stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities within which the company operates. For instance, a leader using wisdom to navigate a company through an economic downturn would consider not only profitability but also the impact of decisions on employees and the community. Or, a business might define its purpose to innovate sustainably, aiming to reduce its environmental impact while still delivering profitable growth. Alternatively, a company could focus on enhancing community well-being through job creation, fair labour practices, and charitable initiatives. By clearly defining and committing to a purpose that transcends profit, companies can foster a culture of wisdom that not only drives business success but also contributes positively to society and the environment. This strategic alignment helps companies navigate complex challenges and ensures resilience and ethical integrity in a rapidly changing world.


‘Press’ encapsulates the external pressures or environmental factors that necessitate the use of wisdom. These can range from immediate crises, like a natural disaster, to more prolonged pressures, such as societal inequality or cultural shifts. Press shapes the context in which problems arise and are addressed. Wise responses to such pressures take into account the broader impacts of actions, anticipating future challenges and opportunities. In a corporate context, this could mean navigating global market shifts, technological advancements, or cultural changes within the organisation. Understanding the ‘Press’ is vital for leaders to adapt and respond strategically to external pressures that influence their businesses.
In the realm of business, ‘Press’ refers to the external forces and pressures that shape the environment in which a corporation operates. This can include economic trends, market volatility, regulatory changes, competitive dynamics, technological advancements, and cultural shifts within the workforce. These factors often necessitate wise decision-making, as they can significantly influence a company’s strategy and operational effectiveness. For example, global geopolitical or economic shifts might press a company to rethink its supply chain strategies to ensure resilience and sustainability.


Problems in the 6P framework are those complex, often ambiguous challenges that defy simple, straightforward solutions. Wisdom is required to tackle such problems because they need more than just technical knowledge; they require ethical considerations, long-term thinking, and often a balance of competing interests. For instance, addressing the problem of climate change involves complex negotiations between economic development, environmental sustainability, and social equity.

In a corporate setting, ‘Problems’ refers to the complex, often multifaceted challenges that businesses encounter in their operations and strategic planning. These problems are typically not straightforward and require more than just technical solutions; they demand a nuanced understanding of various stakeholders’ needs, strategic foresight, and innovative thinking. For leaders, this involves tackling issues that do not have clear-cut solutions, such as ethical dilemmas, strategic decisions under uncertainty, and conflicts that require careful negotiation and foresight.

For example, a company may face the problem of integrating new technology across global operations, which involves not only technical deployment but also training, change management, and cultural adaptation. Another complex problem is building resilient supply chains in the face of disruptions such as natural disasters, political instability, or pandemics. A common problem can also be integrating sustainability into core business operations to meet regulatory requirements and consumer expectations.


The ‘Persons’ component focuses on the qualities and characteristics of individuals who demonstrate wisdom. This includes cognitive abilities like intelligence and reason, affective traits like empathy and patience, and reflective qualities such as self-awareness and humility. Wise individuals are not only knowledgeable; they are also adept at understanding and managing their own emotions and motivations and those of others.

In the corporate environment, ‘Persons’ refers to the attributes and qualities of individuals within the organisation that are conducive to wise decision-making and leadership. This includes a blend of cognitive abilities, such as strategic thinking and problem-solving skills, alongside emotional intelligence, which encompasses empathy, self-regulation, and interpersonal skills. Wise corporate persons also exhibit traits such as integrity, accountability, and resilience, enabling them to lead effectively under pressure and maintain ethical standards.

For instance, leaders in a business setting must navigate complex interpersonal dynamics and make decisions that balance the needs of various stakeholders, from employees and customers to shareholders and community members. They need to be adept at managing change, inspiring innovation, and fostering a culture that supports diversity and inclusion. Moreover, such individuals are often required to mentor others, facilitating the development of future leaders within the company.


Processes involve the mental activities and thought patterns that underpin wise thinking and decision-making. This includes how information is processed, how decisions are approached, and how actions are planned. Wise processes are characterized by their depth of understanding, ethical underpinnings, and an openness to revising one’s viewpoint in light of new information. Critical thinking, reflective judgment, and ethical reasoning are key components of the processes involved in wisdom.

The processes of a wise leader includes cognitive operations such as reasoning, reflection, and judgment, as well as affective and motivational aspects. These processes are critical for analysing situations, making decisions, and implementing actions that align with the overarching purpose of wisdom. In leadership, this translates into the ability to integrate diverse perspectives, make informed decisions, and guide teams towards achieving common goals thoughtfully and effectively. Wise corporate processes are characterised by transparency, inclusivity, and adaptability, ensuring that decisions are well-informed and aligned with the organisation’s goals and values.


