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Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People Hardcover – March 5, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"If everyone made decisions like Ken Watanabe, the world would be a better place" Seth Godin, author of Tribes "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 " Dan Ariely, author of the New York Time bestseller Predictably Irrational "a business best seller" Business Week "This is an excellent primer on problem solving" Lowell Bryan, author of Mobilizing Minds --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Ken Watanabe grew up bilingual in Japan and studied in the United States at Yale and Harvard Business School. He was a management consultant at McKinsey & Company for six years. He is now the founder and CEO of his own education, entertainment, and media company, Delta Studio.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio; 1 edition (March 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591842425
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591842422
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a fabulous little book and useful for everyone. You can use it to teach yourself or remind yourself of the solid basics of problem solving. Or you can use it within your team so that everyone is working on problems with the same approach. And you can use it to teach your children how to approach the problems they face everyday of their life.

While the author originally wrote it as a children's book in Japan, it became a big bestseller there in the business world. Watanabe has adapted it for you and me, but still keeps that same childlike simplicity that makes the book so clear and so valuable. I think that the book has become such a sensation because the book speaks clearly but not condescendingly. The book teaches basic principles without oversimplifying them.

There are four "classes" or stories in the book that take you through a core principle in Watanabe's method (remember he was a consultant at McKinsey after studying at both Yale and Harvard). The first class shows you how your attitude and approach to the problems you face has a huge impact on whether you can handle the problems or not. The author provides four steps to problem solving:

1) understand the current situation
2) identify the root cause of the problem (not being satisfied with merely labeling symptoms)
3) develop an effective action plan (not falling for the trap of doing SOMETHNG)
4) execute until the problem is solved while making modifications as you learn.

The problems-solving tool boxes are also terrific. They are:
- Logic Tree
- Yes/No Tree
- Problem-Solving Design Plan
- Hypothesis Pyramid
- Pros and Cons

Really, this book is for everyone and something you can use in many different ways.

Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By CFT on March 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Hands down one of the best problem solving/decision making books written.

Ken Watanabe, a McKinsey consultant, hears the call of Japan's prime minister for his nation to shift their educational system from a "memorization-focused education" to a "problem-solving-focused education". His response to the prime minister's calling is to quit his consulting job to teach kids and write Problem Solving 101. Fortunately, the business community also paid attention to the content of Mr. Watanabe's book and did not get hung up on the childlike presentation, which I believe actually makes it more powerful. Eventually, Problem Solving 101 became Japan's number one best-selling business book in 2007.

I stumbled on Problem Solving 101 in a bookstore when browsing but did not purchase it. A few days later I went back to look at one of the diagrams in the book as I thought it would be a useful process for something I was working on. However I still did not buy the book as it seemed too childlike to spend money on. Two days later I was back in the bookstore looking something up again in the book. As I was walking out of the store without purchasing it I thought, "This is stupid," and went back and purchased the book.

There's the key to the value of this book, you keep coming back to it to put its concepts to actual work. In the past week I have used processes outlined in the book for a high priority business problem and a major personal decision. I can honestly say both have benefited significantly with one now having a process to solve the problem and the other reaching a confident, effective decision. You just cannot get much better consulting than what this book provides.

Great job Mr. Watanabe, great job.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ho Kheong Tan on October 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A surprising simple and useful reference book for decision making.

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.
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