May 2020
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Reframe Your View for Better Solutions

Friday, May 1, 2020

What's Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve

By Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg
Harvard Business Review Press, 232 pp., $25.99


At first glance, What's Your Problem? appears to be a status quo management or consultant self-help book. But after a few pages, you start to see how your initial perspective of problems isn't always accurate. The overarching theme is reframing the way we see a problem and how it can lead to radically better solutions.

Sometimes we take a problem for granted: The elevator is slow. That limits the scope of our solution space: We need to replace the motor or elevator all together. Reframing has us think about the problem from a different perspective: The wait is annoying; make it feel shorter with mirrors, music, or hand sanitizers. Additionally, reframing can reduce teams' workload from rework or focusing on the wrong problem.

As L&D folks, we often quickly jump to looking for the root cause to a problem. Wedell-Wedellsborg teaches us that "reframing is not about finding the real problem; it's about finding a better problem to solve." The benefits of reframing align with the most important skills of the future: complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.

Chapter 7 helps us realize our own role in creating problems by looking in the mirror. How many times have we heard someone complain about "the system" or say, "We can't start until we know exactly what the CEO wants"? This level of thinking inspires us to relinquish and separate ourselves from the problem.

Some may describe this thinking as being jaded, but Wedell-Wedellsborg challenges us to scale down the problem and ask ourselves: Is there part of the problem I can do something about at my level? Consequently, the reflection from the mirror provides internal self-awareness and an opportunity to begin to understand how others perceive us.


From the beginning, the author challenges readers to brainstorm a professional and a personal problem to reframe using the newly discovered techniques. While reframing for the first time can lead to creating a larger list of problems, readers will begin to consider their motives and drivers. Each chapter contains definitions; real-life story examples; and point-blank, handwritten, flipchart-style diagrams.

The book's topics resonated with me, and the applications in my professional and personal life are endless. I already find myself having stakeholders define problems so I consider whether this is the right problem to solve.

About the Author

Nick Allen is an education instructor at a credit union in the northeastern United States.

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