Bulletproof Problem Solving: A book review by Bob Morris

Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything
Charles Conn and Robert McLean
John Wiley & Sons (March 2019)

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

The subtitle of Charles Conn and Robert McLean’s book is correct (a) if the right problem is being solved or, as Drucker suggests, (b) if it is not being solved. Either way, there will be significant changes, for better or worse. They introduce a seven-step process that almost anyone can use — alone or with others — to solve almost any problem, assuming it is the right one to solve. More specifically, they explain HOW to

1. Define a problem precisely
2. Separate the key issues so that each can be rigorously analyzed
3. Decide what to do and what not to do, then prioritize actions to be taken
4. Develop an action plan and determine division of labor when implementing it
5. Develop a process for obtaining data and analyzing it, without cognitive biases
6. Synthesize what is revealed in order to frame and highlight key insights
7. Share (communicate) what has been revealed in a compelling way

I am again reminded of an observation by John Kotter when suggesting that the greatest challenge for change agents is to think differently about change. For example, to focus on root causes of a problem rather than its symptoms. This is what Conn and McLean have in mind when urging their reader to think of problem solving as “an iterative process rather than a linear one.”

They offer 30 mini-case studies that illustrate the importance of strong problem statements, sound assumptions and premises, disaggregating a problem (i.e. breaking it down into components), strong team structure and norms, having a complete analytic tool set, linking conclusions with a storyline for action, and — as indicated — treating the problem solving process as iterative rather than linear.

Let’s say you lack the skills and tools that effective problem solving requires. This book was written for you. Charles Conn and Robert McLean provide an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel that will prepare you to solve almost any problem by representing it, in Herbert Simon’s words, “so as to make the solution transparent.”


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1 Comment

  1. Marty Neumeier on June 4, 2019 at 11:37 am

    I haven’t read the book yet, but what do you do when you can’t define a problem precisely? It seems to me that the most crucial problems fall into this category. I trust the book deals with these sorts of “wicked problems,” since the authors quote Herbert Simon.

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