If You Want to Solve Your Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

What’s at stake if teams do a poor job of solving problems? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team problem solving simply burns more time. It may be more time in a meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team problem solving leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team problem solving fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-and-paste the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team problem solving invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create the dynamic of collaborative problem solving?  

THE QUICK SUMMARY – What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Are you solving the right problems? Have you or your colleagues ever worked hard on something, only to find out you were focusing on the wrong problem entirely? Most people have. In a survey, 85 percent of companies said they often struggle to solve the right problems. The consequences are severe: Leaders fight the wrong strategic battles. Teams spend their energy on low-impact work. Startups build products that nobody wants. Organizations implement “solutions” that somehow make things worse, not better. Everywhere you look, the waste is staggering. As Peter Drucker pointed out, there’s nothing more dangerous than the right answer to the wrong question.

There is a way to do better.

The key is reframing, a crucial, underutilized skill that you can master with the help of this book. Using real-world stories and unforgettable examples like “the slow elevator problem,” author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg offers a simple, three-step method – Frame, Reframe, Move Forward – that anyone can use to start solving the right problems. Reframing is not difficult to learn. It can be used on everyday challenges and on the biggest, trickiest problems you face. In this visually engaging, deeply researched book, you’ll learn from leaders at large companies, from entrepreneurs, consultants, nonprofit leaders, and many other breakthrough thinkers.

It’s time for everyone to stop barking up the wrong trees. Teach yourself and your team to reframe, and growth and success will follow.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

For almost all problems that leaders face, by the time the problem reaches them, someone has probably framed if for them.

  • Complaints about elevators? They’re old and slow – they need to be replaced.
  • Team problems? Do they blame failure on others? Do they resist following you? Do they lack passion?
  • Productivity issues? Do you always run out of time on projects? Lack the resources to complete the job?

Author Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg wants you to look at problems like these differently, with two thoughts in mind.

First, the way you frame a problem determines which solutions you come up with. 

And, by shifting the way you see the problem – by reframing it – you can sometimes find radically better solutions.

Sometimes, to solve a hard problem, you have to stop looking for solutions to it. Instead, you must turn your attention to the problem itself – not just to analyze it, but to shift the way you frame it.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Step 1 – Frame

This is the trigger for the process. In practice, it starts with someone asking, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” The resulting statement – ideally written down – is your first framing of the problem.

Step 2 – Reframe

Reframe is where you challenge your initial understanding of the problem. The aim is to rapidly uncover as many potential alternative framings as possible. You can think of it as a kind of brainstorming, only instead of ideas, you are looking for different ways to frame the problem. This might come in the form of questions or in the form of direct suggestions.

There are five nested strategies to help find these alternative framings of the problem. Depending on the situation, you may explore some, all, or none of these:

  • Look outside the frame. What are we missing?
  • Rethink the goal. Is there a better objective to pursue?
  • Examine bright spots. Where is the problem not?
  • Look in the mirror. What is my/our role in creating this problem?
  • Take their perspective. What is their problem?

Step 3 – Move Forward

This closes the loop and switches you back into action mode. This can be a continuation of your current course, a move to explore some of the new framings you came up with, or both.

Your key task here is to determine how you validate the faming of your problem though real-world testing, making sure your diagnosis is correct. At this point, a subsequent reframing check-in may be scheduled as well.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

A NEXT STEP 

In addition to the wealth of resources provided by the author, he provides an excellent section of how to create multiple working hypotheses when considering how to reframe a problem.

To consider multiple working hypotheses is to simultaneously explore several different explanations for what might be going on. By doing this upfront, you inoculate yourself against the danger of a single perspective.

Choose a problem that you are facing or expect to face in the near future, and work through the following approach in reframing it:

  • Never commit to just one explanation up front.
  • Explore multiple explanations simultaneously until sufficient empirical testing has revealed the best choice.
  • Be open to the idea that the best fit may be a mix of several different explanations.
  • Be prepared to walk away if something better comes along later.

Begin addressing a problem by coming up with other viewpoints and solutions at the beginning so you can avoid falling in love with a bad idea. And remember that problems almost always have more than one solution.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 142-2, released March 2020