Reframe Problems with These 5 Questions

UPDATED: September 9, 2014
PUBLISHED: September 9, 2014

I’ll admit it. I was embarrassed. And frustrated.

I studied the problem. Interviewed experts. Meditated. Watched YouTube videos. Drew on a whiteboard. Asked my 3-year-old to draw on the whiteboard with me.

But I was stumped.

I was trying to solve a problem that on many levels seemed obvious, although when I got into the details, it became more complex. But what problem isn’t complex once you take it apart? Especially when you consider the consequences and side effects of your  decisions.

And then it hit me. Like American Ninja Warrior.

I was so intent on finding a specific answer that I  didn’t realize I was asking the wrong question. It was time to stop looking for the answer. It was time to ask new  questions.

Here are the new questions I asked myself (and that you can ask yourself) that changed how I looked at this problem, at myself and at each future challenge:

1. What am I actually trying to achieve by solving this problem? This question made me realize that I was spending my energy on a superficial difficulty that was actually an outcome of the real problem—a deeper, more significant one.

2. What constraints have I self-imposed on solving this problem? Are they real? What happens when I remove each of them individually or altogether? My problem-solving approach was held back by a limiting belief from years ago. Years! A friend pointed this out by asking, “But what if that’s not true or not true anymore?”

3. How can I break the big prob-lem into five smaller ones? Doing this makes each problem less intimidating, as well as easier to explain to others whom I might enlist to help me. As I reached the five solutions incrementally, the process created a feeling of progress, which was incredibly rewarding after being baffled for so long.

4. What if I don’t fix this problem and choose to just move on? This was the biggest shocker for me. I realized this looming, scary, resource-hogging problem had no real effect on me or my business if I didn’t solve it. I had simply become so emotionally invested that I erroneously came to perceive it as a problem with huge ramifications.

5. What if I’m the problem? Hmmmmm. I gave the problem to three other people who promptly approached it in ways I never considered. (So consider brainstorming or delegating!)

My 3-year-old coloring on the whiteboard in my office was the real-life example I was missing. She didn’t color inside the lines I drew for her. Nope. She didn’t even color on the whiteboard. She colored on the wall next to the whiteboard. I started to correct her actions, but then I realized my questioning was about my experience and limiting beliefs, not hers. So I left the blue squiggles on the wall to remind me that the questions we ask can keep us from literally seeing the writing on the wall.

What I learned is that innovation involves asking questions in different, unexpected ways to change how you see and respond to the problem you face. More often than not, the answers you find will not be the ones you thought you were looking for, but could end up being exactly what you need.

Now let’s all go write on a wall together.

Get more of Jason Dorsey’s techniques to ignite innovation—to take you from bland ideas to breakthroughs.

Jessica Krampe is the digital managing editor for A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Jessica has worked for news, entertainment, business and lifestyle publications. Outside of the daily grind, she enjoys happy hours, live music and traveling.