“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. -Abraham Maslow
When challenged with new problems, we often tend to figure out what the problems are instead of actually solving them. It seems that we get stuck and confused in such challenging situations.
From this interesting article; “Are You Solving the Right Problems?“, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, has through his research on corporate innovation together with his colleague Paddy Miller, spent close to 10 years working with and studying reframing, first of all in the context of organisational change.
Wedell-Wedellsborg; “It has been 40 years since Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jacob Gretzels empirically demonstrated the central role of problem framing in creativity. Thinkers from Albert Einstein to Peter Drucker have emphasised the importance of properly diagnosing your problems. So why do organisations still struggle to get it right ?
The author explains us that people often finds themselves digging deeper into the problems they’re already defined, instead of arriving at another diagnosis which of course may be helpful, but creative solutions is very often coming from an alternative way and definitions of your problem. Author; ” Note that the initial framing of the problem is not necessarily wrong. Installing a new lift would probably work. The point of refraiming is not to find the ‘real problem’ but rather to see if there is a better one to solve”.
The solution to this problem is according Wedellsborg, a new approach, where he includes the form of seven practices where you successfully can reframe the problems as well as finding creative solutions. Author; “The practise I outline here can be used in one of two ways, depending on how much control you have over the situation. One way is to methodically apply all seven to the problem. That can be done in about 30 minutes, and it has the benefit of familiarising everyone with the method”.
The other way is when you don’t control the situation, it all depends on how much time is available. For example if you meet a colleague in the hall-way and you only have limited time for him/her to help rethink a problem, then you choose the most appropriate and suitable of the one or two practices. Author; ” Five minutes may sound like too little time to even describe a problem, much less reframe it. But surprisingly, I have found that such short interventions often are sufficient to kick-start new thinking – and once in a while they can trigger an aha moment and radically shift your view of a problem”.
Proximity to your own problems can easily mislead you to get lost in the weeds. Feeling unwell or sick is often seen as a problem. We then visit the doctor to figure out what’s wrong. To do this, the doctor investigates to find a solution or treatment to the problem. On the other hand, if you choose to stay home, you can complain and wonder why you’re sick, but it will not change the fact that you’re still sick.
Author; “Proximity to your own problems can make it easy to get lost in the weeds, endlessly ruminating about why a colleague, a spouse, or your children won’t listen. Sometimes all you need is someone to suggest, well, could the trouble be that you are bad at listening to them ?
Here the author outlines seven practices for effective reframing: 1. Establish legitimacy, 2. Bring outsiders into the discussion, 3. Get people’s definitions in writing, 4. Ask what’s missing, 5. Consider multiple categories, 6. Analyse positive exceptions, 7. Question the objective.
Establish legitimacy. The author tells us to establish legitimacy within the group and here you are creating the space needed for conversations.
Bring outsiders into the discussion. Bringing outsiders view and perspective can in this situation be instrumental in the rethinking process of a problem. In this process you look for boundary, then you choose someone who will speak freely, and the last one; expect input, not solutions.
Get people’s definitions in writing. Author; “For instance, a management team may agree that the company’s problem is a lack of innovation. But if you ask each member to describe what’s wrong in a sentence or two you will quickly see how framings differ.
Ask what’s missing. In this situation, people tend to delve on the details of what is the case as well as paying less attention to what the description may be leaving out. Author; To rectify this, make sure to ask explicitly what has not been captured or mentioned”.
Consider multiple categories. In this case the author refers to people’s perception of a problem. Author; “One way to trigger this kind of paradigm shift is to invite people to identify specifically what category of problem they think the group is facing. Is it an incentive problem ? An expectations problem ? Then try to suggest other categories”.
Analyze positive exceptions. In this situation you are looking for positive outcomes instead of focusing on the problems.
Question the objective. Here the author are focusing on people with different needs. Author; “The underlying goals of the two turns out to differ: One person wants fresh air, while the other wants to avoid a draft. Only when these hidden objectives are brought to light through the question of a third person is the problem resolved – by opening a window in the next room”.
Reframing problems are hard and difficult, but according the author a very effective method. The most important goal is to find a solution for your companys problems.
Author; “The next time you face a problem, start by reframing it – but don’t wait too long before getting out of the building to observe your customers and prototype your ideas. It is neither thinking nor testing alone, but a marriage of the two, that holds the key to radically better results”.
It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem. Malcolm Forbes
Inger Lise E. Greger, MSc. Change Management