The Art of Problem Solving

A puzzle is a problem that one cannot solve because of a self-imposed constraint. Creativity is shackled by self-imposed constraints. Therefore, the key to freeing it lies in developing an ability to identify such constraints and deliberately removing them. Russell Ackhoff

So many books, so little time! When Steve recently recommended The Art of Problem Solving by Russell L. Ackoff, I promptly ordered it from my friends at Amazon. Originally published in 1978, this book retains its relevance. The book has two parts: The Art and Applications.

The Art section provided smiles and provoked thinking. For example, I’ve stated that a problem is the difference between what I have, and what I want. For Ackhoff, problems arise when a choice exists. No choice, no problem. Hmmm. And how about the three possible outcomes, solved, resolved, and dissolved? This section includes anecdotes from Ackoff’s experience which are summarized with “Morals” such as:

  • The end of one problem may be the beginning of another.
  • It is easy to blame others for our own mistakes, but it is hard to correct them doing so.
  • There is nothing so deceptive as an apparent truth.

The Applications section contains case studies amplifying the Art section contents. Other than the chapter “On Keeping Problems Solved”, this section didn’t do much for me.

I recommend this book to anyone involved with systems thinking. It discusses fundamental ideas that will aid in better thinking, which can only improve systems thinking.

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