Here are some books, websites, and papers that can help you improve your strategic thinking skills. For the most part, these references below are user friendly. If you want more specialized work, especially papers, please look at the end of each post.
My book, Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving, is now available. For a more graphical treatment, you may want to look at our slidedecks:
Problem-solving in general
- The scientific method is driving our approach to problem solving; the tools we’re discussing on this site are only ways to make it easier to follow it. So invest in knowing it. Hugh Gauch has written the best book on the scientific method that I’ve seen.
- Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky’s Judgement under Uncertainty is eye-opening… and scary. We, humans, suffer from all sorts of biases so you should at least learn about them.
- Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto advocates for more structure in how we approach problems, even familiar ones. It’s a quick and entertaining read too.
- The National Research Council recently published recommendations for the intelligence community. Most of those are directly applicable to anyone interested in becoming a better problem solver.
- The National Academies Press also has a NSF-funded report with a chapter dedicated to solving problems in science and engineering.
- George Pólya’s How to Solve it is an excellent resource. Pólya looks at a general approach and more focused tactics to solving mathematical problems. Most of his material is directly applicable to all types of problems. This is a great book.
- The Oxford Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning touches problem solving in various chapters. It approaches from the standpoint of psychology. It’s a great resources, even though it does get technical.
- Ken Watanabe’s Problem Solving 101 is a good primer. Explaining problem solving to kids, ex-McKinsey consultant Watanabe does a great job at introducing the key concepts of the process.
- There’s a bunch of people out there telling you how to solve problems without strong evidence to support their claims. Pfeffer and Sutton make a compelling point for a more evidence-based approach to management.
- I have a couple of presentations on the problem-solving approach discussed on this site.
Frame the problem / Define the problem
- You can trust designers to be good at problem framing, and IDEO is arguably one of the best design firms in the world. Its founders, Tom and David Kelley, have various books on innovation, amongst other themes.
- Bazerman and Moore’s Judgment in Managerial Decision Making is simple, fun and insightful.
- Barbara Minto’s Pyramid principles is a classic on using logic to improve our thinking and communication. Her techniques are endorsed by the entire consulting world.
Diagnose the problem
- The 5 Whys technique of the Six Sigma methodology has some similarities with developing why logic trees.
- Richards Heuer and Randolph Pherson have a good repository of techniques for solving complex problems. They apply to both the diagnosis and the solution identification phase.
- The intelligence community uses behavioral and social science tools that can benefit all of us in solving complex problems.
- Michael Alley’s The Craft of Scientific Presentations offers great ideas to improve one’s presenting skills.
- Innovating can be difficult. Roberta Ness’s Innovation Generation can help you improve your skills.
- Morgan Jones’ Thinker’s Toolkit as a great section on testing hypotheses. Its section on identifying the right problem is also worth your time.
- Groups are smarter than individuals according to James Surowiecki and Scott Page. Both books are great.
- Kenichi Ohmae’s The Mind of the Strategist is a classic on business strategy. Various of his sections are directly relevant to our themes, including determining the critical issue and using diagrams/trees.
- Schwartz’ The Paradox of Choice is good resource for understanding the concepts of satisficing and optimizing, identifying where you.
Execute your solution
- Bazerman and Neale’s Negotiating Rationally is an excellent resource to become a better negotiator. Negotiation is critical, so you may want to look at other books such as Thompson’s, Fisher et al.’s, Raiffa’s, and another one by Raiffa.
- Garr Reynolds has a blog, Presentation Zen, about preparing and delivering presentations. He also has a book out with the same name.
- Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology has excellent ideas to make your slides more powerful.
- Not to take away from Reynolds or Duarte—as presentations have various purposes—but everyone and their mother have an opinion of what makes a good slide design. Michael Alley, at Penn State, is one of the only ones I know who actually has some data supporting his view. And, by the way, yes: you should put your main idea in the tagline of your slide.
- Dan Pink talks a lot about the importance of design; the main point of A Whole New Mind is that analytical skills are not enough anymore, you also need to use the right side of your brain.
- An anonymous poster has a good presentation on Slideshare on how to present.
- iStockPhoto has a bunch of royalty-free photos to help you enhance your presentations (most photos on this site are from there).
- Gene Zelazny’s Say it with Presentations and Say it with Charts provide good tips to improve your presentations. Zelazny has been McKinsey’s director of visual communications for a gazillion years (not to age him), so he knows a thing or two about how to communicate well with presentations.
- TED Talks is an amazing collection of current trend-setting intellectuals and artists. Each have 18 minutes (or less) to talk about their subjects. The talks are a good source of inspiration to improve our presentations.
- Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic on human interactions. It’s an easy read, with each chapter summarized in a short principle, and it’s full of great ideas.
- Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is also a great resource for managing people.
- Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is a great resource to identify the managerial pitfalls of executives and ensuring that you’ll avoid them.
- Getting to Yes is a great guide to improve your negotiation skills.
- Steven Sample’s Guide to the Contrarian Leadership has many good ideas applicable to all stages of the problem-solving process.
- If you think that leading change is tough, try doing it in a university. Bowen’s Reflections of a University President recounts some of his experiences at Princeton.
- Access to world-class courses is getting easier than ever. Coursera, EdX and OnlineCourses.com are great resources to get to know more about specific subjects.
Problem solvers you may consider following
- Ken Homa teaches two courses in the MBA program at Georgetown: Strategic Business Analytics and Consulting Methods and Frameworks and Contexts. His blog is thought provoking.
- Tim van Gelder teaches at the University of Melbourne. Also, he leads Austhink, a consultancy that helps with solving complex problems.