Problem Solving 101: A Review

Member Group : David Kirkpatrick

This slim book by Ken Watanabe, (111 pages, made even slimmer for reading by the use of numerous "useful diagrams and quirky drawings"), is subtitled A Simple Book for Smart People, all of which may give you cause to read it. The author says on the first page that "One of my missions in writing this book was to show everyone a simple way to deal with the problems they face in their everyday lives." More specifically, he says "This is a book about kids solving problems."

But problem solving "isn’t just an ability; it’s a whole mind set…Rather than accepting the status quo, true problem solvers are constantly trying to proactively shape their environment." While he maintains most, or at least more, people can do this, children as well as adults, that doesn’t mean they (you?) will.

But he has more than rhetoric to suggest there is some merit to his viewpoint.

The author spent six years as a consultant for McKinsey & Company, a well-known global management consulting firm. Then, in 2007, Japan’s prime minister placed education at the top of his agenda. Although that nation has long received kudos for the quality of its K-12 school system it had also been criticized for being to focused on memorization at expense of problem-solving. Yet there had not yet been a solid proposal for "a concrete and effective way to make this happen."

Immodestly, or boldly, depending on your viewpoint, Watanabe decided to take a shot at it and, daringly, left his job to write this book and to teach kids how to think like problem solvers. This, although he says of himself that he doesn’t claim to be an education expert. At the same time he did have valuable experience with techniques used at McKinsey which he thought could be presented in a fun and approachable way that would show kids what they could accomplish.

The advantage to readers of this issue of Problem Solving 101 is that it is not the first edition. That was issued in Japan where, in 2007, it was the nation’s business best seller. From there its success and influence moved on to both the education community and the general public. And his focus moved on to helping kids put his ideas into practice. And practice meant just that -being practical.

And what could be more practical than the experience of billionaire Warren Buffett. When he was six years old, Buffett bought Coke bottles from his grandfather’s store and resold them at a profit. As a variation of this, Watanabe used a 1965 VW van (which, you might note, was more than 40 years old by 2007) which he renovated as a portable shop for a food and drink business.

Beyond this basic idea, however, the kids decided where and what food and drinks to sell, to cook and prepare the food and drinks themselves and to do so in competition against other teams. This necessitated developing not only problem solving skills but qualities of leadership, teamwork, creativity, persistence, charm, and the importance of continuous improvement. Only then does he "help them ask the important questions and provide them with the problem-solving tools that could help them with future projects."

And only then, after considerable experience and success did he decide to publish this volume so English-reading audiences could derive the benefits as did the Japanese youngsters and readers

Most of the book is devoted to three case studies:

"The Mushroom Lovers, a new bands trying to improve their concert attendance numbers

John Octopus, a bright young man with aspirations of becoming a computer graphics animator who needs to buy his first computer

Kiwi, an aspiring soccer player looking for the best training school in Brazil."

Finally, a few pages on the down side.

There are those who give up before they start, saying, "I can’t do that;" the critic, who says, "That will never work;" and the dreamer who’s going to do this, that, or the other thing."

Finally, the Go-Getter who can’t wait to get started. And that’s the problem, he can’t take time to think.

All of us are probably guilty of these on occasion.

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For more info, contact: Maureen Cole, Portfolio/Penguin Group USA, 212-366-2257, email: [email protected]
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