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Front Page - Friday, April 28, 2023

Book review: Can’t work through it? 4 ways to work around it

Point A to Point B. That’s the route a map will take you. It’s how plans are written, but sometimes you know that’s not how life goes.

A meandering path offers better vistas. A circuitous drive might be faster. You can assemble small parts before putting together the big ones. In “The Four Workarounds,” author Paulo Savaget explains why a straight line isn’t the only direction to go.

The problem you’ve got is a thorny one.

You’ve thought about it and can’t quite figure out a solution, one that’s inexpensive and doable. We “often follow conventional wisdom, which streamlines our responses to daily tasks,” Savaget says, which means we often miss (or “dismiss”) solutions that could work better. Sometimes, a workaround – or “a creative, flexible, imperfection-loving, problem-solving approach” – is the answer.

There are, he says, four workaround methods, which he describes as “piggyback, loophole, roundabout and next best.”

The piggyback is a workaround that describes when “symbiotic relationships leverage” that which already exists. Savaget cites a company that took advantage of Coca Cola deliveries in Africa to send life-saving medication to impoverished areas. Advertisers, he says, particularly love piggybacking.

Loophole workarounds work when “rules do (and don’t) say we can benefit from their inadequacies to circumvent or otherwise avoid their purpose.” Activists, lawyers and tech people are big fans of a loophole workaround, even though, Savaget points out, there might be moral issues with it.

If you’ve ever used a rubber band on your wrist to stop a bad habit, you’re familiar with a roundabout workaround. These “workarounds disturb and redirect positive feedback loops, which lead to self-reinforced behaviors.” Social movements are big users of roundabout workarounds.

Finally, next best workarounds use repurposing as a fix, focusing “on alternatives that are available but largely ignored.”

“Workarounds,” Savaget says, are “like playing.” The “building blocks” are in front of you. “Your challenge is to build something.”

Confoundingly, “The Four Workarounds,” a book about making complex problems simple, is anything but simple.

The author dives deeply into his subject, citing examples with such ease that readers who are unaware of the represented companies may find themselves perplexed and unsure. Any further explaining of the information on each individual workaround can make things better – or, more often, they can make things more muddled. It’s going to take some serious thought, therefore, to understand how workarounds can translate to your business or your life.

Fortunately, Savaget’s examples are not staid or stuffy, and he wraps up each chapter well. Also helpful: the last half of the book puts the workarounds in motion. Still, readers should be willing to jump backward and forward in this book, in order to ensure maximum benefits.

While this book seems aimed at business owners and managers, it also contains useful ideas for anyone who’s creative and nimbly savvy enough to want to find new ways of doing old things. Think of “The Four Workarounds” as a book of hacks, and make a beeline for it.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.