Monthly Archives: November 2009

Problem Solving

Problems are always attached within our lives wheter are you student, employee, or even a UN’s secretary general. We all have problems wheter big or small. What differentiated one from another is how they face problems.

Rule number one is the attitude. Perhaps you have mastered the problem-solving tools. But problem solving is not just skills, it is a whole mind-set.  A true problem solver is constantly trying to bring out the best in them to shape their environment, their world.

According to Ken Watanabe – A former Mckinsey & Company management consultant – there are four types of attitude which can get in the way of effective problem solving.  Maybe these attitudes remind you of someone, or remind you of yourself. Now let us identify some:

  • Miss Sigh

She is a kind of person who gives up immediately whenever she faces a smallest challenge. Sometimes Miss Sigh had a great idea to fix a problem. But she is afraid to speak it up. Afraid people will laugh at her.  Mrs Sigh can’t take control of her life. She just sighs.

  • Mr Critic

Mr Critic is never afraid to speak up. Whenever someone comes up with the plan, he is ready to point out the weakneses and attack everybody else’s ideas. He is always eager to blame someonle else whenever things go wrong. Similar with Miss Sigh, Mr Critic never gets anything done. Maybe he is too afraid to take responsibillites and face the fact that he himself makes mistakes.

  • Miss Dreamer

Miss Dreamer has her head stuck in the clouds. She has great ideas, but she never goes beyond that. Miss Dreamer is never bothered maps out her dreams into set of action. She is statisfied with thinking about her dreams.

  • Mr. Go-Getter

Different from others, Mr.Go-Getter seems like a non-problem solver. He is proactive and doesn’t have problems with negative thoughts. He quickly jumps into action when anything goes wrong. However, he is kind of someone who doesn’t know how to pause and think before act. He tends to blame every failure on lack of effort. He is not interested in finding the root-cause of the problem. All he wants to do is trying harder and harder. He failed to realize that stopping to think might as important as taking action.

What kind of attitude does problem-solver have? Like Mr.Go-Getter, problem solver doesn’t hesitate to take action, but the difference is they know when to step on the brake and change the direction. They identify root cause of the problems and setting a specific goal. While taking action they are also monitoring their progress to make sure they are heading to the right direction.

Rule number two is the steps. Problem solving is not magic. Problems will not dissapear with a single wave of hands or with an uttering of incantation. It requires several steps to be done, and every step is important. Those steps are; (1) understand the current situation, (2) identify the root cause of the problem, (3) develop an action plan, (4) execute until the problem is solved and making modifications if needed.

At the very beginning, before you solve anything, you have to realize there is a problem. Afterwards, you have to find the root-cause. Yet, finding the root-cause of the problem is not enough, you have to think how to fix your problem and take the action.

Although it sounds very easy and simple, the practice is not easy and sometimes it gets tricky. Along the way, there are obstacles, a true problem solver are persistent to the goal and always open to changes and modifications as necessary.

I would give you the example taken from Watanabe’s Problem Solving 101 book.

Consider a student whose math grades are going down. Like any normal students, the student would have to raise his grades. Maybe, without finding what actually the root-cause of the problem, He made a decision to quit soccer team and focus studying. This extreme decision would be such a waste if the main problem is not how long he studies, but how effective.

A problem solvng kid might start by asking himself, “What type of question am I getting wrong?” Then he breaks down the question into categories like, algebra, fraction, and geometry. By comparing the scores between categories he might find that the algebra score is going up, fraction is flat and only geometry is going down. Just looking at the average math grades, doesn’t help him to see the exact problems.

If geometry is the problem, then he must further break down geometry scores into subtopics including area, angles, and volume to better identify the problem.

When his understanding goes from level “my math grades are going down” to more specific “my math grades are going down because I’m not doing well in three topic: trapezoid area, cylinder volume and pyhtaogorean theorm application” the effectiveness of his plan and the end result would be significantly different.

After He identifes what problems that cause him troubles, then he can make an action plan. Wheter it is to increase study time or to improve his method. Increase study time means adding extra study time before sleep or after waking up. Improve his method can be done by swithcing to a better textbook, ask teacher and friends, or hire a tutor.

The effective way to solve math problems is different for everybody. That is why you should asking the “why” and “how” question to develop a custom-made action plan. As you can see, problem solving is not complicated, even if it is big and complicated. You just have to break it down into small manageable problems, and you will be able to solve it.

Rule number three is the tools. Tools are important. But you only can use the tool after you have the attitude and understand the steps. Problem solving tools which will I describe below are simple common tools used for problem solving. Not limited only to these tools, perhaps there are other thousands of toolsl which can be used for problem solving activites. Anything which help you understand the situtation, map your idea, or simply give you better visualisation, can be considered as a tool.

