Framing & Reframing Problems

Grey Swan Guild
6 min readJun 27, 2022

Sometimes the problem isn’t the solution, sometimes the problem is the problem — an exploration of Challenge Statements, Question forming and Puzzle solving

We hosted a full discussion on the topic Friday Jun 24th wioth our expert panel of :

Jennifer He, Jonathan Denn and Susan Schramm, moderated by Sean Moffitt.

Have a watch of our LinkedIn Live discussion:

Opening Thoughts:

Charles Kettering — a master in automotive innovation
Moneyball — articulating the problem as wins not losing Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon

The Semantics of Framing & Reframing Problems:

Called many thing including Question Forming and Puzzle Finding

Context-Setting: Why Do we UnderInvest in Problems?

The rush and bias to solutions — Einstein would have spent 55 minutes out of every hour articulating the problem
Avoiding the loudest voice in the room issue

The Value in Identifying Smart Problems:

#1 They Provide Clarity and Focus to the Work Ahead.

#2 They Enlighten Teams.

#3 They Provide Context to All Functions, All Levels, All People.

#4 They Springboard to Solutions, without Leading Them to It Directly.

#5 They Poke at Assumptions.

#6 They Promote Further Enquiry, Particularly with Customers.

#7 They Inspire People to Action.

#8 They Provide an Outline to How Outcomes will be Judged.

#9 They Center Projects and keep Them on the Rails.

#10 They Provide Glimpses at the Key Questions & Obstacles.

#11 They Provide High Level Consensus of The Value of a Project.

Types of Problems

Karl Popper’s Clocks and Clouds
Wicked Problems — problems with many interdependent factors
Divergent vs. Convergent Problem Solving

Criteria for Great Challenge Statement Articulation

#1 Provides Hindsights/Insights/Foresights.

#2 States Underlying Factors.

#3 Written Positively.

#4 Provides Concise Statement (with options to explore context).

#5 Tracks to a Desired Outcome.

#6 Goldilocks Grading — not to broad and not too narrow.

#7 Avoids inherent Bias of the Status Quo or Established Thinking.

#8 Doesn’t Telegraph the Solution, The Answer Should Not Be Known.

#9 Is Not merely an Articulation of Company Vision, Roots Challenge in the Ultimate Stakeholder.

#10 Does Not Focus on Blame or Shift Responsibility or Outcome Unfairly.

#11 Points to the Gap Between the Current and Future State and its Impact on Others.

The Goldilocks Effect — meet me in the middle
Example of a Successful Problem Formulated That Strikes The Balance

Exploration Challenge Statement Canvas

Challenge Statements all in one place Via Futureproofing —
The best challenge statements are rooted in Change, Boldness, Impact and/or Vision

Gold Standard — Real Life Winning Challenge Statements

Long Term Problems:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
Sting?! Blackberry vs. Apple mobile challenge statements — questions can elevate or deter.

The 5Ws and 2H Tool Of Challenge Statements

The Sins and Watchouts of Challenge Statements

  • Loudest Voice in the Room Determines The Language
  • You Never Re-examine/Change It When Reality Hits
  • You Change It When Your Solution Doesn’t Fit Your intended Plan
  • You Don’t Modulate It for Intended Audiences
  • You Include Too Much Jargon, Not Understandable to Others
  • You Don’t Phrase it as A Question, Invitation or Provocation for Participation
  • Lacks Actionability — Spurs teams to Required Steps, Without Expressing Means
  • Lacks Specificity — Provides Constraints to Work Against with Enough Room to Explore
  • Jumping to the Solution or Root Cause Prematurely
  • Not Understanding if You Have Answered the Challenge (SMART — specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-based)
  • Focusing in on Symptoms to the Real Problem
Our Poil Results — Problem Statements are too Biased


The Power of Questions:

  • How Might We…
  • What Might Happen If…
  • What’s Stopping Us From…
  • if X Change Happened, How might we Y Action?
  • Why Would We Not…
  • What is the best Way…
The Framing and Reframing Canvas

Resources to Explore

Frame Innovation (book) — Create New thinking By Design (2015)

Upstream (book) — the Quest to Solve Problems Before they Happen (2020)

What’s Your Problem (book) — To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve (2020)

Problem Statement Examples (Nexxia)

How to Write an Effective Problem Statement (ISixSigma)

Social Innovation Challenge Statements (MaRSDD)

Template — Miro

Template — TTC Labs

Template — The tech

“We must realize that when fear hits, we go to overthinking, overanalysis and we can miss out on breakthrough opportunities.”, from “Top Gun: Maverick”:)

Have a watch of our LinkedIn Live discussion:

What’s next in our Craft-Building Series?

What’s Going On in the Guild:

See What ventures We Are Hatching
Our latest article — a super-CAFFEINATED world

Our lastest news article — Volume #2 Edition #21 — Roe v. Wade

This Month’s Feature City Town Hall — June 29th 12pm PT

Our Cygnus Sprints Consulting, Advisory & Change Team Up and Running, the On-Demand All-Stars for a Sped Up, Complex World:



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