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Bulletproof Problem Solving

The One Skill That Changes Everything

By Charles Conn and Robert McLean
12-minute read
Audio available
Bulletproof Problem Solving by Charles Conn and Robert McLean

Bulletproof Problem Solving (2019) delves into one of the most important yet consistently neglected skills in the modern workplace: problem-solving. With routine jobs declining around the world, more and more employees are being tasked with tackling open-ended challenges. As we’ll see in these blinks, you don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to be a great problem solver – you just need a dash of creativity and the right strategies. 

  • Creatives and thinkers
  • Analysts and number-crunchers
  • Graduates entering the workforce

Robert McLean studied finance before joining New York RAND as an analyst. He later worked on strategic and organizational issues for McKinsey in the United States, Australia, and Asia. McLean also served as the dean and director of the Australian Graduate School of Management. His current focus is social enterprise, philanthropy, and conservation. 

Charles R. Conn is a Canadian-American CEO and conservationist. He previously headed up Oxford Sciences Innovation, a venture-capital firm that invests in science and technology businesses. Conn is also the former warden and global CEO of the Rhodes Trust, the organization responsible for administering the Rhodes Scholarship.

©Robert McLean and Charles R. Conn: Bulletproof Problem Solving copyright 2019, John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used by permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc. and shall not be made available to any unauthorized third parties.

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Bulletproof Problem Solving

The One Skill That Changes Everything

By Charles Conn and Robert McLean
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Bulletproof Problem Solving by Charles Conn and Robert McLean
Synopsis

Bulletproof Problem Solving (2019) delves into one of the most important yet consistently neglected skills in the modern workplace: problem-solving. With routine jobs declining around the world, more and more employees are being tasked with tackling open-ended challenges. As we’ll see in these blinks, you don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to be a great problem solver – you just need a dash of creativity and the right strategies. 

Key idea 1 of 7

To find useful solutions, you first have to define the problems correctly.

When you’re confronted with a problem, it’s easy to immediately start thinking about how you’re going to solve it. You rush off to gather data, consult experts, and analyze what you’ve found. Soon, you’re coming up with answers. There’s just one issue – you’ve missed a vital step. 

Problem-solving only works if you’re answering the right questions. If you’re not doing that, your work will be worthless. Worse, it might even be counterproductive.

That’s why it’s so important to start the problem-solving process by taking a moment to think carefully about what question you’re trying to answer. 

The key message in this blink is: To find useful solutions, you first have to define the problems correctly.

Failing to properly define a problem can have disastrous consequences. Take the newspaper industry as an example.

Newspapers dominated local news until the mid-1990s. Then, out of nowhere, a new competitor emerged: the internet. 

At first, online publications like blogs spooked the industry’s top executives, but the more they looked into the problem, the more they relaxed. Since newspapers had survived the arrival of new technologies like radio and TV, why should the internet be any different? And, anyway, no blog would match the kind of content produced by the large and experienced editorial teams working in newsrooms. 

Of course, that’s not how things panned out. How did they get it so wrong? Well, they hadn’t defined their problem correctly. 

Online platforms didn’t need to poach readers – they just needed the folks who place ads in newspapers. In other words, executives were thinking about the quality of their content, but the real issue was the quantity of revenue generated by advertising. When advertisers moved online, hundreds of newspapers started going bust. 

The key to avoiding this trap? Asking yourself the right questions.

Who are the key decision makers determining whether my solutions are adopted or ignored? What will success look like, and how will I know when I’ve achieved it? More importantly, how will key decision makers gauge whether my approach is working or failing? What’s my time frame? Do I need a solution by next month or in a decade? And finally, are any potential solutions off-limits? 

These questions won’t just help you define your problem more accurately – they’ll also prevent you from wasting your time coming up with great answers to the wrong questions! 

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