Niven (100 Simple Secrets series) suggests that we right the rules of the game and not let our problems command the playing field.
The crux of the issue is well-taken: “If we look to our problems first, if we let a problem define the entirety of what we do next, more likely than not we will fail.” The author advises readers to set their problems aside and seek solutions. But what does that mean? Solutions to what? Well, to problems, one imagines. If you are hunting for a solution, the problem is hovering somewhere. Niven is more on the mark, if not groundbreaking, when he warns not to become obsessed by a problem, which clearly can diminish ingenuity, and not to let problems define the terms of the contest. The book’s appeal lies in its design: a handful of anecdotal problem-based-thinking dead ends that most readers will find relatable, a summary “takeaway” with a boldfaced key sentence, and a couple of tidy, encouraging pieces of counsel on approaching problems from atypical directions. The author keeps things light and scatters plenty of gems—e.g., “82.5 percent of us would physically hurt someone to teach him or her a lesson” or words from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: “Good taste will put you out of business.” Too often, however, Niven fails to be convincing. Sometimes the first draft, which he abjures, is the best, the freshest; sometimes our instinct to see bad over good is the wisest move, a healthy skepticism, not “a survival instinct that has survived too long.” Nor is it always true that the “best answer…will come” when you give your problem a rest. Most irksome are the false promises: “The solution is within you”; “Imagine turning your biggest problems into an asset. You can.”
A smooth repackaging of how to think outside the box but offering little heft and nothing new.