How to Reframe Problems and Develop New Solutions

We are living in an age of disruption. According to Fast Company co-founder William C. Taylor, you can’t do big things anymore if you are content with doing things a little better than everyone else, or a little differently from how you’ve done them in the past. The most effective leaders don’t just rally their teams to outrace the “competition” or outpace prior results. They strive to redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with copy-cat thinking. 

What sets truly innovative organizations apart often comes down to one simple question: What can we see that others cannot?

If you believe that what you see shapes how you change, then the question for change-minded leaders in times of disruption becomes: How do you look at your organization as if you are seeing it for the first time?

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. 

Henry David Thoreau

When you learn to see with fresh eyes, you’re able to differentiate your organization from the competition (and your “competition” isn’t the church down the street). You’re able to change the way your organization sees all the different types of environments around it, and the way your others see your organization.

This mentality is the ability to keep shifting opinion and perception. We live in a world that is less black and white and more shades of gray world, not a black and while one. Seeing in this way means shifting your focus from objects or patterns that are in the foreground to those in the background. It means thinking of things that are usually assumed to be negative as positive, and vice versa. It can mean reversing assumptions about cause and effect, or what matters most versus least.

In a season filled with uncertainty, how can you cultivate a sense of confidence about what lies ahead?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Stephen M. Shapiro, Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems

Unprecedented access to infinite solutions has led us to realize that having all of the answers is not the answer. From innovation teams to creativity experts to crowdsourcing, we’ve turned from one source to another, spending endless cycles pursuing piecemeal solutions to each challenge we face.

What if your organization had an effective systematic approach to deal with any problem?

To find better solutions, you need to first ask better questions. The questions you ask determine which solutions you’ll see and which will remain hidden.

This compact yet powerful book contains the formulas to reframe any problem multiple ways, using 25 lenses to help you gain different perspectives. With visual examples and guidance, it contains everything you need to start mastering any challenge.

Apply just one of the lenses and you will quickly discover better solutions. Apply all of them and you will be able to solve any problem, in business and in life.


There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely, but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages. 

Mark Twain

According to author Stephen M. Shapiro, the process for driving better results doesn’t start with great ideas – it starts with better questions.

When faced with disruption and myriad challenges, we crave answers. It’s a natural human instinct.

But having answers is not the answer.

Asking different and better questions is the key to finding better solutions.

By using “reframing lenses,” you will see your problems and opportunities more clearly, and come up with creative answers that will boggle your mind.

Reframing lenses are a powerful tool that transforms complex problems into simple and practical solutions.

By changing the questions you ask, you can uncover answers that were previously hidden from sight. And the tool to help you reframe those questions – and shine light on invisible solutions – are twenty-five lenses.

Stephen M. Shapiro

How do we systematically challenge our assumptions? Using the lens of “reframing” will help you bring your assumptions to the surface. The process of reframing requires that you systematically question the direction you are going.

To help you sift through the lenses, they are grouped into five categories, with five lenses per category:

Reduce Abstraction – Make questions more specific when they are too broad.

  • Leverage
  • Deconstruct
  • Reduce
  • Eliminate
  • Hyponym

Increase Abstraction – Make questions less specific if the challenge is too narrowly defined.

  • Analogy
  • Result
  • Concern Reframe
  • Stretch
  • Hypernym

Change Perspective – Look at the question with a fresh set of eyes.

  • Resequence
  • Reassign
  • Access
  • Emotion
  • Substitute

Switch Elements – Swap multiple factors to get new ideas.

  • Flip
  • Conflicts
  • Performance Paradox
  • Pain vs Gain
  • Bad Idea

Zero-In – Ask the best question to help solve your problem.

  • Real problem
  • Real business
  • Insights
  • Variations
  • Observation

Stephen M. Shapiro, Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems


Use the following ideas from author Stephen Shapiro as a way to begin reframing problems through the use of the lenses listed above. Even without having access to the book and complete definitions and explanations of the lenses, you will be able to see how valuable they can be in overcoming challenges.

Identify an issue, problem, opportunity, or challenge that you want to address. As you are doing this, remember to always bring your assumptions to the surface.

Write down your challenge on a chart tablet in the form of “How can we…”

Once you develop your first iteration of your “How can we” question, you can apply lenses to help you reframe it. Review the list above to see which lenses fit best. Or, better yet, try all of the lenses and force them to fit. You will find that every lens can be applied to any challenge, although some might be more difficult.

Write down as many variations as you can. Try to do it at least six times. A half dozen variations using at least six lenses. More is better as it stretches your thinking.

There are a couple of things to look out for as you go through this process. For starters, avoid jumping to solutions. It is so tempting to fry to find answers before you have created a great list of questions: Stay in the challenge formulation phase.

Also, it is valuable to apply one lens more than one time to a given problem. It is all too easy to find a quick reframe and move on. It takes more discipline to find multiple variations from a single lens.

Recognize that questions beget more questions. Sometimes when you ask a question, you might need to answer another question in order to move forward. Although answering an insight question might not provide a solution, it should provide information that will help you further reframe your primary question.

The point is that it is important to practice reframing. As you go through this process, ask which of the reframed questions seems to create the greatest results. Different questions will create different solutions, which will result in different levels of value.

Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.


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