The Four Workarounds: A book review by Bob Morris

The Four Workarounds: Strategies from the World’s Scrappiest Organizations for Tackling Complex Problems
Paulo Savaget
Flatiron Books/Imprint of Macmillan Books (March 2023)

How four results-driven approaches can help resolve major crises by solving serious problems 

In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that the strongest opposition to change initiatives tends to be cultural in nature, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” I was again reminded of that insight as I began to read Paulo Savaget’s Introduction. People need to change their thinking about how they think about change. This is especially true when resolving major crises by solving serious problems. 

In this volume, Paulo Savaget focuses on workarounds — “a creative, flexible, imperfection-loving, problem-solving approach” — and each workaround at its core “is a method that ignores or even challenges conventions on how, and by whom, a problem is meant to be solved.” He devotes a separate chapter to each of the four. Albert Einstein once suggested that problems cannot be solved by the same way(s) of thinking that caused them. Long ago, Charles Kettering observed, “If that’s how you’ve always done, it’s probably wrong.”

Briefly: “There are four workarounds., and each uses a different attribute. The piggyback capitalizes on pre-existing but seemingly unrelated systems for relationships. The loophole relies on selectively applying or reinterpreting the rules that traditionally define a situation. The roundabout disrupts or destroys self-reinforcing behavior patterns. Finally, the next best repurposes or recombines readily available resources in order to find different ways to get things done.”

Here are other passages that also caught my eye, listed to suggest the scope of Savaget’s coverage:

o The Piggyback: What it is and when to use it Pages 12-13 and 48-49)
o The Loophole: What it is and when to use it (54 and 86-88
o The Roundabout: What it is and when to use it 92-94 and 115-117)
o The Next Best: What it is and when to use it (121 and 145-147)
o The Secret Roundabout Workaround (99-103)

o The “Fight the Power” Roundabout Workaround (106-115)
o Extraordinary Uses for Mundane Resources (123-127
o From the Edges to the Mainstream (139-145)
o The Workaround Attitude (151-156
o Rules Exert Power (159-!62)

o Approaches to Deviance (170-175)
o The Known, The Known Unknown, and the Unknown (179-182)
o The Power of the Outsider (187-192)
o The Principles of a Workaround (195-198)
o The Four Configurations of Workarounds (204-209)

o Hello, Hilda (213-217)
o From Inspiration to Implementation (218-220)
o Strategy (223-233)
o Leadership (239-243)
o Coda: Workarounds Outside of Work 249-252

In recent years, most (if not all) organizations have faced uniquely disruptive challenges that have caused the major crises to which this book’s subtitle refers. Effective leadership is needed at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise to resolve truly serious problems. “What are we going to do?” In many situations, “a creative, flexible, imperfection-loving, problem-solving approach” may be the best answer.

Leaders must complete a rigorous examination of each of the four workarounds and then select the one that is most appropriate. The single greatest value of the material in this book will probably be derived from Savaget’s explanation of WHAT each workaround requires and then HOW to achieve success with it.

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the value of the information, insights, and counsel that Paulo Savaget provides but I hope that I have at least provided some indication of why I think so highly of his book. It is a brilliant achievement. Bravo!

Here are two concluding suggestions: Highlight key passages, and, keep a lined notebook near at hand in order to record your comments, questions, and page references as well as responses to the suggestions and recommendations that are inserted throughout the book’s lively and eloquent narrative. These two simple tactics will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of the most important material later.

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