This book will help you to develop the skill of smart problem solving. It gives you the opportunity to learn from expert problem solvers how to change things for the better. “Solve It!” presents key results of the fascinating science of problem solving in a very accessible way with a lot of stories about how smart problem solvers like Elon Musk, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein or James Dyson think and act.

A short summary of the contents of the book (in a “one espresso” length)

  • Smart problem solving is a combination of smart thinking and smart acting.
  • It all starts with the right mindest. Smart problem solvers are optimistic (they assume that problems are there to be solved) and have a growth mindset (the belief that you can develop your skills and abilities though focused commitment).
  • It is easier to solve problems (without getting frustrated) if you focus on what you can influence and if you try to find the right people who can help you solve the problem.
  • There are a few common problem-solving errors that smart problem solvers try to avoid: solving the wrong problem, being too attached to pet ideas, and misjudging other people.
  • Following the five steps of a systematic problem-solving process (the “5Cs”) will increase your chances of finding a good solution:
    1. Clarify: Define the problem, find better ways of looking at it, and understand the goals that you (and others) would like to achieve.
    2. Causes: Learn more about the situation, identify possible root causes, and find out what really lies behind the problem.
    3. Create: Be creative—with the help of smart tools and other people—and come up with potential solutions for the problem.
    4. Choose: Weigh the pros and cons of your options and select the most promising one.
    5. Commit: Translate your solution into concrete action and commit yourself and others to making it happen.
  • There’s also a lot that we can learn from how people who make a living from solving problems for other people (like doctors, consultants, designers or coaches) approach the problem-solving task. The appendix of the book provides more insights on the methods and tricks of these expert problem solvers.

Key takeaway for smart leaders

  • Your attitude toward problems make a big difference. With an optimistic mindset and a focus on what you can influence, you will raise your chances of getting your problems solved.
  • Make sure to clarify what the real problem is before prematurely jumping to solutions.
  • It is easier to find effective solutions if you follow a systematic approach to problem solving.
Book reference: Sternad, D. (2021). Solve It! The Mindset and Tools of Smart Problem Solvers (econcise publishing). Available on Amazon:

Illustration: © Eva Kobin

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