Reframing a Problem

Reframing a Problem

Do you jump into solutions too fast before the problem is clear? Would it help to reframe the question and confirm that you understand what problem you are trying to fix? Are you jumping into tactics too soon? Reframing a problem may be a better approach to understanding a challenge at hand.

A recent conversation on the HBR Ideacast with Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg help me think about marketing solutions in a new light.

 “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein

The Slow Elevator Problem

Tenants in an office building complain that elevator is slow. Most people think how to make the elevator faster with a new motor. If you put a mirror up, the passengers who are complaining stop being concerned about the slow elevator. The mirror is a solution to a different problem.  Instead of focusing on solutions around speed, you are changing how people experience an elevator ride.

Real versus Perceived Problem

What is the real problem? Are there factors missing from the frame of reference? Maybe there is an element outside the initial description of the problem that is closer to the concern.

Dog Option Problem

More than 3 million dogs are in shelters but only half get adopted. A woman, Laurie Vice in LA asked a different question. How can we keep dogs in their original homes? It isn’t about adoption. She challenged the problem by reframing the question.

She started an intervention program when people bring a dog into the shelter, they ask, if you could, would you like to keep your dog at home? If they answer yes, then the problem to be solved is about keeping the dog in the original home, not trying to find a new home for their pet. It could be as simple as getting them a $10 rabies shot or a minor deposit for an apartment. The cost to help keep dogs with family was far cheaper than the cost of housing so many dogs at the shelters.

By rethinking the problem, the solution becomes very different.

Reframing is a counterpoint to rapid prototyping. Quickly understanding the problem can help you take a step back to understand the problem.

Avoid the Drive Toward Solutions

We all like to jump into the solutions instead of asking more clarifying questions. People can be resistant to your solution, but they may be more open to the questions you are asking. Asking reframing questions may help you understand the core issue.

  • Are there any positive exceptions to the problem?
  • Were there days when the problem didn’t exist?

For example, when a product isn’t selling, you might immediately assume that you have a marketing/communications problem. People don’t understand what you are selling and its benefits. However, the real problem may be the incentives for your sales force or the buying group. Before finding the right communications tactic, the right questions and framing help you know that you are solving the cause.

What type of problem are you solving?

Before jumping in and trying to fix a problem, maybe step back and make sure you understand the real challenge.

Could you use help reframing the challenges in front of you? I can help. Email me at or call at 919 720 0995.





Photo credit:


Share This

Share this post with your friends!