Ken Watanabe’s “Problem Solving 101″ is a great read. I find anything that get us thinking about how to solve problems really helpful, and “Problem Solving 101″ does just that. Most people solve problems every day, but never really think about the problem of “problem solving.” In this short book, Watanabe provides an overall plan for problem solving, introduces specific tools to help complete the steps in the plan, and works through three fun examples of kids solving their own problems. Although the material was originally developed for children, everyone can benefit from reading this book.
The first chapter contains an interesting discussion of different types of people and their approaches to problem solving. I think we all recognize Miss Sigh, Mr. Critic, Miss Dreamer, Mr. Go-Getter and the Problem-Solving Kids. I had to chuckle when I read the descriptions because it immediately brought to mind people I have worked with. Wantanabe’s point is that we all should be problem solvers. Problem solvers are the best kind of ‘kids’ to be.
Watababe outlines a four step problem solving approach:
- Understand the current situation.
- Identify the root cause of the problem.
- Develop an effective action plan.
- Execute until the problem is solved, making modifications as necessary.
This is a pretty standard list, and it is a good one. It is much like the one I shared from Polya.
The next three chapters contain easy to understand descriptions of kids applying this four step approach to their own problems:
- Mushroom Lovers, a kids rock band, getting more people to attend its monthly concert
- John Octopus saving enough money to buy a computer
- Kiwi deciding what soccer school she should attend
These descriptions are fun and creative, and they demonstrate how to systematically work through real problems using problem solving tools and making problem solving mistakes. The book introduces techniques and tools just in time to use them in the examples, including logic trees, yes/no trees, problem-solving design plans, hypothesis pyramids, pros and cons grids, charts, tables, and graphs. The examples also demonstrate techniques such as root cause analysis and breaking complex problems into smaller parts. Working through examples is one of the best ways to learn.
Of course a book like this is not intended as a rigorous treatment of problem solving and you shouldn’t expect it to be, but if everyone knew and used the approaches in this book they could solve more problems every day.
I hope you will pick up a copy of Ken Watanabe’s “Problem Solving 101″ and read it. I think it will make you pause the next time you encounter a problem and think about what approach you will take to solve it. Maybe you will become a “problem-solving kid.”