New book by Rice’s Chevallier offers powerful ideas for problem-solving


There’s a humorous account on the internet of problem-solving in the aerospace industry: A pilot reports to mechanics that there’s a noise coming from under the aircraft’s instrument panel. “It sounds like a dwarf pounding on something with a hammer.” The mechanics documented their solution: “Took hammer away from dwarf.”

Arnaud Chevallier

Arnaud Chevallier

Not all problems can be solved so easily. Fortunately, Rice’s Arnaud Chevallier has written a new book based on his course that offers guidance to solving complex, challenging problems. Chevallier, associate vice provost for academic affairs and strategic partnerships, teaches strategic thinking in Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.

Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving,” published by Oxford University Press, is a toolkit that provides practical ways to develop problem-solving skills, such as investigating complex questions with issue maps, using logic to promote creativity, leveraging analogical thinking to approach unfamiliar problems and managing diverse groups to foster innovation.

Book“The book doesn’t just talk about problem-solving at a philosophical level; it breaks it down in concrete, actual ways of working your way through a problem,” Chevallier said. “For instance, many of our students have been told to follow the scientific method in which you formulate a hypothesis and then test it. But for many, nobody has explained to them how to design that test. Should they look only for opposing evidence? How can they ensure that they are not leaving any gaps in their thinking? How should they relate pieces of evidence to hypotheses? The book offers some tools for them to do that — in this case, argument mapping, a graphical way of breaking down an argument into its constituent parts, which has been shown to improve students’ critical thinking skills.”

Chevallier divides the process into four steps: frame the problem, diagnose the problem, find solutions and implement a solution. For each of these four steps, he explains techniques that promote success and demonstrates how to apply them on a case study and in additional examples. The featured case study guides the reader through the resolution process and illustrates how these concepts apply.

He said he hopes the techniques can help people in any discipline become better problem-solvers.

“I left school with a nice diploma and the illusion that I was well-prepared to tackle whatever challenges came my way,” he said. “In reality, my first few months as a management consultant were very hard because school hadn’t prepared me fully. Sure, I had technical expertise, but nobody had taught me how to approach a new, complex problem. I wish I had a way to learn other than trial and error. I feel that the book can help students and young professionals jump-start their career by giving them a few key concepts.”

Learn more about Chevallier and his new book at




About Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans is a senior editor in the Rice's Office of Public Affairs.