  • Logic tree

Logic tree is a simple yet versatile visual tool. You probably have been using it to describe ideas. In problem solving, logic tree can help you to identify root cause of the problems and develop solutions. The key point of using logic tree is to break down problems into categories without anything left out. Here’s the example

  • Yes/no tree

Ye s or no tree can be used to figured out a problem or developing  solutions by posing mulitple yes/no questions. I give you a funny example. Ignore the harsh words though

  • Problem solving desgin plan

Problem solving design plan is designed to collecting and analysing data to support your hypothesis. In the desgin plan you clarify the issue you are going to solve, state your hypothesis and reasons, list the analysis, actions and information to prove or disaprove your hypothesis. It doesn’t have to be above mentioned, you can make your own design plan correspond to current situation. I’ll give you the example taken from Watanabe’s book. It’s about a band called The Mushroom Lovers. After their first three concerts, they had only 15 peoples. After made hypothesis, they are trying to collect information to prove and dissaprove their hypothesis. They need a design plan to avoid collect irrelevant information. Their design plan as follow;


Hypothesis Rationale Analysis Information

Why are some pople who know about the concerts not coming?

Because they don’t like rock music in general What music lover wouldn’t go to a free show Interview 5 people who knew about the concerts but didn’t attend Interview

  • Hypothesis pyramid

Hypothesis pyramid is a great tool to structuring your argument. It can be used to clarify your conclusion and useful for communicating your arguments to others. The basic structure puts the conclusion on top while supporting arguments on the bottom, like structure of pyramids.

  • Pros and Cons; Criteria and evaluation

When you need to evaluate multiple options and select the best, you can use Pros and Cons table. It really helps you before you make any decisions. It ensures you to consider the good and bad aspects. You also can use criteria and evaluation tool to make decision. By criteria, you can evaluate your options and decide the importance of each criterias. These examples are also taken from Watanabe’s book.

Pro con’s table

Pro’s Con’s
Amadillo high school +++ High quality of education

++ strong baseball team

++ free tuition

++ some of friends will probably go there

– – – No study abroad program

–far from home

–old school building

Total 10 + Total 5 –
Beaver high school +++ High quality of education

+++ strong baseball team

+++ study abroad program

+++ free tuition

++ many of friends will probably go there

–far from home

–old school builiding

Total 14 + Total 2 –

Criteria & evaluation table

Criteria Importance Amadillo HS Beaver HS
Quality of education high +++ +++
Study abroad program High + (no) +++
Strenght of baseball team Medium ++ ++
Cost of tuition high +++ (free) +++(free)

We can see that to solve a problem is not hard. Like riding bicylce, swimming, and any other stuff, it needs practice. Once you are used to, You can stop panicking, get a grip, and start thinking.  Problem solving is easy when you know how to set a clear goal, figure out how to reach it, and follow through while reviewing progress and making changes to your plan as necessary

We also have to change our perspective to a problem. Rather seeing it as a problems, we could view it as a challange. A chance to make ourselves, our community or even the world better.

*Most of it are taken from Ken Watanabe’s book: Problem Solving 101. It is actually a book for children to face new problem-solving focused education. But somehow, with simple language, real-life examples and attractive pictures, a complicated matters become easy and manageable.


Kebahagiaan dan Absurditas

Beberapa hari lalu Saya membaca email yang dikirim oleh seorang kawan. Kurang lebih pesannya seperti ini;  seringkali kita berlari dan berlari tanpa mengatahui tujuan kita, dan ketika kita telah sampai diakhir ternyata kita sadar bukan hal itu yang kita cari selama ini. Kemudian, penulis mencoba menghubungkan kebahagiaan dengan mengerjakan hal-hal yang disukai. Terdengar indah dan menginspirasi memang, tapi sekaligus absurd. Di dunia yang selamanya tidak bisa ditebak dan chaotic, manusia mencoba mencari makna, mencari tujuan.  Seperti mencoba mendapatkan makna dari sesuatu yang sebetulnya tidak jelas, absurd.

Memiliki tujuan hidup memang membuat kita memiliki semangat ditengah ketidakpastian.  Saya berani bertaruh, hampir semua orang waras di dunia ini memiliki tujuan dalam hidupnya, entah itu sekedar untuk makan atau untuk menjadi sukses dan terkenal. Saya pun memiliki tujuan hidup, walaupun kemudian Saya sering mempertanyakan kembali tujuan hidup Saya.

Selama ini, Saya beranggapan bahwa mimpi-mimpi adalah tujuan hidup. Karir cemerlang dan hidup serba kecukupan adalah tujuan  Tapi kemudian  Saya pun menjadi ragu dan kembali mempertanyakan, karena pada akhirnya Saya pun akan terbentur tembok kenyataan. Karir tidak akan pernah selesai didaki, harta tidak akan habis dicari. Sejujurnya, Saya masih ragu dengan apa yang sebetulnya dicari.  Saya kerap mempertanyakan, mungkin dengan mempertanyakan apa yang sebetulnya dicari  semakin dekat atau bisa jadi akan semakin menjauh. Dan Saya pun terjebak dalam absurditas.

