Can you find a better problem to solve?
Let’s face it. Most of us don’t like to have problems. Although problems are an integral part of our lives, and we are constantly moving from one problem to another, we still mostly see problems as something very annoying that we need to avoid.
I have many things to say on this topic, but now I will focus on one outcome that results from our rush to find solutions. And this outcome means we are spending time, effort and money on solving the wrong problem, or missing an opportunity to solve an even better problem.
I will explain what I mean by sharing a story with you on a topic that is very close to my heart – dogs.
Dogs are our best friends. And I can tell you from my own experience that there is nothing like a dog’s love. Having a dog as part of your family brings so much love, joy and happiness into your home.
Many people around the world have dogs as pets. In the USA, 69 million households have at least one dog as a pet. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this love affair between humans and dogs. In the USA, more that 3 million dogs enter shelters to be put up for adoption, each year!
In an attempt to solve this problem, shelters are busy creating ads to evoke compassion in people so they will adopt a dog. You can often see images of dogs, looking at you with their sad puppy eyes, along with a write up such as – “I need you” or “Save a life today”.
Through these ads and other initiatives, shelters in the USA get about 1.4 million dogs adopted each year. However, this leaves more than a million unadopted dogs! So despite the significant efforts of shelters, the shortage of pet adopters is an ongoing problem.
Based on how shelters try to solve this problem, how do you think they define it?
It is probably something along the lines of-
“How might we get people to adopt dogs from our shelter?”
Framing their problem in this manner led them to a specific approach to solving it. It limits the type of solutions they can come up with.
But what if we frame this problem differently?
What if we spend time understanding the problem, get to the root cause of this problem and then come up with a different problem to solve? Maybe a better problem to solve?
This is what Lori Weise, the founder of Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles, did.
Lori and her team explored why pets get to their shelter.
They discovered that about 30% of the dogs that enter a shelter are brought by their owner. They also found out that it’s not that the owners of these dogs don’t want to have them anymore. They simply can’t afford it anymore. They bring their beloved dogs to a shelter because they are too poor to look after them.
With this new understanding of the problem, the new framing was-
“How might we help families who struggle financially to keep their pets?”
With this new definition, the solutions that the team came up with were completely different. This framing opened the door to a new approach and unique solutions.
This approach has proven to be a huge success right from the get-go, as 75% of the families who brought their pets to the shelter chose to use the help provided to them and keep their pets.
So how can you go about reframing your problems?
Here are a few ways to go about it:
✅ Spend time exploring the problem. Go below the surface and search for the real root cause. Keep asking Why.
✅ Share this problem with people with diverse thinking. It helps to get different points of view on the situation at hand.
✅ Flip the problem. (e.g. from, “How might we get people to adopt dogs from our shelter?” can be flipped to “How might we prevent people from bringing their dogs to our shelter?”)
✅ Frame a problem as per your objectives. This will help you come up with more solutions. (e.g. from, “How might we get people to adopt dogs from our shelter?” can be defined as per the objective “How might we reduce the number of pets at our shelter?”)
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