Reframing — A Very Powerful Tool for Problem Solving

8 min readMay 23, 2020


These are my notes and learnings from the superb book titled ‘What’s Your Problem?’ by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

Firstly what is NOT Reframing?

  • Reframing is not Analysis
    Analysis is when you ask ‘why is this problem happening’? Analysis is where you dive deeper into the finer details of the problem. Reframing on the other hand is a much higher level activity. It starts (though isn’t restricted to) before Analysis. It is when you ask, What problem are we trying to solve? Is this the right problem to solve? Reframing is about being able to look at the big picture and think of the problem from multiple perspectives
  • Reframing is not about finding the real problem.
    Its about finding a better problem to solve.

Reframing begins with asking this question ‘Is this the right Problem to Solve?’

What are the Advantages of Reframing the Problem?

  • It generates more options
  • The way you frame a problem determines which solutions you come up with

Examples of Problems (think how you would solve them before you look at the answers ;-) )
Problem 1: Slow Elevator Problem:

You are the owner of a building. The building has a old elevator. Your Tenants have been complaining of the elevator being too slow and threaten to cancel their leases if the elevator is not fixed.

Problem 2: Baggage arrival at the airport: It takes way too long for your baggage to arrive after you have landed at an airport.

Problem 3: The long Train Journey: The 3 hour Train Journey from one city to another is very long. We need to shorten it.

In each of the 3 Examples, we need to know that the problem is already framed and presented to you. Much like it happens in the real world. Someone tells us what the problem is and our natural instincts is to jump into finding a solution. We are biased towards taking action. However reframing is taking a pause. It isn’t about endlessly delaying action, its about going in a small loop rather than jumping into action straightaway.

Reframing the 3 Example Problems

  • Problem 1: The Slow Elevator Problem
    Our natural inclination to solve it is this way:
  • Make the Elevator faster
  • Replace the Elevator with a new one
  • Change the Algorithm to make it faster

…Is this the Right Problem to Solve?

  • Everyone in the building has the same lunch break time. Can we request the companies to scatter the lunch break?
  • How can we make the wait time more pleasant?
  • How can we keep the users of the elevator engaged while they wait for the elevator to arrive?

Problem 2: Baggage Arrival at the Airport

  • Buy a new faster conveyor belt that delivers the bags faster
  • Train workers to get more efficient at baggage handling and transfer from the plane onto the conveyor belt
  • Hire more people to speed up the process

…Is this the Right Problem to Solve?

  • How can we make the wait time more pleasant?
  • How can we keep the passengers engaged while they wait for their bags to arrive?
  • How can we increase the time it takes between passengers deplaning the aircraft and arriving at the baggage receive section?

Problem 3: The long Train Journey

  • How can we make the 3 hour train journey faster by 30 minutes?
  • We can build a faster train
  • We need faster tracks

…Is this the Right Problem to Solve?

  • How can we make the 3 hour train journey pleasant?
  • Can we include Wifi on the train?
  • Can we provide more meals on the train?
  • How about some newspapers and magazines onboard?

Types of Reframing

  • Exploring within the Frame: In this approach you look for unexplored avenues within the same problem.
  • Changing the Frame: In this approach, you change the framing of the problem altogether.

First Frame the Problem

What problem are we trying to solve here? — Always ask this question at the start so that we actually state the problem before we get started on other things.

Step 1: Write down the problem

Step 2: Determine the type of problem.

To determine the type of problem, I take my learnings from the book Unfolding the Napkin. In his book, author Dan Roam states two very important things:

  • There are (most often) only 6 types of problems
  • Each problem is composed of only 6 Pieces (6 Slices of Pizza!)

The 6 types of problems are:

  1. Who/What?
  2. How Much?
  3. Where?
  4. When?
  5. How?
  6. Why?
  1. Who/What Problems

Challenges that relate to things, people and roles such as:

  • Who are all the players in this problem, and what do they do?
  • What makes this thing different from that one? Which do I prefer?
  • Who is in charge and who else is involved? Where does responsibility lie?

