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Strategies for Creative Problem Solving

by H. Scott Fogler and Steven E. LeBlanc


Emphasizing engineering problems, Fogler and LeBlanc offer a five-part problem solving tactic of definition, generation, decision, implementation, and evaluation. The authors include a large number of real world examples of problem solving gone wrong.


Most intriguing, are examples of individuals solving wrong problems, especially the problem within a problem of wording a problem. "What problem should I solve?" is at least as important as "How should I solve my problem?" If you tell workers the problem is designing a flowmeter that will not corrode and leak, the workers may waste resources trying to build a super flowmeter. The best solution to a leaking flowmeter may be replace it at regular intervals before leaking starts.


A hilarious example that appears in several problem-solving books: When hotel guests complained about slow elevators, the problem was originally worded: Make elevators go faster. That did not work. It was then worded: Install additional elevator. That proved too costly. The best solution: Distract guests with their vanity by installing mirrors in front of the elevators. The problem might have been worded: Make elevator riders happy.


If a space capsule overheats on reentry, the obvious problem is finding materials that survive. A potentially ignored problem would be finding materials that vaporize and dissipate thermal energy.


Poorly worded problems and poorly solved problems make up the best parts of this work. Many of these problems share errors of failing to brainstorm and failing to find right information. A good idea might be trying to word a situation several different ways, then researching and brainstorming many solutions.


This work’s weaknesses include some psychobabble, pointless platitudes, and other feel-good methods, but the good parts outweigh them. Recommended. 203p (H)        

Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 26, 2009


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