Although Problem Solving 101 was originally written for Japanese schoolchildren, it has become popular with adults, too. Ken Watanabe explains critical thinking skills in simple terms that are easy to grasp. He reminds us that solving problems doesn’t have to be complicated. We just need to focus on the fundamentals.

Watanabe notes that problem solving is not just an ability, it’s a mindset. We need to maintain a positive attitude and stay focused on what can be changed rather than dwelling on what has already happened. Kaizen (continuous improvement) is the goal.

He describes problem solving as a four-step process:

1. Understand the current situation
2. Identify the root cause of the problem
3. Develop an effective action plan
4. Execute until the problem is solved, making modifications as necessary

Problem solving is a combination of thinking and acting. We must think of an action plan, and then execute it. Once we take action, we can use the results as an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Watanabe discusses different tools we can use to solve problems, such as logic trees, the hypothesis pyramid, and the criteria and evaluation tool.

He also explains how to stay focused when doing research and analysis, so it does not lead to information overload and analysis paralysis. The point of research is to help us make informed decisions. To collect and analyze information efficiently, we should first clarify the issue we’re trying to solve. We can then limit our research to gathering information that helps us solve that issue.

The process used to solve problems can also be applied to achieving goals:

1. Set a clear goal
2. Determine the gap between the goal and the current situation
3. Form a hypothesis about how to close the gap and achieve the goal
4. Develop an action plan to test the hypothesis
5. Execute the plan

Watanabe emphasizes that execution is the most critical step. At some point, we must move from thought to action. He suggests we spend less time worrying and more time taking action.

This book is a quick read and a great reminder that the process for problem solving isn’t complicated. We just need to remember to use it.

If you are interested in purchasing Problem Solving 101 or in reading the official book description and reviews, please visit the author’s Amazon Page.

Kara Lane is an author and CPA who will be publishing her fifth book, The Thinking Game, in Spring 2019. For more information, visit


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