Apakah yang Saya cari itu kebahagiaan?

Di email itu, penulis mencoba menghubungkan kebahagiaan dengan melakukan hal-hal yang disukai. Katanya “Kebahagiaan dalam hidup ini akan dapat Anda raih bila Anda melakukan sesuatu yang benar-benar Anda nikmati”. Sepintas memang terdengar menginspirasi. Tapi, pada kenyataannya dunia tidak dapat ditebak, kebahagiaan tidak sesederhana itu, dan hal-hal yang benar-benar kita nikmati belum tentu menjamin kebahagiaan.  Seberapa keraspuun berusaha, pada akhirnya manusia dipaksa tunduk oleh sesuatu diluar kemampuan nalarnya, sesuatu yang mungkin kita namakan takdir atau kehendak Tuhan. Manusia selamanya hidup dalam absurditas.

Albert Camus,  dalam essai Le mhyte de sisyphe, menggambarkan ketidakberdayaan manusia terhadap sesuatu diluar nalar.  Sisyphus, sesorang yang dikutuk Dewa, selamanya hanya mendorong batu besar ke atas gunung hanya untuk melihatnya menggelinding ke bawah dan mendorongnya kembali. Pekerjaan yang sia-sia itu merupakan metafor dari kehidupan modern yang sehari-hari berjibaku dengan hal yang sama, berulang-ulang, absurd.


Pada akhirnya, pencarian kebahagian akan sampai pada kehampaan dan kesia-siaan. Mencoba menjelaskan tentang dunia dan kontradiksinya hanya akan membuat kebahagiaan semakin menjauh. Mungkin karena itulah Eleanor Roosevelt  percaya happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct. Memang, orang-orang hebat di dunia yang menginspirasi adalah orang-orang yang tidak terobsesi dengan kebahagiaan itu sendiri,  melainkan mereka yang berani berjuang, melakukan perubahan dan bergulat dengan kehidupan. Bukan orang-orang yang terobsesi mengejar kebahagiaan.

Lucu memang ketika kita terobsesi mempelajari dan mengejar  kebahagiaan, semakin tidak bahagia kita dibuatnya, semakin membingungkan dan semakin absurd.

A Girl Who Silenced the World for five Minutes

It was 17 years ago. This 12 years old  girl , Severn Suzuki, made a stunning speech at Earth Summit which attended by environmental ministers from all over the world  in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. She spoke for ECO – The Environmental Children’s Organization – a group of twelve and thirteen years old.

Amazing, while i was playing soccer and getting addicted to TV shows, this girl kicked some ass at the Summit. Even after 17 years, this speech is still relevant with environmental problems nowadays. She was able to increase global awareness about such problems.  So, here is the excerpt and the video:

“Hello, I’m Severn Suzuki speaking for E.C.O. – The Environmental Children’s Organisation. We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference: Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg and me. We raised all the money ourselves to come five thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come.

I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard.

I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard.

I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don’t know what chemicals are in it.

I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear about animals and plants going extinct every day vanishing forever.

In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see.

Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age?

All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions. I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realise, neither do you! You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer. You don’t know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!

At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us: not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share – not be greedy.

Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?

Do not forget why you’re attending these conferences, who you’re doing this for “” we are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying “everything going to be alright” , “we’re doing the best we can” and “it’s not the end of the world”.

But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities? My father always says “You are what you do, not what you say.”

Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words. Thank you.

Seventeen years has passed and Suzuki speech is still relevant with current situation. Now i’m working for fertilizer company, environmental section. Everyday, I have been trying to raise environment awareness. Then I realized that I am lagging in term of environmental protection. I’m left behind. When everyone is making an action plan, I’m still raising awareness. Raising awareness is easy, because everyone wants to be involved in “green movement”.

Now, green has become new kind of lifestyle.  Here and there we can see “green” movement, but somehow along the way the major purpose has gotten lost. Green movement is not about music concerts, is not about gaining political influence, is not about marketing strategy. Green has became a license to feel good without doing something good, as Thomas Friedman a NY Times columnist said. Green movement is about how we respond to a great challenge to preserve our natural world. It is a survival strategy. And to face it, we have to stop doing easy thing like organizing “go green” music concert and choose the road less-traveled.

We should be ashamed. Seventen years ago, a twelve years old girl did something. She raised money and gave a speech in front of policy makers. Now, the best thing we can do is running “go green” music concert. I’m sure that everybody knows the “1000 ways to save the earth”, but when it comes to real action, rarely we see a hero. Suzuki speech has become a reminder of what green movement is all about “You are what you do, not what you say.”