Reframe Business Problems for Your Innovation Needs – by Greg Heist, and Patricia Salamone

When it comes to corporate problem solving, research published in Harvard Business Review suggests there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that companies are typically proficient in solving problems. The bad news is, they’re woefully poor at diagnosing what the real problems are.  

While the reasons for this deficit are many, it’s clear that many organizations try to solve problems so quickly that they often don’t realize all their efforts are directed at the wrong issue.

There are several benefits to getting better at reframing business problems related to customer centricity and Human-Centered Design (HCD):

  • Gets the scope right – being rigorous about getting the problem framed correctly will avoid scope creep, enable efficient execution, and ensure deliverables focus on the true heart of the problem.
  • Sparks new conversations about the problem itself – reframing problems has the natural effect of creating entirely new ways of reimagining a problem and steering away from traditional notions of them. 
  • Paves the path to better methods and deeper insights – a reframed problem definition will also point to novel ways of approaching the problem, as well as lead to deeper and more relevant consumer insights.  

Signs that Your Problem Needs Reframing

Not all business challenges are in need of being completely reimagined. However, stay on the lookout for the following telltale signs of a problem that needs to be reframed:

  1. The challenge doesn’t have an obvious answer (or approach to addressing it) – Some problems don’t have immediate answers, but it’s clear what needs to be done to solve them. On the other hand, problems that need reframing are often so hairy that the team doesn’t even know where to begin.
  2. It’s clear something needs to be fixed, but it’s not clear what that something is – Perhaps a product isn’t selling well, or a new service offering isn’t taking off the way the team expected. Or maybe there’s a collective gut feeling that something isn’t right (and the cause isn’t obvious). In these situations, thinking differently about the challenge at hand is likely to provide deeper insight into what’s going on.
  3. The problem doesn’t have existing data to help solve it – Some problems are so focused on human experience, that data—even if it existed—wouldn’t help with a solution. These situations call for creative and insightful problem reframing to give the team a clearer path to understanding the challenge.
  4. Your team keeps rehashing what the problem is – Lack of a clear, shared understanding of a problem is a sure sign that the team might be chasing the wrong problem.

These situations (and many more like them) call for applying some of the suggestions below.

How to Get to the Heart of the Problem

It’s one thing to intellectually understand the need to help teams reframe problems; it’s quite another to have the right toolkit at your disposal to apply in the right situation. 

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Look at the problem from the perspective of the customer and the organization – Often, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on the problem from the perspective of the organization: why we’re losing money, how can we fix quality problems in manufacturing and the like. While it might appear that these are the real problems, looking at them from the perspective of the customer and their experience of your brand will generate some unique insights into the problem at hand.
  • Don’t jump to solutions. Focus on the issue. – It’s often tempting to try to jump from “we have a problem” to, “here’s what we should do.” Instead, stick to the problem, and keep digging deeper. For every apparent problem definition ask, “why does that matter?” multiple times. 
  • Use different words to reframe – An exercise that we have found helpful is to have a team try to take a stated problem and then restate it using different words. By iterating on these ways of rephrasing the problem, new facets of the problem can emerge, which lead toward a much clearer frame of the challenge at hand.
  • Zoom out to put the problem in a completely different perspective – It’s natural to want to take a microscope to a challenge in hopes of seeing details that aren’t immediately visible. Instead, try zooming out and looking at the problem from a broader and more abstract perspective. Look at the customer’s “job to be done” rather than what they may be saying their challenge is. Regardless, sometimes a 30,000-foot view of the problem is all that is needed to create a breakthrough in understanding it.

The Power of Reframing in Action

Several years ago, Crest toothpaste faced a challenge: to increase market share in the mature and saturated dental care market. Selling more toothpaste through increased advertising spend or launching new SKUs was not going to achieve their growth targets. In short, it was obvious that traditional ways of framing the challenge of growth in this category was a losing proposition.

Instead, the Crest team did what we recommend: taking a fresh look at the problem and fundamentally reframing it.  The result? By “zooming out” on the challenge of, “how do we sell more Crest toothpaste?” the team saw a new frame: “How can we create whiter smiles?”  That pivot ultimately lead to the development of Crest White Strips, which sold at a premium price point, improved margins, and an increase in Crest’s market share.

The benefits of reframing business problems are clear, and hopefully, some of the above suggestions will help teams you work with move past traditional ways of looking at challenges and see them in an inspiring new light. 

Making problem reframing a practice has many other benefits: it helps the organization develop greater flexibility, opens new pathways for innovation, and infuses fresh creativity into initiatives. It also has the added benefit of clarifying gaps in knowledge and seeing more clearly where additional consumer insight is needed.

So, rather than getting stuck in the dim loop of cycling through the same questions and ways of thinking about a challenge, put the ideas above to work and see the power of viewing old problems in a completely new light.

This article was written by Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer and Patricia Salamone, Account Strategist at Gongos Inc 

About Greg Heist: As Chief Innovation Officer of Gongos, Inc., Greg is charged with accelerating the future of everything—from trends and foresights, to product innovation and development, to the company’s growth and performance.  He thrives on exploring societal and technological shifts that point to disruptive ways to create value for consumers and resilience for organizations. Greg leads the company’s Innovation Think Tank—a cross-generational team that fosters a culture of innovation and guides long-term strategy in shaping the decision intelligence space. This team’s work has underpinned the evolution of Gongos’ business model – from collection methods, to data convergence, to insight curation. A former research practitioner with over 20 years of experience under his belt, Greg is a visionary at heart. He believes our industry is in the midst of a revolution, and plans to help pave the way. 

About Patricia Salamone: A career strategist having worked across the financial services, technology, CPG, and media sectors, Patricia seeks resonance with every problem she is hired to solve. She sees innovation through the lens of human need, framing what is to be answered not through the problem at hand, but rather the mystery to be unraveled. Innovation work, she believes, does not simply exist across a spectrum of incremental to disruptive, rather it occurs in the form of equity to be stretched, solutions to be extended, and go-to-market strategies to be reimagined. It is the fusion of once seemingly unrelatable inputs: a macro-trend and a micro-moment; a camera and a mobile phone; nutritional need and global warming.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!