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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It isn't that they can't see the solution. It's that they can't see the problem."
Michael Roberto cites this especially relevant observation by G.K. Chesterton as a head note to the first chapter of this immensely informative book in which he stresses the importance of mastering seven sets of skills and capabilities that are essential to effective problem-finding. Roberto makes the same key point (among several) in his previously published book,...
Published on March 23, 2009 by Robert Morris

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3.0 out of 5 stars Good read... but still pretty ehhh
I honestly think this is a book that is a standard read and something that every business manager and leader should be reading but are you going to find something that you dont find in a Gladwell, Godin, Zig book?? no... but that isn't a bad thing as it reinforced some great tips that i need to keep at the top of my mind.
Published on February 13, 2013 by Justin Emig


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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It isn't that they can't see the solution. It's that they can't see the problem.", March 23, 2009
This review is from: Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen (Hardcover)
Michael Roberto cites this especially relevant observation by G.K. Chesterton as a head note to the first chapter of this immensely informative book in which he stresses the importance of mastering seven sets of skills and capabilities that are essential to effective problem-finding. Roberto makes the same key point (among several) in his previously published book, asserting that the most effective leaders are those who "cultivate constructive conflict so as to enhance the level of critical and divergent thinking, while simultaneously building consensus so as to facilitate the timely and efficient implementation of the choices that they make." He goes on to assert that "effective leaders can and should spend time `deciding how to decide.' In short, creating high-quality decision-making processes necessitates a good deal of forethought." Throughout Roberto's lively narrative, there is a strong recurring theme: "leaders must strive for a delicate balance of assertiveness and restraint." In this book, he explains, "I argue that leaders must become hunters who venture out in search of the problems that might lead to disaster" for their organizations. Consider what Peter Drucker observed in an article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1963: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all."

The title "Know What You Don't Know" has all manner of critically important implications. Here are three. First, it correctly suggests that identifying and then filling knowledge needs requires the same "level of critical and divergent thinking, while simultaneously building consensus" that the problem-solving process requires. And that consensus should be the result of rigorous scrutiny applied to a number of options even if (especially if) some seem counterintuitive and perhaps even contradictory. Only then will it be possible "to facilitate the timely and efficient implementation" of the choice(s) made. The title also correctly suggests that this process requires high-impact leadership, one that insists on both good will and principled disagreement throughout group discussion and consideration while maintaining "a delicate balance of assertiveness and restraint." High-impact leadership also serves as an example of seven critical skills and capabilities that are needed to ensure that problems do not remain hidden (more about them later), to discover "the bad news that typically does not surface until far too late." However, Roberto adds, becoming an effective problem-finder (a "detective") also requires a "different mindset," one that "begins with a certain level of intellectual curiosity, is based on systematic thinking, and meanwhile realize that "every organization, no matter how successful, has plenty of problems [and they] often lie beneath the surface, hidden from view." This is what Andrew Grove, former Intel chairman and CEO, had in mind when asserting that "only the paranoid survive."

With regard to the aforementioned seven critical skills and capabilities, Roberto devotes a separate chapter to each. Actually, I think that (only with minor revision) they could be viewed as strategies as well as skills and capabilities. The most effective problem finders must also be effective navigators and politicians, as the following correctly suggest:

1. Circumvent the "gatekeepers" (i.e. those who control filters and other barriers)
2. Become an ethnographer (observe carefully, ask questions, listen intently, etc.)
3. Hunt for patterns (e.g. identify verifiable causal relationships)
4. Connect the dots (
5. Encourage useful failures (i.e. those that are small, brief, inexpensive, and informative)
6. Teach how to talk and to listen (also when and why)
7. Watch the "game film" of past performance (make adjustments, practice deliberately)

Throughout his narrative, Roberto makes brilliant use of a reader-friendly device that consists of a check-list and brief discussion of key points. For example, reasons why problems remain hidden (Page 9), small problems and failures that can threaten an organization (Pages 19-20), why information filtering takes place (pages 31-34), how to circumvent the filters (Page 36), principles of effective observation (Page 64), seven key questions to use when testing assumptions (Page 85), types of leadership behavior that can encourage more effective treatment of information (Page 108), four ways suggested by Roger Martin (author of The Opposable Mind) to nurture and develop integrative thinking skills (Pages 113-114), how to assess a failure before, during, and after it occurs (Page 125-126), how to speak up more effectively (Page 154), and "Three Dimensions of a New Mindset" (Pages 189-193).

I wholeheartedly agree with Michael Roberto that organizations should commit at least as resources to encouraging, training, supporting, recognizing, and (yes) rewarding their Problem-Finders ("Detectives") as they do their Problem-Solvers ("Firefighters"). Of course both are needed. And both require leaders who demonstrate intellectual curiosity, adopt systematic thinking, and exhibit a healthy dose of paranoia. He goes on to point out, "They do not wait for problems to come to them. They behave much more proactively. They seek out problems. They embrace them...The very best leaders know that speed is critical. The earlier you discover a problem, the more likely you can contain the damage, and the more likely you can solve it readily. Most important of all, successful leaders do not see problems as threats. They see every problem as an opportunity to learn and improve."

