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Reframing Your Actual Problem

October 2018

What does reframing a problem mean?

Reframing a problem can take two or more meanings. The most common meaning is to look at a problem from a different angle, fresh eyes, or a new approach. Very useful, especially in businesses or organizations that may be heavy in one demographic (cough—old, white men—cough).


The second meaning of reframing is to find out if what you are trying to solve is even the right problem. This article will focus on this meaning.


In order to do reframe this way, it is important that we do two things:
1. Ask the right questions and…
2. Ensure the questions do not include the solution


For example, many companies come to us and “know” they need a new website to increase leads, so naturally their question centers around that. “How can we redesign our site to get more leads?” As you’ll see in some of the examples later in this post, that is definitely the wrong question.


A better question might be, “What is preventing us from getting the type of leads we need to be successful?” What makes this a better question?

1. It does not make the assumption that the website is solely to blame for a lack of leads; there could be any number of obstacles to success

2. It declares that success will occur if an obstacle is removed

3. It doesn’t force in business jargon terms like “qualified leads” and instead focuses on the end goal—success—in whatever form that may take.


It takes an entire session just to ensure the question is correct before trying to solve it. Stanford professor, Dr. Tina Seelig, author of Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World, calls this effort framestorming and it is not to be taken lightly.

Many clients come to us with what solution they think they need—rather than what addressing what problem needs to be solved.

And about 80% of the time, they’re wrong about what that problem is.

Here are three types of examples:

Client A said they needed a new website. Not enough leads are coming in, they informed us. After our initial analysis, it turned out that Client A was getting plenty of qualified leads from the website. The real problem was internal. A few call center operators had turned down several perfectly good leads—even going off script.


Result: They needed call center training—not a website. Had we not stopped to question whether or not a website was the right solution, we would have wasted their marketing spend.


Client B said they needed a mobile app—because their competitor has one. Very few businesses actually need mobile apps, especially if their website is mobile-friendly (responsive). Over 77% of mobile apps are deleted within the first 72 hours, so when a client asks for one, we are thorough in their needs assessment. Analysis revealed that the competitor’s mobile app was actually abandoned from lack of adoption.


Result: Client B really just needed a simpler navigation on their website, and it needed to be a responsive design. Creating an app would have been a colossal waste of time and resources.


Client C said they needed better Google Ads. They’ve “played around with Google AdWords” but hadn’t seen good results. Research into the client’s site traffic and analytics strongly showed that Google Ads only accounted for 1% of their converting traffic—most came from specific social media platforms and organic search.


Result: Client made an incorrect assumption about conversions, and thought their ads were to blame. Their ads were actually decent; they simply had an audience that was more likely to arrive from social media or word of mouth than from an ad.



We developed our ThinkWell process to address the very issue of clients not knowing what their actual problems were. If you have a tricky issue that is keeping you up at night, let’s talk. ThinkWell works on business problems, marketing issues, political strategies, causes, and culture.

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