Dealing with Ambiguity and Creative Problem Solving

Now there are two skill sets absolutely essential for business (and life). How to teach them? Well, certainly not through brute memorization or rote learning. Though I think the China/India/Brazil phenomenon in real, especially in the field of high technology, they have one big hole. Most of the Asian education system is obsessive about standardized tests (you fail in Japan, and your life is over!). Americans bitch about how much the SAT is taking over, but we still have it much better off than other countries. You can see the effects of this education system if you hire Asian programmers. You must provide insanely detailed product requirement documents or else basic things don’t get done. I think this is more than simply a language divide; it’s rooted in the work culture. Tell us the rules, and we’ll kick butt. Alas, sometimes you must invent the rules and deal with ambiguity on the fly by using intuition. Clearly, this is a generalization, but it’s been consistently true in all software development projects I’ve been witness to.

America can still hold onto its competitive advantage if it keeps these two skill sets – dealing with ambiguity and creative problem solving – at the top of the list. We’re not moving in the right direction, as I outline in my essay "Education and My Generation" in my forthcoming book.

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