2. How Much Problems

Challenges that involve measuring and counting such as:

  • Do we have enough of X to last as long as we need?
  • How much do we need to keep going? If we increase this can we decrease that?

3. When Problems

Challenges that relate to scheduling and timing, such as:

  • What comes first, and what comes next?
  • What do we need to do, and when to get everything done on time?

4. Where Problems

Challenges that relate to how things fit together and work together such as:

  • Where do all these pieces fit? Whats most important and what matters less?
  • Where are we going now? Are we headed in the right direction, or should we be moving elsewhere?

5. How Problems

Challenges that relate to how things influence one another such as:

  • What will happen if we do this? What about that?
  • Can we alter the outcomes of a situation by altering our actions?

6. Why Problems

Challenges that relate to seeing the big picture such as:

  • What are we really doing and why? Is this the right thing to do or should we doing something different?
  • If we need to change, what are our options? How can we decide which of these options are best?

Now that we know that there are only 6 types of problems, we need to know that each of these problems consist of the same Six pieces! — Six Slices of Pizza!

The Six elements that make up any problem are:

  • Who and What
  • How Much
  • Where
  • When
  • How
  • Why

After framing the problem, Reframe! Here are some techniques

  1. Look outside the Frame

Ask these questions:

What’s missing from the current problem statement?
Are there elements we are not considering?
Is there anything outside the current frame we are not paying attention to?

Know what is Functional Fixedness to look at non obvious things.

Light Bulb Problem

There are three light bulbs in your room. But for some reason the switches are located in the basement on the ground floor and they aren’t labelled. You’d prefer to minimize the number of times you have to use the stairs. The question is: How many trips do you have to make into the basement to figure out which switch works with which light? For the record, the lights all work, each switch affects only one light bulb, and all three light bulbs are turned off when you start.

Titanic and the Iceberg

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the north Atlantic and sunk later. Of its 2,200 passengers and crew, only 705 survived, plucked out of 16 lifeboats by the Carpathia.
Imagine how many more might have lived if crew members had thought of the iceberg as not just the cause of the disaster but a life-saving solution. The iceberg rose high above the water and stretched some 400 feet in length. The lifeboats might have ferried people there to look for a flat spot. The Titanic itself was navigable for a while and might have been able to pull close enough to the iceberg for people to scramble on.

2. Look beyond your expertise

Look at prior Events

You can sometimes shed new light on problems by noticing what happened before the slice of time you are currently focusing your attention on.

  • For example what happened the last time an employee tried to innovate? (This can shed light on why employees resist innovation)

3. Rethink the Goal

Ask these questions:

Are we pursuing the right goal?

Is there a better goal to pursue?

Are there other ways of achieving the goal?

4. Examine Bright Spots

This is about looking for situations or places where the problem is not as bad, or where it may even be entirely absent. Paying attention to such positive exceptions can give you a new perspective on the problem, and may even point you directly to a viable solution.

Maybe you are having arguments with your spouse that goes nowhere. The root cause could be you always have arguments when you are tired, hungry and haven’t had sufficient rest. Now remember discussing the same thorny topic after being sufficiently rested, fed. Wasn’t it easier to solve the problem rather than calling each other names? That’s your bright spot! A time wherein you solved a similar issue before! So remember it the next time you launch into an argument!

Ask these questions

Who else deals with this kind of problems?

Where is the problem not?

Have you already solved the problem once before?

Are there parts of the situation that are positive?

5. Look in the mirror

Sometimes we are the cause of the problem. Why not look into the mirror and ask ourselves if we are causing the problem?

6. Take others perspectives

The problem with taking perspectives is we simply don’t ask for other people’s perspectives. We dive straight into solving the problem without asking for other people’s perspectives. So the first step is to recognize it and simply ask for as many different perspectives possible.


Find Innovation Where you Least Expect It

Why We Can’t See Solutions in Plain Sight

Functional Fixedness — Wikipedia

Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam

Dot: Rory Sutherland by Mike Dariano

Invisible Solutions by Stephen Shapiro




I love the profession of Product Management that helps me build meaningful relationships with teams and customers. I just can’t get enough of reading!