Fram­ing and Re-fram­ing:

Core Skills for a Prob­lem-filled World

Rotman Management Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By Sara Beck­man and Michael Barry

body of literature on De­sign Think­ing enTHE RAPIDLY-GROW­ING courages prac­ti­tion­ers to en­gage in a path of ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing some ver­sion of IDEO CEO Tim Brown’s ‘in­spi­ra­tion/ideation/ im­ple­men­ta­tion’ model. Lit­tle of the literature, how­ever, fo­cuses ex­plic­itly on what we con­sider to be the core un­der­ly­ing ben­e­fit of the ap­proach: an en­hanced ca­pac­ity to frame and re-frame the prob­lem to be solved.

The more lin­ear and an­a­lytic pro­cesses to which we’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed through qual­ity man­age­ment and Six Sigma train­ing rarely open up the num­ber of dif­fer­ent frames that the more ex­ploratory ap­proaches of De­sign Think­ing can. Sup­pose, for ex­am­ple, that I asked you to build me a bridge. The prob­lem solver in you might jump right in, ask­ing how far it is across the river, what sits on ei­ther side, and which type of bridge (can­tilever, sus­pen­sion, etc.) would work best.

In the De­sign Think­ing world, you would first step back and ask, Why do you need this bridge? Sup­pose I say that peo­ple need it to get to the other side of the river. Now your mind bursts with a new set of al­ter­na­tives: a boat, a tun­nel, a wet­suit, a zi­pline. And, if you ask why again, you might find that I want to get a mes­sage to the other side. Sud­denly that large in­vest­ment you might have made in a bridge can be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced by in­stead fa­cil­i­tat­ing my send­ing an email, float­ing a mes­sage in a bot­tle, yelling through a mega­phone, and so on. LES­SON 1: Some­times we need many dif­fer­ent frames around a prob­lem in or­der to see the many dif­fer­ent pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

The ca­pac­ity to re-frame prob­lems dis­tin­guishes De­sign Think­ing from its an­a­lyt­i­cal prob­lem-solv­ing coun­ter­parts.

Un­der­stand­ing the ‘why’ that sits be­neath a stated prob­lem can lead you to a wide range of other op­tions for solv­ing it. Root­cause anal­y­sis, or the ask­ing of the ‘five whys’, from Qual­ity Man­age­ment, also helps to iden­tify a broader range of po­ten­tial frames for a prob­lem. But De­sign Think­ing takes re-fram­ing a step fur­ther.

Sup­pose you are work­ing on a prob­lem that sim­ply can­not be solved as it is cur­rently framed. Shure, the mi­cro­phone com­pany, rec­og­nized the cat­a­strophic hear­ing loss that its rock-star cus­tomers were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing as a re­sult of the on-stage ‘wedge’ speak­ers that were throw­ing deaf­en­ing sound back at them. It

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