Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg is a globally recognized expert on innovation and problem-solving. He has shared and refined his reframing method with clients like Cisco, Microsoft, Citigroup, Time Warner, Prudential, Credit Suisse, Deloitte, the Wall Street Journal, and the United Nations.
Below, Thomas shares 5 key insights from his new book, What’s Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve. Download the Next Big Idea App to enjoy more audio “Book Bites,” plus Ideas of the Day, ad-free podcast episodes, and more.
1. To solve a tough problem, start by reframing it.
Imagine that you are the owner of an office building, and your tenants complain that the elevator is too slow. It’s tempting to start brainstorming ways to make the elevator faster, but landlords suggest a cheaper solution: put mirrors in the elevator. When faced with a mirror, people completely forget time as they gaze at their own reflection. Notice that the mirror doesn’t make the elevator faster—it solves a different, perhaps more fundamental problem, namely that people notice the wait.
2. Reframing isn’t about “more time.”
You don’t need to take a week to go think deep thoughts about your problem. In fact, reframing isn’t something you do solely before taking action—it’s something you do while taking action. In one study, the most successful artists thought about a problem for a bit, then started drawing. Then they circled back to the problem and tried to rethink it as they worked on it. In short, reframing isn’t about finding more time to think—it’s about using the time you have in a better way.
“No matter how smart you are, you will always have blind spots when it comes to your own problems.”
3. Not all questions are created equal.
Better understanding often comes from asking more questions—but they have to be the right ones. Try formulating questions in line with these five reframing strategies:
- Look outside the frame, asking if the initial concern (like the speed of the elevator) is the right thing to focus on.
- Look in the mirror, asking what role you are playing in creating the problem.
- Rethink the goal you are trying to reach. Is the current definition of success the one you really want?
- Look for positive exceptions. If similar issues were resolved in the past, what can you learn from those cases?
- Take on the perspective of other people involved.
4. You need input from outsiders.
No matter how smart you are, you will always have blind spots when it comes to your own problems. So make sure, early in the process, to discuss your dilemma with someone who is slightly further away from it than you are. The more important your problem is, the more effort you should invest in getting diverse people and perspectives involved in trying to reframe it.
5. It’s time to democratize reframing.
There are many personal reasons to learn reframing, from getting better at solving problems to making a bigger difference to the causes you care about. But this goes beyond the individual—it’s an important skill for society at large. Notice how political figures talk about a hot topic, and you’ll see how they try to use reframing to influence or even manipulate others. A population more fluent in reframing will be better protected against people with bad intentions and more prepared to build a bright future.
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