Thing 1: This book should take you maybe a few hours to read.
Thing 2: This book took me much longer to read, but that's because I kept pausing to look up some of the sources they used to do some extra read-up.
Thing 3: You need to read this book.
Those being said, here's the run-down of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's latest novel, Think Like a Freak. It focuses on un-learning the typical, adult-view thought process for approaching problems and questions, and offers some good advice and tricks for how to get more done by attacking issues from new angles. One big point is that for most people, they see an issue or a question and they try to figure it out head-on, tackling the whole thing at once and typically end up in a big pile of frustrating failure. Thinking differently (like a Freak) is how you can instead take chunks out of the larger issue and address them one at a time. One example given was the ongoing problem of world hunger. No one has ever been able to address the problem as a whole, because it's simply too large and complex for that kind of thought process. Instead, people who want to help solve the problem of world hunger should take a piece of the problem - how can I help feed the hungry in my neighborhood, for example - and solve that part first. Then, once that's finished (or running smoothly), you can move on to the next part, and eventually you may find yourself able to go after what's left of the original question.
The whole book is well-written - conversational, filled with little stories to help communicate their points instead of just listing out long dry essays that factually support their argument but leave your brain feeling like it just munched on a bunch of sun-dried cardboard. There were two takeaways that I think are especially important, and even more so for those of us in a job where complex problem-solving is part of our daily routine:
1. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." It's not a mark of stupidity; if you don't know the best way (or any way) to solve an issue that's presented to you, don't pretend you do. Instead, say you don't know and invite other people to help solve the issue together - brainstorming can be a powerful tool when used appropriately (which is also touched on in this book).
2. Don't be afraid to quit. Far too often, we associate quitting with failure, but the fact is, they aren't the same - and in some cases, quitting can be an important victory. One example they used was research done in the medical field. If you are trying to find the cure for something and you realize what you're doing won't work, quit. It's not a failure - in fact, you've helped all the other researchers (and yourself) by eliminating a bad path, which means it's more likely that someone will go down the right path and find the cure instead of following you down a path you already know leads nowhere useful.
Levitt and Dubner do a much better job of expanding these ideas, and cover the overall notion of retraining the way you look at and solve problems. I won't say that the entire book applies to everyone, but I think that there is something for everyone, regardless of your job or hobbies.
Go check it out - and get your Freak on!