Approaches to Writing Business Books: We’ve Got Trouble

In a nutshell: The author explains a problem, in depth, but offers little in the way of a solution.

This approach is very useful when describing a problem the readers don’t know they have, or one that is more serious than they realized.

Barry Schwartz takes the We’ve Got Trouble approach in his The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less,[1] which explains “how the culture of abundance robs The Paradox of Choiceus of satisfaction.” Since it’s not immediately obvious that it’s a problem to have a wide range of choices when purchasing food, clothes, and other items, the author begins with a personal example:

About six years ago, I went to the Gap to buy a pair of jeans.

I tend to wear my jeans until they’re falling apart, so it had been quite a while since my last purchase. A nice young salesperson walked up to me and asked if she could help.

“I want a pair of jeans—32-28,” I said.

“Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy?” she replied. “Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?

I was stunned. A moment or two later I sputtered out something like, “I just want regular jeans. You know, the kind that used to be the only kind.” It turned out she didn’t know, but after consulting with one of her older colleagues, she was able to figure out what “regular jeans” used to be, and pointed me in the right direction.

Schwartz devotes the bulk of the book to explaining why we should be concerned about having way too many choices. In fact, he spends 217 pages discussing the problem, with only 16 pages devoted to the solution.

The intriguing part of We’ve Got Trouble is the presentation of the problem, which is designed to surprise, anger, disgust, thrill, or otherwise evoke an emotional response from the reader. The plan, which is brief and not very detailed, is not really the point.

Continue reading more entries in the “Approaches to Writing Business Books” blog series.

[1] Harper Perennial, 2004.