Reframe Problem s Challenges

Reframe problem. Coming up with a great solution to the wrong problem may feel good, but it can send you down a rabbit hole that wastes time and energy. Get a better solution when you reframe the problem. In his Harvard Business Review article “Are You Solving the Right Problems?, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg offers helpful ways to approach challenges. He describes the “slow elevator” example in which frustrated tenants complain to a building’s owner that the elevator is too slow and they spend a lot of time waiting. Some even threaten to leave.

According to Wedell-Wedellsborg, if the frame is “The elevator is too slow,” the “solution space” for this is “make the elevator faster.” So possible solutions include replacing the elevator, getting a stronger motor, or improving the algorithm. Instead of these costly solutions the building owner installed mirrors next to the elevators. Why? The challenge was reframed from “the elevator is too slow” to “the wait is annoying.” This opened an entirely different set of solutions: put up mirrors, play music, install a hand sanitizer.

Tina Seelig: Innovation Demands Focus and Reframing

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg on reframing to solve the right problems

Ways to Reframe Your Challenges

Flip from the negative to the positive



Simply shifting a problem to a challenge or opportunity creates a different attitude with very different solutions. Think of Positive Deviance, Appreciative Inquiry, Asset Mapping.

 ideas to re-frame


Instead of starting with brainstorming solutions to a problem, start by exploring different ways to reframe problems, or what Tina Seelig calls “frame-storming.” Asking the best questions is key to good outcomes. A brainstorm on how to plan a birthday party will give you a certain set of results, says Seelig. But if you ask, “How do we plan a birthday celebration?” you’ll get different kinds of ideas. And asking, “How do we make that day memorable or special?” will create yet another set of ideas.

 ideas to re-frame

Ask Why? to reframe problems



You think you know what you want to accomplish, but why do you want to do that? Like the annoying toddler, ask why. Then ask why to that answer. Again, and again. As many times as it takes. Many whys in, you may land on a better way to approach your challenge. Watch this 5-Whys Video.

 ideas to re-frame
Reframe your big challenge into a set of smaller challenges



Most important challenges are complex, and trying to solve a big one in one big bite can be overwhelming. Can your challenge be reframed into a number of smaller challenges? In the spirit of kaizen (small incremental improvements), ask, what are a bunch of small things that can happen to move you toward the goal? Often, groups can list small solutions that could be put into practice immediately without getting anyone’s permission.

 ideas to re-frame

Think of limitations as aids to creativity



Innovators are almost always underfunded relative to their challenge. Explore how having limited resources, while inconvenient, can actually help you move mountains with small inputs.

 ideas to re-frame

Challenge Authority

It’s been said that sacred cows make the best hamburgers. What if the “grown-ups” who run everything are completely wrong? Maybe the experts, the guilds, the establishment are missing something big.
 ideas to re-frame

Look at the larger picture

Zoom out. Then zoom out farther. What are you trying to achieve? Step back to understand the context, the bigger questions. Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, suggests how we can shift our questions about transportation and city design:

Small brain: How many cars can we move?
Big brain: How many people can we move?
Galactic brain: Why do we need to move people? Put their daily needs close at hand.

Podcast: Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe...

Author Stephen Shapiro talks about asking better questions. Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems.

Podcast: Reframing your Problems, with Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Podcaster Greg McKeown talks with Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg about why before focusing on the solution, we should focus on the problem.  23 min.

reframe problem

What's Your Problem: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg talks about the why and how to solve reframe the problem.
reframing problems

InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

Seelig’s book is “field guide to twenty-first century Creativity”
—Tom Kelly

New Book from Tom Peterson

reframe problems reframing problems