Humans have been using luggage to travel since commercial airlines became increasingly popular in the 1940s and 1950s. It wasn’t until 1970 that wheels were put onto luggage, and it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the retractable handle was added to resemble luggage that most everyone uses today.
Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, author of What’s Your Problem? and keynote speaker at NSCA BLC 2020 told the story of luggage to illustrate a point: It took decades for someone to think to add wheels and a handle onto luggage, yet both seem like extremely obvious additions today.
“Most people, when you throw them a problem, they grab that problem and rush into the solution phase,” says Wedellsborg. “Is there a different way of looking at a problem? Is there another way to consider the situation and consider what’s actually going on? That seems, on the surface, to be a simple idea. Yet when I went out three years ago and surveyed 106 C-Suite executives, 85% of them came back and said this is something they tend not to get right in their companies.”
Wedellsborg stresses the importance of reframing a problem in order to find a better solution.
For example, imagine you’re a commercial property manager and your tenants complain about a slow elevator. It would be expensive to bring in an engineer to test the system. It would be even more expensive to rebuild the elevator to be faster.
However, consider the problem – tenants believe the elevators move slow. Why? Is it because they are late to meetings as a result of the elevator? Is it because they’re missing out on time they could be working? Or, is it because there is nothing to do on the elevator and the relative time seems longer with nothing to occupy their attention?
It turns out that the reason many elevators have mirrors is for this very reason. Mirrors take up the attention span of elevator occupants as they look at themselves. This makes the ride seem shorter.
For the price of a mirror you’ve saved yourself the cost of completely updating a commercial elevator. Likely tens of thousands of dollars saved, and the problem is still solved.
This is the power of reframing the problem, according to Wedellsborg. When faced with a problem, leaders of businesses should empower themselves and their employees to think of the problem first, from different angles. There may be a better solution to address the challenge than what is immediately obvious.
Wedellsborg gives some tips on finding ways to reframe problems:
– Look in the mirror – What is my part in creating this problem? When we have a problem we tend to assume we’re the victim, and everyone else has caused it. That isn’t always the case.
– Challenge the goal – What does success look like? Is there a different way of thinking about what a good outcome here is? We tend to obsess on the barrier keeping us from getting from here to there. But sometimes we don’t need to get over the barrier at all, and instead should be aiming to get somewhere else.
– Examine bright spots – Were there times when you did not have the problem? Did you have it and solve it in a partial way? Are there positive exceptions to the problem?
– Take their perspective – Look at the other people involved in the problem, and try to step into their shoes and understand how they think about the situation.
By utilizing these tips leaders can help train themselves to better reframe problems and potentially reach better solutions. It doesn’t stop there though. The goal is to implement it step by step until it is a part of your company culture:
– Step 1.) Personal Skill – What we discussed above, training yourself to reframe problems.
– Step 2.) Team Habit – Bring your new reframing mastery to your team and make it a regular part of your problem-solving sessions.
– Step 3.) Supporting Structures – Introducing the reframing idea into different aspects of your business, and ensuring that key stakeholders are within each structure to help build the practice into their own teams.
– Step 4.) Widespread Awareness – This is where reframing the problem has become a part of your company culture, and is a standard practice for anyone solving problems.
There are always problems to be solved, and the solution isn’t always obvious. But by practicing the art of reframing the problem, new solutions arise that can have a better impact than any snap reaction.