Archive for the ‘Problem Solving’ Category


The times that I have a good idea or an insight, I like to tease, “Just call me Shirley Homes, Sherlock’s older smarter sister.” Yes, I used to play the violin, and no I never smoked a pipe. So you can imagine how thrilled I have been reading two reviews at two of my favorite websites of a new book, Mastermind:  How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova.

Jennifer Miller in How to Solve Problems Like Sherlock Holmes on Fast Company’s Co.Create website, maps Konnikova’s guide “for greater self-awareness, stronger memory, better focus, and enhanced creativity.”

With respect to mindfulness,

This means that focusing on one activity or thought at a time will help you notice or remember details in your work, the things your read, and the people you talk to.

With respect to organizing your brain attic,

In some ways, how to remember is the easier task. We are more likely to remember something if we connect it to a sensory experience or previous action.

With respect to creativity,

“Taking mental holidays can be incredibly productive for creativity and we need work environments which encourage that,” says Konnikova.

Maria Popova in How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: Lessons in Mindfulness and Creativity from the Great Detective on the Brain Pickings blog, dissects the book as only she can.

Konnikova builds a compelling case at the intersection of science and secular spiritualism, stressing the power of rigorous observation alongside a Buddhist-like, Cageian emphasis on mindfulness.

With respect to the brain attic,

Indeed, much like the inventor’s mind, the problem-solver’s mind is the product of that very choice: The details and observations we select to include in our “brain attic” shape and filter our perception of reality.

Popova also lists the four key strategies that Konnikova suggests for increasing attention:

1.  Be Selective

2.  Be Objective

3.  Be Inclusive

4.  Be Engaged

I recommend reading both reviews in their entirety.

Not just because this is a book about Sherlock Holmes as well as about thinking, but these reviews and Maria Popova’s highly recommended will have me going to my local bookstore for a copy.


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Again the HBR Blog site provides an invigorating article, How to Turn an Obstacle into an Asset by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Keifer, and Paul B. Brown posted on February 23, 2012.  They state something I truly believe,

Successful people habitually turn obstacles into assets.

They provide three reasons for reacting to a problem with gratitude.

1.  “First, you were going to find out eventually what people did and did not like about your idea.”

2.  “Second, the feedback could take you in another direction[.]”

3.  “Third, you got evidence. … You know something they don’t, and that is an asset.”

They provide a paper-and-pencil exercise to show you that it’s easier than you think to treat an obstacle as an asset.

These are some of the reason why I have never wanted to be surrounded by “yes” people.  It’s better to address different opinions and points of view at the onset of any decision making situation.  Even after considering and incorporating other viewpoints, it’s possible to encounter additional obstacles.  This doesn’t mean that you should continue to “walk into walls” and be grateful – there is a point at which you decide whether to cease or defer a course of action.

The bottom line is that

Successful people work with what they have at hand — whatever comes along — and try to use everything at their disposal in achieving their goals. And that is why they are grateful for surprises, obstacles, and even disappointments. It gives them more information and resources to draw upon.

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My last several blog posts have discussed data visualization and infographics; how to display numeric information.

There are other visualization techniques that can help organizations process information and problem solving.  A few of these visual techniques are:

  • Flow charts
  • Mind maps
  • Organization chart
  • Data flow diagrams
  • Fishbone diagrams

Another technique is visual language.  An introduction on using visual information, written by David Sibbet, can be found on The Grove Consultants International website, where you can find several examples and resources, including videos.

Why do visuals help process information?

A TED talk by Tom Wujec, Tom Wujec on 3 ways the brain creates meaning, answers the question, “What is it about animation, graphics, illustrations, that create meaning?

Information designer Tom Wujec talks through three areas of the brain that help us understand words, images, feelings, connections. In this short talk from TEDU, he asks: How can we best engage our brains to help us better understand big ideas?

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What does creative thinking have to do leading or managing a nonprofit?  That’s the question I had when I started reading 8 Secrets to Creative Thinking (Hint:  Steal from Others), another thought-provoking article on the Fast Company Design blog site.


Even though the article is written for the graphic designer, there are several quotes that are worth thinking about.


“Look! have you ever noticed this before? Even though it was right under your nose.”

This statement reminds me that we should not assume that we understand the situation.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  Look at the situation from every angle – upside down, inside out, from the client’s perspective, from the employee’s point of view, from the manager’s seat.

“So, if anyone who can type can do much of the work previously done by well-paid specialists, what’s left for the designer? They have to do things that a typist with a computer can’t do. This means that they have to be thinkers, problem-solvers,…”

There are a lot of tools and references available to us; e.g., books that take you step-by-step through a strategic planning process; basic websites that you can tweak to create a site for your organization.  I tend to think of these as solutions looking for problems.  You have to understand the situation, have a well-defined problem or outcome, and know whether or not the tool is appropriate or should be modified to your needs.  The following quote from the article says it well,

When you get a job, regardless of how familiar the subject, resist any temptation to think you know enough about it, and you’re ready to design….Research the subject as if you know nothing about it….I do know that the more you research the subject, the more likely you are to discover something really interesting, or better yet, something original, something that no one has ever noticed before.

Finally, when we think we have a problem and begin to look for solutions, we establish boundaries in our thinking.

The most likely chance of having an interesting solution is to begin with an interesting problem. Unfortunately, almost every problem designers are likely to get will be boring. The first thing, therefore, is to redefine the problem so that it is interesting.

To reword the above quote, “the most likely chance of having a real solution is to begin with the real problem.”  Identifying the real problem is probably the hardest part in problem solving and creative thinking.

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