Problem-solving is a process of achieving a desired goal by overcoming obstacles. And we are always in this mode in most of our day-to-day lives. As a matter of fact, problems come in all shapes and sizes, ranging between simple personal problems to complex issues in work and business. No matter what their size is, the inability to seek different perspectives keeps us stuck in problem situations. Essentially, how we view the problem is the problem.
Most problem solvers often jump to a solution without checking whether they are working on the right problem. How many times have you pursued an idea only to realise later that it really did not solve the issue it was meant to? In other words, problem-solving is not always about the solution, but rather is more about the problem and the way it is framed. With clear discernment, it is possible to distinguish between an effective and not so effective solution.
“ The best way to find a solution to a problem is to first understand it.” — S. CoveyTweet
Well-defined Vs ill-defined
The way a problem is framed determines which solutions you come up with. Many of us however tend to be less skilled at, as individuals and as organisations, is that the problems we solve are the right ones. We seldom check whether or not we are working on the right problem.
Especially, in group problem solving, many times we undermine the importance of checking whether or not we all understand the problem in the same way, or whether we have all the information we need to understand it fully. This can often come at a cost of other things.
Also, many a times, people jump to conclusions as there is a time crunch. They come under pressure to come up with answers quickly. This is because either they are in a hurry to give into their thinking heuristics, or don’t pay enough attention to how the problem is framed. In fact, we seek what we set ourselves up to seek. So, when a problem is ill-defined, it will not be clear what kind of solution to aim for.
Without properly understanding the potential challenge at hand, there is no certainty that one will focus on the right issue. How a problem is framed or defined can determine the kinds of options you can consider to achieve the desired solution. By not doing so, there are chances of wasting resources in pursuing ideas that don’t scale up and aren’t really aligned with your overall vision.
A well-defined problem on the other hand leads to few obstacles making it clear as to what kind of resources and expertise are needed to attain the goal. Making an effort and spending time consciously in defining a problem well, leads to a good understanding of its implications.
All the problems differ only in the way they are framed.
All day long, we are creating frames for what we see, near, and experience. And these frames not only inform, but also expand or limit the way we think depending upon what our frame of reference is. Like you would take pictures from different angles, from far away, from behind, or a close up, you can change your frame of reference of a particular problem you are trying to solve.
Finding a solution for the right problem in the right way depends ninety five percent on the correct framing of it. By shifting the way you see the problem—that is,by reframing it—you can find better solutions. Being able to question and shift your frame of reference not only helps you to innovate, but also enhances the ability to look for completely different insights.
How to reframe a problem for effective solutions
In fact, most of the solutions are unique to how each question is framed. And by just shifting your frame of reference of the problem in focus, you can completely change the way you look for potential solutions.This opens you up to perspectives that you would’ve otherwise ignored.
There are different ways in which you can reframe a problem. Here are some ways to do so. These practices can be used depending on how much control you have over the situation.
Frame what problem you are trying to solve
“A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.”—John DeweyTweet
In most of our problem-solving endeavours, the most misunderstood and poorly executed step is defining the problem we have at hand. Though this is considered as the first step by problem-solvers, most people however limit themselves to simply stating the problem. There is much more to it than simply providing a written definition.
Expanding the scope of the frame of a problem develops clarity. Though the problem keeps shifting, evolving, or changing overtime, providing a full, clear description helps people involved in solving to quickly grasp the issue.
Here are some questions to include to expand the frame of a problem:
- What problem am I trying to solve? Describe it clearly and precisely stating, “the problem is that….,” providing a definition by stating what it means.
- How is it affecting? Establish boundaries to locate its effects. This increases the understanding of its impact in various areas.
- What is the basic need? Establish the main purpose behind the need for a solution. This step clarifies the importance of the issue and helps secure resources to address it.
- How is it different? List its characteristics, to differentiate it from other issues.
- What is the desired outcome? List its benefits and the requirements the solution must meet.
Ask ‘why’ to figure out clear objectives
Another effective way to reframe the problem is to ask questions that start with a ‘why’. Questions open you up to new ideas, help you understand the big picture, and perspectives of everyone involved. Moreover, you can avoid limiting yourself to negative assumptions, or to a particular approach.
A simple process of asking ‘why’ provides useful insights for expanding the plethora of solutions for a problem. One way to base your questions is to compare and identify any differences between what outcomes you are getting in the present, and what your preferred outcomes are.
Since our goals and objectives are typically multi-dimensional, in solving complex problems, that is, we seek to eliminate some conditions, and to achieve other preferred outcomes. So, it is important to question your present frame of reference to open up new potential opportunities to solve.
Some ‘why’ questions for any problem situation:-
- Why you are achieving what you want? Or Why you need to solve and for what purpose?
