Book Review: Problem Solving 101 – A Simple Book For Smart People

Anyone that has read this blog for any time knows that I consider myself a problem solver first and a web/tech guy second.  A few weeks ago I presented a problem solving presentation deck and even further back I’ve talked about how to optimize your email habitsRSS reading time and establishing oneself as an expert.  In all these examples I used much of the processes described in this book without knowing it.

To understand this book I think it is important to understand a little background on the book.   Book Review: Problem Solving 101 – A Simple Book For Smart People by Ken Watanabe was originally written for Japanese school children to teach them real world critical thinking skills.  No, we are not talking about the same Ken Watanabe who has played in blockbuster movies like The Last Samurai and Batman Begins.  As the forward describes, Japanese children are well known for their memorization and test taking skills but not as strong in logic base problem solving.  From Ken’s  six years experience as a McKinsey consultant and education before that at Yale and Harvard Business School he had learned detailed problem solving skills and wanted to break it down to a simple to understood approach that could be followed by children.

What happened next surprised even Ken.  As this article can explain the book became a Japanese best seller but not as a kids book, instead as an adult business book!  This book actually came into my possession from my buddy Web ManagerEwing who blogs over at E-Commerce Inbound Marketing and gave me his copy after finishing it.

What makes Problem Solving 101 is the simple approach that it introduces to helping individuals think critically with basic examples that any individual can follow.  The key as the book points out in the first chapter is that problem solving is something anyone can learn as it is simply a process.  Problem solving is a process that can be broken down into four steps:

  1. Understand the current situation
  2. Identify the root cause of the problem
  3. Develop an effective action plan
  4. Execute until the problem is solved, making modifications as necessary

In closing I think this is a book that everyone should pick up and read.  It won’t take you more than an hour or two to power through the four chapters and three scenarios outlined in the book.  I think we can all learn a few pointers that we can actively apply to our day to day and work lives.  Finally, as even the book uses this great quote from the 1st century Roman philosopher Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

One Response to “Book Review: Problem Solving 101 – A Simple Book For Smart People”

  1. Says:

    Sounds like a good read! Thanks for sharing.

    It’s interesting to note that while U.S. culture has been known as a source of much of the world’s creativity and innovative problem-solving over the past century or so, we seem to be moving away from the approaches that have succeeded in the past to focus on those very issues Wanatabe wanted to address in Japan: the over reliance on rote memorization and studying for the test. A recent Newsweek cover story — The Creativity Crisis — discussed this very issue. Here’s the money quote from that story, in my view:

    “[Jonathan] Plucker [of Indiana University] recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. ‘After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,’ Plucker says. ‘They said, “You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.”‘”

    Keep your focus on problem-solving, Kyle. We need more of it.