Reframe Business Problems for Your Innovation Needs


By Patricia Salamone, Account Strategist & Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer, Gongos, Inc. 

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):

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:

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.

As published in Global Innovation Magazine.

Create the Foundation for Meaningful Innovation