- Why are you trying to avoid certain aspects? (is it to avoid a problem recurrence or is it to reach a particular objective?)
- What are you trying to preserve and What are you trying to eliminate and Why?
Research and collect information
We cannot correctly address the issue what we do not understand. And we cannot have a full understanding of it if we are not aware of its context, implications and possible consequences. As all the information does not make itself available to suit a problem-solving process, we need to research and collect information where you need to follow leads and unearth clues.
And it so happens that in complex working environments, no one individual possesses all the information necessary to solve a given problem. Trying to solve a problem without all-in-depth information limits the scope of the frame of the problem. Take time to gather all the information on the nature of the problem, the importance and its cause and symptoms, and information about its recurrence. For instance,
- What are the other tried and tested methods? Methods can be surveying, conducting field studies, reviewing and researching on the topic, finding what technology was being used, what was and what was not working, what prevented some solutions, how much a solution costs.
- What are the constraints on implementing this particular idea? Researching on the subject matter helps you evaluate possible solutions, and whether or not you have necessary support, and resources to implement the most promising idea or solution.
Look outside the frame for any blinders
Our frame of reference is the mental picture we have of the problem we face. However, we all come with a set of blinders that are often influenced by our perceptions and values. This means that we might interpret the problem in certain ways. We place our personal spin on things and might give into assumptions during solving a problem.
Like for instance, the way we label the problem invokes certain set of solutions, models, concepts and reasons.They in turn influence the way we approach a problem.To overcome this, ask yourself, How am I labelling or classifying this problem? What do I know to be true? Is this the right conclusion? Why am I making these assumptions? Is this based on facts? How can I reframe it in a different way?
Take other perspectives
Critical thinking also leads to an unbiased and reflective perspective where you can diversify and expand the frame of your problem. Ask yourself, Are there other perspectives that I can view this challenge from? What are these other view points? How can I use these perspectives to resolve this challenge? And Am I aware of the cause and effect of any decisions made, or actions taken? This makes your thoughts better fit the form and shape of a problem to find a solution and free your mind of any unhelpful assumptions and biases.
Watch out for disconnects
When analysing a problem, zooming out instead of diving into details can lead to different possibilities. Asking, Is this the right thing to focus on? Or What’s missing from the current problem statement—Are there any factors that are being overlooked? Is there a completely different way to frame the problem? brings fresh perspectives. Removing disconnects if any can lead to describing the problem in more abstract ways.
Rethink your goals
Consider differentiating between your stated goals and interests:— Am I considering the right goal? Justify the need why you should attempt to solve the problem by asking, Is the effort aligned with our strategy?Will satisfying the need serve your goals? Is the solution practical enough yo implement. Reviewing your goals and objectives from time to time brings out if there are any gaps in solutions you are seeking.
Focus on bright spots
Focusing on things that go wrong can lead you to overlook key insights or exceptions. To avoid this, identify your strengths by asking, have I ever solved this problem before, even once? Are there any positive insights? and Who else deals with this type of problems? Examining past efforts to find a solution can save time and resources. Asking, What approaches can be considered? can lead to find solutions that might already exist and identify those that have been already disproved.
Look in the mirror
To reframe is not to change facts, but rather to see those facts from different point of view and from different perspectives. We always think that problems are always created by other people. This rarely solves problems. To counter this asking, how might I be part of creating this problem? helps you seek an outside perspective that challenges you to take a look at your own assumptions, identify your blinders and figure better where things went wrong.
When you get outside perspective, you gain a deeper understanding rather than jumping to conclusions. Try and go beyond first impressions and spend some time trying to challenge your initial framing of the problem.
Questions to reflect on—
How often do you check—What problem are you trying to solve?
- Is there a different way to see the problem you are seeking to solve?
- Look outside your frame of reference for different perspectives?
- Rethink on your goals and approaches?
- Whom and people from what fields must be engaged in solving?
- What information does the problem statement include?
- Whether or not the problem is one single component or is it complex—consisting of more issues?
How do you keep momentum when you are stuck in solving some of your problems?
What are some of your strategies to reframe the problem you are solving?
The trouble to find effective solutions often lies in the mental framing of the problem. If the frame of the problem happens to be flawed in some way, with not enough information, and wrong assumptions, it leads to inaccurate conclusions. The inability to expand your frame of the problem keeps you stuck in midst of problem situations.
On the contrary, expanding your frame of reference enables you to see the problem in a new light. By utilising the above practices, you can train yourself to change your point of view, by seeing them from other’s perspectives, and asking questions. Making reframing as a regular part of your problem-solving process enhances your ability to work in the right problems to find the right solutions.
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