• Innovation

Solve Big Problems – Sell the Solutions

New book reveals the techniques top strategy consultants use to solve complex business problems and sell their solutions


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Solving problems and building support for the solutions arrived at is critical to both personal and business success. Every business leader needs to be able to work with his or her team to solve problems and then sell the solutions arrived at to colleagues, customers, and other stakeholders. This core skill does not come naturally – but can be learned.

“We work with change-oriented executives to help them make better decisions, convert those decisions to actions and deliver the sustainable success they desire,” says Bain & Company’s ‘What We Do’ description.

Surely this statement, from one of the world’s top strategy consultants, describes what every business leader aims to do. But, without the insight of Bain & Company or McKinsey & Company et al., consistently making better decisions to solve complex problems is an aim many business leaders struggle to meet.

In their new book, Cracked It! How to Solve Big Problems and Sell Solutions Like Top Strategy Consultants, professors Benard Garrette and Olivier Sibony from HEC Paris, and Corey Phelps from McGill University, draw on the latest thinking from cognitive psychology, on design thinking techniques, and on inside knowledge from top consultants to offer sophisticated advice to business people engaged in problem solving.

The authors point out that “the core problem of problem solving” comes from the dichotomy between the brain’s two modes of thought – fast, instinctive, and emotional, or slow, deliberative, and logical – and that the answer to successful problem solving is for people to be “as thorough as Hamlet and as action orientated as Othello,” but crucially without Hamlet’s analysis paralysis or Othello’s disastrous jumping too fast to the wrong conclusion.

With a focus on business problems and illustrated with many real-life examples, from Airbus to Starbucks, the book describes the critical thinking principles needed to circumvent these five problem solving pitfalls:

  • Flawed problem definitions that lead to flawed solutions
  • Confirmation bias that pursues flawed solutions despite contrary evidence
  • Using known frameworks instead of being open to fresh viewpoints
  • Framing problems too narrowly without seeing the bigger picture
  • Communicating the solution badly so that even if it is good and viable it is either not taken up or poorly implemented.

The book describes a disciplined, iterative, process the authors call the 4S method (State, Structure, Solve and Sell), which introduces concepts such as: developing a problem statement; using hypothesis pyramids or issue trees or design thinking; prototyping or analysis to test solutions; and finally developing a clear storyline (before creating slick visuals) in order to create a persuasive presentation to sell the solution.

With the coming age of Artificial Intelligence maybe the problem solving techniques described in this book will become redundant. Maybe machines will solve our business problems for us – or maybe not. For now, in today’s increasingly complex business world, the practical advice provided here remains invaluable. Today we have better tools for analysis and ‘big data’ provides almost infinite information on the business environments we operate in, but information alone is not enough. We need the expertise to use it effectively.

Cracked It! How to Solve Big Problems and Sell Solutions Like Top Strategy Consultants, Bernard Garrette, Corey Phelps and Olivier Sibony. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, ISBN 978-3-319-89374-7

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