Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People ハードカバー – 2009/3/5
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The fun and simple problem-solving guide that took Japan by storm
Ken Watanabe originally wrote Problem Solving 101 for Japanese schoolchildren. His goal was to help shift the focus in Japanese education from memorization to critical thinking, by adapting some of the techniques he had learned as an elite McKinsey consultant.
He was amazed to discover that adults were hungry for his fun and easy guide to problem solving and decision making. The book became a surprise Japanese bestseller, with more than 370,000 in print after six months. Now American businesspeople can also use it to master some powerful skills.
Watanabe uses sample scenarios to illustrate his techniques, which include logic trees and matrixes. A rock band figures out how to drive up concert attendance. An aspiring animator budgets for a new computer purchase. Students decide which high school they will attend.
Illustrated with diagrams and quirky drawings, the book is simple enough for a middleschooler to understand but sophisticated enough for business leaders to apply to their most challenging problems.
"Problem Solving 101 teaches us to recognize the common elements in the decisions we face every day and how to think carefully about them. It offers tricks and tips for every age. If I may offer one more suggestion: when you don't know which of two options to choose, toss a coin, and when it is up there in the air think about how you want it to fall, and you have your answer."
--DAN ARIELY, author of the New York Times bestseller Predictably Irrational
"This book made me angry. It made me angry because there are so many people in this country who need to read it, who should read it, who will benefit enormously from reading it . . . and won't. They'll watch a reality show on TV instead. If everyone made decisions like Ken Watanabe, the world would be a better place."
--SETH GODIN, author of Tribes
"This is an excellent primer on problem solving."
--LOWELL BRYAN, author of Mobilizing Minds
Unfortunately, this is not how the rest of the book unfolds. He never presented the same process again. Instead, in the 2nd section, he gives us a slightly different process for problem-solving. This new process is 3-steps, with the first step simply being steps 1 and 2 of the first process put together... Not a big change, but it doesn't make sense to me why he did it. Because of this alteration, as the author went into more detail of this new process and described sub-steps in the process, I felt confused as to which high-order steps the sub-steps referred to and where we were in the process. The author also gives an example in this chapter where someone wants to go visit Grandma on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but is having to deal with traffic. I thought the author really struggled to map the situation to the new process he was using at the time, so I spent a lot of energy trying to articulate it for him, so that I could make sense of it.
The 3rd section was about goal-setting, and again the author presented a new process that was again similar to the process outlined in the 1st section, but not quite the same. Why not just have 1 process that works for all examples, or unique 3 processes that are, therefore, easier to distinguish?
This section has other problems, including that the main character jumps into trying to achieve his goal of "becoming a Hollywood CGI Director" without every really questioning whether a) getting a new computer and learning how to create CGI is the best way to achieve his goal, or b) examining what it's actually like to be a Hollywood CGI Director. How many times in life have we made up a goal for ourselves without ever really thinking about it, and then at some point along the way realizing that it was nothing like what we imagined for one reason or another. *That's* the kind of thinking you need to have when you're young - how to not waste years of your life chasing something you arbitrarily decided and that you may end up hating.
Another problem of the 3rd section is that he uses a logic tree as a means to brainstorm ideas. IMO, logic and idea-generation don't go well together, as logic tends to be too accepting of presuppositions and narrows one's thinking instead of broadening it to various possibilities. So, I think a creative technique would have been more helpful here.
The 4th and final section was on decision-making. It was also the most informal, as there was no process, just a character simply reasoning through a life-decision. I thought it did a good job showing how to turn a potentially big, intimidating decision into something manageable by thinking critically, breaking down the related factors, and seeking information from experts. I enjoyed this section the most.
In summary, I was anticipating a theoretical explanation followed by 3 applications of the theory, and what I got was different from that, so I felt frustrated throughout most of the book as my expectations were subverted in increasing magnitude. I think the book could be improved by either removing some of the step-by-step details or by being more careful with the correspondence between the initial process to the example cases. Regardless, I expect the techniques to be somewhat useful, and I will probably be able to mold the 3 processes in the book with my own way of doing things.
Although Ken Watanabe was a consultant dealing with business decision makers, he showed his incisive self by illustrating decision tools using 3 intriguing stories.
5 decision making tools were introduced: logic tree, Yes/No tree, problem solving design plan, hypothesis pyramid, and pros and cons evaluation table.
Some salient points:
1. Problem solving isn't a talent. It's a habit. By developing the right skills and adopting the right attitude, anyone can become a problems solving kid.
2. Problem solving is a process that can be broken down into four steps: (a) understand the current situation; (b) identify the root cause of the problem; (c) develop an effective action plan; and (d) execute until the problem is solved. making modifications as necessary.
3. You have to keep asking the "why" and "how" to develop a custom made action plane.
4. On problem solving design plan, if you start collecting and analysing data without first clarifying the question you are trying to answer, you're probably doing yourself more harm than good, and realise later that most of the research was a waste of time. To avoid this problem, you should develop a problem-solving design plan before you start chasing after information. In the design plan, you clarify the issues you are trying to solve, state your current hypotheses and rationale, and list the analyses, actions, and information required to prove or disprove those hypotheses, drastically increase your problem-solving productivity. Additionally, putting your plan down on paper will not only clarify your thoughts. If you are working in a group, this plan will also help your team to focus on what needs to be done and provide the jumping-off point for your group brainstorming. You will be able to focus on only what you really need to know to make a decision.
5. The 5 columns for a problem-solving design plan are issue, hypothesis, rationale, analysis/activities and information source.
6. When you set a goal get into the habit of asking yourself, "What specifically do I want to achieve? When do I want to achieve it? What specific conditions do I have?"
7. There are 2 forms of hypothesis, an argument structure and grouping structure. Unlike the grouping structure, with an argument structure, if one of the statements is untrue, the main conclusion is automatically false.
8. Impact = plan effectiveness x quality of execution
9. Once you have a concrete plan of action to achieve your goal, don't forget to create a concrete schedule. Write down everything you are going to do, and when you plan to do it.
10. We tend to be swayed by our first impressions. If we first think something is attractive, we tend to try to collect evidence that supports that idea. On the other hand, if we think something is unattractive, we tend to highlight only its negative points. It is critical to avoid this tendency in order to make a sound decision.
11. These are more than just tools for organising your thoughts. They help point out information you might be missing and bring up questions you may need to ask yourself along the way about what you really think is important.
12. We often make important decisions without taking enough time to think through the options and to track down accurate information.
13. The most important thing for you is to be surrounded by great players that you get to both play with and compete against on a daily basis. Also get as much playing time as possible by playing real games under pressure.
14. Luck is what happens wen preparation meets opportunity.
15. Spend less time worrying about things and more time thinking about actions you can take to get closer to your goals, then actually take action.
16. Problem solving is easy when you now how to set a clear goal, figure out how to reach it, and follow through while reviewing your progress and making changes to your plan as necessary.