Why must the "great leaders" to which this brilliant book's title refers be developed at all levels and in all areas of every organization, whatever its size and nature may be? Problems are equal-opportunity troublemakers. Just as minor scratches can become major infections if ignored or neglected, minor problems can become major disasters unless they are discovered and solved as quickly as possible.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Constructive look at problem finding, June 14, 2010
This review is from: Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen (Hardcover)
Sir Winston Churchill, Great Britain's intrepid prime minister during World War II, was an amazingly perceptive leader. He was one of the first to warn of the military threat Germany posed prior to both world wars. How did he know? He routinely sought out rank-and-file members of the British military and low-level English government bureaucrats to find the truth. In the same way, you should dig deeply into your organization for unbiased, accurate information so you can detect problems before they turn into disasters. In his case-filled, albeit pretty much one-note, book, management professor Michael A. Roberto explains why finding problems is harder than solving them. He shows how danger hidden beneath the surface can present the greatest peril to your company. getAbstract recommends Roberto's engaging book to managers at all levels. Spot those icebergs before they sink your business.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to become an effective problem finder, August 4, 2011
By 
John Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Leaders need to become hunters who venture out in search of the problems that might lead to disaster for their firms; they cannot wait for the problems to come to them, according to Michael Roberts in this book. Unfortunately most business schools teach students how to solve pre-defined problems rather than how to search out the problems in the first place.

According to the author, there are seven critical skills which must be mastered in order to someone to become an effective problem finder:

* Circumvent the filters which prevent you from receiving accurate information, particularly bad news
* Observe how groups of people behave in their natural settings
* Search for and identify patterns
* Connect the dots amongst seemingly disparate bits of information
* Encourage people to take risks and learn from their mistakes
* Refine your communication skills
* Become adept at review and reflection

The book is based on almost 150 interviews with CEOs, business unit leaders and staff executives of small and large enterprises, relating to successes, failures and efforts to prevent failures from taking place. In my view there is nothing particularly surprising about the author's findings or the seven critical skills which he has identified, but perhaps that is because it is fundamentally impossible to reduce the skill of finding previously unidentified problems to a science.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and provocative, June 21, 2009
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This review is from: Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen (Hardcover)
Drawing on examples as varied as the 9-11 tragedy and Anne Mulcahy's leadership at Xerox, Roberto explains why leaders need to be not only great problem-solvers but also problem finders. He describes the common reasons why leaders often miss seeing problems until a crisis occurs. He then offers seven practical methods of problem finding that any leader, manager or business owner can apply. An easy, fast and interesting read that will pay real dividends.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the leader that is faint at heart, a dictator, or ego-maniac., January 2, 2011
This review is from: Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen (Hardcover)
This book explains why it is much smarter to be focused on problem-finding, than problem-solving. Implementing this approach means a cultural revolution in most companies I know. The idea is that if you can catch and address issues when they have just emerged, and not swiped under the rug yet, they are manageable. Illustrated with many examples and based on academic research, this is an engaging and refreshing presentation of seven critical skill sets that could make a life or death difference in your business. Much of this is applicable to project management as well. For example, there is a short list of key questions in the "Hunt for patterns" chapter that will help you scrutinize assumptions. Question 6: How would our conclusions change if each of our key assumptions proves incorrect? If you are ready to challenge your view of the reality around you, and think you can handle surprises, this book will be a delight.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Be a "problem-finder", March 8, 2011
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This review is from: Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen (Hardcover)
Unlike many business leadership books, "Know What You Don't Know" does not focus on problem solving, but rather on "problem-finding." Conventional wisdom would have it that problems are to be avoided, but the leader of the organization must be ready to solve them when they arise.

This book describes the means for a leader to find problems before they become a catastrophe, including bypassing organizational structures when necessary, teaching your teams to communicate (Cockpit Resource Management), being paranoid when you need to be, recognizing patterns, and encouraging "useful" failures.

As a Naval Officer, the chapters I found most useful were "Watch the game film" and "How to communicate." Read this book if you want an idea on how to teach your organization to identify and correct problems before they become show stoppers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read, November 3, 2012
By 
Gadget Maven (Hardware Heaven) - See all my reviews
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Luckily I was able to pick this book up when it was offered briefly for free. Some of the 'free' books offered sometimes less desirable to read but this wasn't one of them. Worth your time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very practical and provocative!, March 25, 2012
Dr Roberto argues leaders to connect with unconventional methods, circumvent gatekeepers, hunt patterns, connect the dots and always have a problem finder's mindset. Surfacing problems in the shortest possible time is imperial for the business success.

Town halls, group meetings are planned way in advance and may not be the real picture of the organization. The concept of establishing well trained rapid response teams (RRT) ready to listen and act can turn your organization around. I am certain to take RRT concept to my workplace.

Effective executives exhibit a curious mindset, embrace systemic thinking and maintain a healthy paranoia. Always probe implicit assumptions and learn not to mix them with facts!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of the best, September 9, 2011
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First of all thanks to the author and their team in investing so much of effort behind writing the book. The references at the end of each chapter showed how much effort went into writing this book. This is THE MANAGER'S MANUAL. I implemented some of the techniques from this book and man the results were amazing. This book really created a healthy competition and helpful attitude among my team members. The author didn't just write a book, he in fact is changing the business and putting them on right track.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good title . . . But it doesn't quite fit, March 26, 2013
By 
J. Blair (Carefree, AZ USA) - See all my reviews
The title works to gain attention but isn't the message I took from the book.

Great leaders prevent a number of problems but only the very, very lucky prevent all problems. And, the next project is likely to end the streak of prevention. Being open to the probability that every project has some problems that will be initially overlooked.

"Prudent Paranoia" is good practice. Accept there will be issues and deal with those issues while small. . . And betting that something will come along and save you is, at best, a short term strategy. Acceptance improves the ease of new problem identification.
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Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen
Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen by Michael A. Roberto (Hardcover - February 8, 2009)
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