Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything by Charles Conn and Robert McLean

The Blurb On The Back:

7 straightforward steps to solving any problem with creativity and rigor

Complex problem solving is the core skill for twenty-first century teams.  It’s the only way to keep up with rapid change.  Winning organisations now rely on nimble, iterative problem solving, rather than traditional planning processes.  In this book you’ll learn the seven-step systematic approach to creative problem solving that will work in any field or industry.  It employs a highly visual, logic-tree method that can be applied to any problem, from strategic business decisions to global social challenges.  Charles and Rob, with decades of experience at McKinsey & Company and other institutions, provide a toolkit with 30 detailed real-world examples, so you can see exactly how the technique works in action.

You can order Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything by Charles Conn and Robert McLean from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Charles Conn is a former partner of McKinsey & Company and former CEO of the Rhodes Trust.  Rob McLean is Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company and a former Dean of the Australian Graduate School of Management.  This book aims to set out a 7-step programme for complex problem solving but while there’s some useful information here it presupposes a familiarity with some of the logic tree techniques, which makes it difficult to use for beginners. 

The book breaks down 7 basic steps to problem solving:

  • Define the problem
  • Disaggregate it
  • Prioritise
  • Workplan
  • Analyse
  • Synthesise
  • Communicate.

Each chapter takes one of the steps and the authors then use real case studies from Conn and McLean’s careers to illustrate each one.  For a number of chapters I found the case studies more useful than the explanation of the technique because Conn and McLean presuppose a familiarity with the underlying principles that I just didn’t have, which made it quite difficult for me to get into.  That said, there were things that I was able to take away from this, e.g. the logic trees offer a useful way of breaking down a problem into consequences and options, which I can see myself using in my day job.  I also liked the emphasis on communication of results of the problem solving exercise, including making it into a story so that people can track the process and understand the conclusions.

I wasn’t wholly convinced by the authors’ claim that the techniques could be applied to complex social problems, not least because of their emphasis on being cost-efficient, which frankly isn’t the best way of dealing with problems such as HIV, while the categorisation of obesity on economic lines seemed to me to ignore a whole host of societal debating points about body image and health.  The authors are also a little dismissive about experts, which I find a little daft – the idea that management consultants can solve problems using these techniques stretches credibility given they need experts to feed into their analysis.  It would have also been useful had the authors given examples where their techniques didn’t work or had to be redone as new information came to light following implementation because I think the case studies give a misleading view of a one-size roll out that gives good results from the get-go.

Ultimately, this is a useful text and it is worth taking a look if you’re looking at improving your problem solving skill set and I will be taking some of the steps on board for my own work, but this isn’t a great book for those new to the subject.   

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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