Finally, the ‘Products’ of wisdom are the tangible and intangible outcomes and decisions that result from the application of wise ‘Processes’ to the ‘Problems’. These can be tangible, such as a policy to reduce urban pollution, or intangible, such as increased community cohesion. The hallmark of a wise product is that it not only solves the initial problem but does so in a way that is sustainable and beneficial on multiple levels, often creating additional positive outcomes beyond the original goals.

In a corporate setting, ‘Products’ can be an innovative line of eco-friendly products, reflecting the commitment of the company to sustainability. This product not only meets the functional needs of customers but also enhances the company’s reputation as a leader in environmental responsibility. Moreover, this product considers the long-term impacts of products on the environment and society, aiming to minimise negative outcomes such as waste, pollution, or societal harm. This approach can also include products that are designed to be easily upgraded or recycled, extending their lifecycle and reducing their environmental footprint.

Interactivity of the 6Ps

The interactivity among the 6Ps highlights that these elements do not function in isolation. Each influences and is influenced by the others. For instance, the Purpose of promoting community health (common good) can shape the Problems identified (e.g., improving air quality), influence the Processes used (incorporating scientific and community input), and affect the final Products (policies that not only regulate emissions but also promote green spaces and public health). Similarly, the Press of the technological boom of Artificial Intelligence might redefine Problems in workplace automation, influencing the Persons involved (skills they need), the Processes employed (approaches to reskilling workers), and the eventual Products (a more skilled and adaptable workforce).

Here are some examples to illustrate how these dimensions interact in a business context, which can help leaders understand the importance of integrating wisdom in their strategic approaches:

  • Crisis Management (Press, Problems, Persons)

    During a crisis, such as a market downturn (Press), the company faces Problems such as decreased consumer spending and disrupted supply chains. The wise response depends heavily on the Persons involved—leaders who can remain calm, assess new information quickly, and communicate effectively. Their traits and decision-making skills critically influence how effectively the organisation navigates the crisis, showcasing the interplay between external pressures, internal challenges, and leadership qualities.

  • Organisational Change (Purpose, Persons, Products)

    Suppose an organisation decides to shift its Purpose towards more sustainable business practices. This decision influences the Persons involved, particularly leaders who must advocate for and implement changes in corporate behaviour and policy. Their effectiveness, in turn, influences the Products—tangible outcomes such as reduced carbon footprints or improved community relations. This example highlights how the motivations and actions of individuals within an organisation directly impact the results of new strategic initiatives.

  • Employee Engagement and Retention (Press, Processes, Products)

    External economic Press, such as a tight labour market, forces a company to address the Problem of retaining top talent. The company implements new Processes, such as improved career development programs and enhanced work-life balance policies. These Processes lead to increased employee satisfaction and retention (Products), demonstrating how external pressures necessitate internal changes that yield tangible outcomes.

    This review of the 6P model presented by Robert Sternberg and Sareh Karami underscores that wisdom is a dynamic interplay of multiple elements, all aimed at addressing some of the most pressing challenges of our time in a thoughtful, ethical, and effective manner. By understanding and applying this framework, individuals, organisations and societies can aspire to not just survive but thrive in an increasingly complex world.

[1] Grossmann, I., Weststrate, N. M., Ardelt, M., Brienza, J. P., Dong, M., Ferrari, M., … & Vervaeke, J. (2020). The science of wisdom in a polarized world: Knowns and unknowns. Psychological inquiry, 31(2), 103-133.

[2] Jeste, D. V., & Lee, E. E. (2019). The emerging empirical science of wisdom: definition, measurement, neurobiology, longevity, and interventions. Harvard review of psychiatry, 27(3), 127-140.

[3] Glück, J., & Weststrate, N. M. (2022). The wisdom researchers and the elephant: An integrative model of wise behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 26(4), 342-374.

[4] Karami, S., Ghahremani, M., Parra-Martinez, F. A., & Gentry, M. (2020). A polyhedron model of wisdom: A systematic review of the wisdom studies in psychology, management and leadership, and education. Roeper Review, 42(4), 241-257.

[5] Sternberg, R. J., & Karami, S. (2021). What is wisdom? A unified 6P framework. Review of General Psychology, 25(2), 134-151.

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