Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Overcoming Overwhelm

Strategic Solutions: Ensuring Effective Problem-Solving

Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and five minutes on the solution.”

Many people are able to come up with quick solutions, but they are often solving the wrong problems. They may be putting band-aid fixes on a significant injury. Finding the core issue and solving the real issue is usually a far more complicated process than most business leaders believe.

The key to success lies not just in solving problems, but in reframing them. Reframing a problem involves looking at it from different perspectives, fostering creativity, and discovering innovative solutions.

Reframing is a cognitive skill that enables individuals and organizations to view problems in new ways, leading to breakthrough solutions. According to a Harvard Business Review article by Kees Dorst and Bernard Roth, the authors of “The Power of Reframing: Creating the Future Through Strategic Conversations,” reframing involves shifting the focus from the problem itself to the underlying assumptions, perspectives, and beliefs that shape our understanding of the problem.

One of the fundamental aspects of reframing is altering perspectives. In business, challenges often arise due to a narrow viewpoint. Harvard Business Review emphasizes the importance of adopting a broader perspective to identify hidden opportunities and alternative solutions. By doing so, businesses can break free from traditional thinking patterns and discover unconventional paths to success.

Reframing challenges businesses to question assumptions and challenge the status quo. In his article “The Five Steps All Leaders Must Take in the Age of Uncertainty” in the Harvard Business Review, Roger L. Martin discusses the significance of questioning assumptions to foster innovation. By critically examining assumptions, businesses can uncover biases and explore alternative routes to problem-solving.

Business problems are often accompanied by ambiguity and uncertainty. Reframing encourages leaders to embrace ambiguity rather than shy away from it. In “Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis,” Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders who can navigate ambiguity are better equipped to adapt and find innovative solutions. Reframing allows businesses to see ambiguity as an opportunity for growth and creativity.

These questions may help to make sure we are addressing the right problems:

  1. Why is this problem worth solving?
  2. What are the underlying causes of the problem?
  3. Who in our organization is most affected by this problem? Who is least affected by this problem? Employees? Customers?
  4. What are our constraints and limitations?
  5. What solutions have been tried before?
  6. What are the potential risks and unintended consequences?
  7. How will the solution be implemented and sustained?
  8. What resources and expertise are needed?
  9. How do we know when we are making progress?

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that aligns with the principles of reframing. This emphasizes the value of design thinking in business innovation. This approach involves empathizing with users, defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing. Through design thinking, businesses can reframe problems by putting the end-user at the center of the solution.

This is all difficult.  It requires deeper thinking, more thoughtful considerations, and radical examinations of current practices.

Mastering the art of reframing is a strategic imperative for businesses seeking to thrive in today’s dynamic environment. By adopting diverse perspectives, questioning assumptions, embracing ambiguity, and applying design thinking, organizations can transform challenges into opportunities, paving the way for innovation and sustainable success.

For more help, please click here to download your FREE copy of my 5 –  Minute Problem Solving Plan


  1. William Alexander

    Great article, and time well spent to read it! A refreshing take on “problem solving”. Keeping this article in front of me regularly, to use it’s concepts in problem solving for the business I work for. Thanks Mary!

    • Mary Kelly

      So glad you liked this article. Thank you so much for your feedback!


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