“What’s Your Problem?”: Reframing the Approach to Problem Solving

Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving skills are an important part of successful decision-making -- and yet, they're skills that are rarely formally taught. We spend a significant amount of time, money and resources trying to find the best solutions to our problems -- but could we be doing it better? Is it possible that we might improve our outcomes with a different approach? On this episode of ProjectHR, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg explains that our biggest challenge might not be in finding better solutions, but rather in better defining the problems we face. Here, you'll learn:

  • How to improve problem solving skills with the concept of "reframing";
  • The value of rethinking goals;
  • How "examining the bright spots" can lead you to success; and
  • The ways self-reflection as well as viewing your problem from other peoples' perspectives can make a difference.
How To Improve Problem Solving Skills


Wedell- Wedellsborg

   Problem Solving Expert

“We waste significant levels of resources, time, money, energy, by often barking up the wrong trees or solving the wrong problem. Problem solving is clearly a critical skill, but it's one that we regrettably don't think about much. We teach people problem solving. We don't teach them to frame the right problems.”


If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 

How Much Do We Waste By Solving the Wrong Problems?

  • So much! 85% of C-Suite executives that Mr. Wedell-Wedellsborg interviewed said they are not good at problem solving, and they waste a significant amount of time, money, and resources solving the wrong problems.
  • Everyone thinks they already know how to solve problems - but most people also don’t really know how to decide what the right problem to solve is. “We don’t teach them to frame the right problems.”
  • The lack of training to help people frame the right problems is what inspired him to write his book What’s Your Problem?
  • What’s Your Problem? isn’t just a textbook. It’s a workbook that actively engages its reader to help them learn how to put its lessons into action.
  • A book is for more than just conveying information. It “is a method for changing behavior.”


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The Slow Elevator Problem

  • One important exercise from the book is The Slow Elevator Problem. 
  • Imagine you’re the owner of an office building and your tenants complain about the slow speed of the elevator. 
  • While most people would probably start brainstorming ways to make the elevator faster. But what building managers actually tend to do in this case, is to put a mirror up on the wall next to the elevator. That way, while someone is waiting for the elevator, they see their face in the mirror and get distracted looking at themselves. 
  • The Slow Elevator Problem is the best example of reframing a problem. Instead of actually fixing the elevator, which would be a difficult problem to solve, the easier and more effective solution is to put a distracting mirror up, so people forget about the original problem. 

The Reframing Process

  • There are 3 steps to the process:
    • FRAME -- Frame the problem, so you understand it
    • REFRAME -- Then you reframe it to look for other ways of understanding and solving the problem 
    • MOVE FORWARD -- And then the final step is to figure out how to keep moving forward. 
  • Step 1: FRAME:
    • Don’t immediately jump into solution mode. 
    • Make sure that the problem is clear. This could mean writing down the problem, or even literally asking people to clarify what the problem is.
    • Ideally, you’re working with other people here. Working with other people helps you see your own shortcomings or other things you miss. This could include the people immediately around you, and it can also include diverse people who are different from you and maybe aren’t even in your organization. 
  • Step 2: REFRAME:
    • This is a rapid, action-driven process. 
    • Don’t get caught in a paralysis by analysis. You don’t want to get stuck just thinking about the problem without actually moving forward to solve it.
    • Look outside the first frame of the problem. Ask yourself if the real problem could be something entirely different. 
    • For example, if you’re fighting a lot in your relationship, your first thought might be to stop or avoid fighting. However, the better idea might be to learn how to handle conflicts with your partner in a better way.
    • Goals: It can be very helpful to rethink your goals that you have in mind. There might be a better goal to pursue that you haven’t thought of.
    • Examining the bright spots: Think of a time when you may have had a similar problem to the one you’re facing now. If you have a problem right now, odds are that you’ve already solved a problem like it.
    • Look in the mirror: Self-reflection is important. A lot of people like to think that all of their problems are caused by other people. But people often create their own problems, so you have to really look at yourself and ask what you can do.
    • Take their perspective: Step back from your problem and try looking at it from other people’s perspectives, because you probably aren’t the only person affected by the problem. 
  • Step 3: MOVE FORWARD
    • Once you’ve reframed the problem, work towards the solution. 
    • One company that had a policy where they would call a client after they came up with a solution for that client’s problem. However, during that call, they weren’t allowed to share their solution. Instead, they had to talk to the client about how they reframed the problem. They would say to the client, “We think you might have this problem. Is that true? Can you tell us more about it?”
    • Before starting to implement the solution, you want to get confirmation about how well you’ve reframed the problem.

Practice Makes Perfect!

  • This method doesn’t have to be time-consuming. When working at a large company, a big problem might take a while to solve, because it’ll involve going through all of the steps and processes rigorously.
  • People can also go through these steps in their day-to-day life in just a matter of minutes. 
  • The process gets easier and quicker with practice. It quickly becomes a force of habit.

Overcoming Resistance

  • Yes. When problem solving, you’re likely to meet resistance -- from your teammates, your clients, or even yourself.
  • The book gives examples of resistance and how to overcome it. 

Mr. Wedell-Wedellsborg’s Services

  • Thomas speaks and teaches companies about problem solving and innovation.
  • He also delivers training courses and consultation services to companies both virtually and in person. 
  • He shows companies how to apply reframing methods to specific problems that companies are having.
  • He taught reframing strategies to a company who wanted to have more women working in leadership roles. 
  • Success story: He recently helped a company solve a COVID-19 social distancing problem. The company’s employees weren’t following social distancing protocols in the smoking area, so they wanted to figure out how to get employees to follow the protocols. By reframing the problem, he helped them figure out that the problem wasn’t a resistance to protocols, but rather as a result of overcrowding brought on by the added presence of non-smoking employees who were also using that area. Once the company created a non-smoking break area, separate from the smoking area, employees were able to follow social distancing protocols in both areas. 

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg Backstory

  • M.A. in Media Science from the University of Copenhagen. 
  • M.B.A from the IESE Business School, where he also served as a guest lecturer for five years.
  • Before entering the business world, Mr. Wedell-Wedellsborg served for four years as an officer with the Danish Royal Guards.
  • He’s been recognized as a "Top 20 International Thinker" by HR Magazine.

  • His research has been featured in Harvard Business Review, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, BBC Radio, Bloomberg Businessweek and the Financial Times.
  • He’s been teaching and speaking about problem solving for about 15 years.

  • Mr. Wedell-Wedellsborg is a problem solving and innovation expert, and the author of the books What's Your Problem? and Innovation as Usual.


“What’s Your Problem?” and “Innovation As Usual” can be found at these links, but Mr. Wedell-Wedellsborg also wants to encourage you to check out your local book dealers, as they may need extra support right now!

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