Cracked it! How to solve big problems and sell solutions like top strategy consultants | Bernard Garrette

Summary of: Cracked it! How to solve big problems and sell solutions like top strategy consultants
By: Bernard Garrette

The 4S Method

A step-by-step guide for identifying core problems and successful solutions using the 4S method.

Are you struggling to find the root of a problem? The 4S method provides a solution by breaking down problem identification into five questions, answered iteratively, to uncover hidden layers.
The first step is to identify the trouble. Define trouble as the gap between expectation and reality, then ask why to get at the root cause of the issue. Next, determine who owns the problem, as this will help to clarify the extent of the problem. The third step is to imagine what success will look like, which will facilitate discussions on how to measure success. The fourth step involves recognizing limitations that might impede progress towards a solution: time, budget, or access to information, among others. Relaxing constraints may be necessary to move forward. Lastly, assess who has a stake in the solution by conducting a stakeholder analysis to identify all interested parties and their objectives.

Using the 4S method, the music industry was able to identify the core problem with MP3 file-sharing: it wasn’t illegal downloads, but rather revenue growth. By addressing this issue, they were able to maximize sales and thrive despite technological advancements in the sector. Use the 4S method to identify your core problems and achieve successful solutions.


Welcome to the intriguing world of problem-solving and strategic decision-making presented in Bernard Garrette’s book, Cracked it! How to Solve Big Problems and Sell Solutions like Top Strategy Consultants. This book summary unfolds a journey through the realm of organized thinking, overcoming pitfalls, and employing the 4S method – stating the problem, structuring the solution, solving the problem, and selling the solution – for tackling various challenges across different industries. Explore how the TOSCA framework, hypothesis-driven approach, issue-driven approach, and design thinking can help you address complex business problems and achieve effective results.

The Pitfalls of Fast Thinking

The story of Dell’s decline demonstrates the dangers of relying on instinct and subconscious connections in decision-making, which psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “System 1 thinking.” The example also shows the importance of questioning assumptions, gathering more data, and avoiding “analysis paralysis” to arrive at sound solutions. Even experts can fall victim to mental pitfalls, making a systematic problem-solving method like the 4S method a useful approach for any decision-maker to tackle complex business problems.

Pitfalls in Decision-Making

Decision-making is difficult, and when done informally, can lead to pitfalls. The five common pitfalls to avoid are: errors in defining the problem, taking solutions for granted, applying the wrong framework, framing a problem too narrowly, and failing to communicate the solution.

The first pitfall to avoid is errors in defining the problem. This can occur when the problem is not defined correctly, as seen in the music industry executives’ lawsuit. The executives failed to see the potential in technology-enabled music distribution, resulting in the loss of revenue.

The second pitfall is taking solutions for granted. Even when the problem is correctly defined, decision-makers can fall into the trap of starting with a solution in mind. This approach often leads to assumptions being made, and inadequate research being conducted. An example of this pitfall is in Danone CEO Franck Riboud and Grameen Bank’s Muhammad Yunus attempting to tackle child malnutrition in Bangladesh by producing yogurt. They failed to research important aspects of the product such as storage, distribution, marketing, pricing and customer perceptions.

The third pitfall is applying the wrong framework. Frameworks come with assumptions and can blind decision-makers to aspects of a problem that lie outside the framework. The story of the call center’s HR director introducing personality algorithms to screen applicants and reduce turnover is a good example of this pitfall. High turnover was caused by other factors, not personality.

The fourth pitfall is framing a problem too narrowly. Decision-makers can fail to learn the reasons behind customer dissatisfaction, resulting in an incorrect framing of the problem. An example of this can be seen in Ron Johnson’s attempt to revive established retailer J.C. Penney. He incorrectly framed the customer dissatisfaction problem by reaching for a familiar solution.

Finally, the fifth pitfall is failing to communicate the solution. Communicating the solution is just as important as finding the solution. In the story of physiologist Ancel Keys, even with a wrong theory, his dynamic messaging dominated the nutrition industry for decades.

In conclusion, decision-making can be difficult, and when done informally, can lead to these five common pitfalls. Avoiding these pitfalls can lead to effective and efficient decision-making.

Streamlining the Problem-Solving Process

The 4S method offers three options for structuring the problem-solving process. The hypothesis-driven approach is ideal when you have a potential solution in mind. The issue-driven approach is best used when you lack a strong hypothesis or time constraints. If neither of these approaches apply, a framework can be used to bring structure to complex problems. However, it is essential to avoid choosing frameworks that align with your preferred approach. Lastly, design thinking is a systematic approach for addressing multifaceted challenges by observing users to identify their needs and developing potential solutions. The 4S method encourages shifting from an intuitive and informal problem-solving approach to a structured, reasoned, and manual process.

Mastering Issue Trees

Learn how to develop a comprehensive issue tree by breaking down complex problems into core questions and sub-issues. The key is to be exhaustive and disaggregate to ensure that all possible lines of investigation are considered. With this method, 20% of the issues will represent 80% of the solution. To illustrate, the French self-publishing platform Librinova’s expansion challenge is used to demonstrate how to construct an issue tree. This involved dividing the sub-issues into inquiries exploring various international expansion options and their assessment criteria for management and shareholders. By simplifying the tree, the problem becomes more manageable and easier to solve.

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