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Reframing for Innovative and Creative Problem Solving

Problems can become opportunities when you change the way you think about them. With reframing you take your problem and ask: What's the opportunity here? Click To Tweet

In your home, putting a new frame on an existing picture is a way to find new value in something that you concluded “no longer fit the decor.” Through your innovation, you look at this picture with a new perspective. You also make something positive (saving money!) out of what seemed to be a problem (junk in your home!). This concept of finding another frame (perspective) in which to view a situation is called reframing.

What is Reframing?

Reframing is a mental coping strategy that people use to deal with a negative event. It’s is also known as cognitive reframing.

The e-counseling platform website, BetterHelp.com explains reframing as follows:

When life presents us with a situation, we usually decide what meaning the situation has for us almost immediately. That meaning is the ‘frame’ we give it. We don’t have to continue viewing it in that frame, though. Instead, we can give it a different meaning by changing the way we think and feel about it.

Reframing is positive when you choose to take a difficult situation and make something positive out of it.

As PsychologyToday.com explains, it is optimistic thinking — seeing a glass as half full instead of half empty.

Reframing is a positive coping strategy that allows you to manage stress in the workplace. It is emotional intelligence in action. Click To Tweet

A Real Life Example of Reframing

Imagine yourself as a child waiting with several friends for a fruit snack after an afternoon of hard play. Each friend receives their own special fruit from your best friend’s mother: cherries, peaches, grapes, and apricots. You are happy to get your fruit as you know it will be special (since this is your best friend’s mother)—that is, until your bowl of lemons arrives.

After receiving your lemons, you have two choices. The first choice that comes to your mind is to feel sorry for yourself as you now realize how much your best friend’s mother does not like you.  As an innovative child however, you think differently.

You look on this problem as an opportunity!

You take your lemons and go home and make lemonade and then sell glasses to your friends. With the money you earned, you go and buy your favorite tropical fruit.

In effect, you make lemonade out of lemons.

This is the essence of positive reframing: taking what appears to be a difficult situation and finding something positive to make out of it.

You put another frame (perspective) on the situation you face. You look for other ways to view your situation.

Making lemonade from lemons is the essence of reframing. Take your difficult situation and see what positive result you can make from it. Click To Tweet

Why is Reframing Important in Business

Reframing is a critical tool for promoting innovation and creativity in the workplace and it is very effective for problem solving. Senior leaders and operational managers who use this tool also improve their own emotional intelligence as they “smartly” manage their own emotions and the emotions of others to effect meaningful change.

The power of reframing is that it forces you to harness your creative and innovative thinking to achieve breakthrough solutions. It is original, out-of-the-box thinking!

When you use positive reframing, you view problems differently.

Instead of first exploring how to get the problem to go away, you first ask yourself, What is the opportunity here?

Innovative and creative thinking begins when you view problems as opportunities. Problems are often your chance to make needed changes whether they occur in your life or in the workplace. This is the power of reframing. It gives you the opportunity to make valuable changes in the workplace by turning a problem into an unanticipated opportunity.

Workplace problems occur! It's how a manager perceives and reacts to the problem that determines success or failure. Click To Tweet

Two Business Examples of Reframing

Consider two examples frequently used in management and leadership training.

Example 1:

The first is about Tom Watson, the founder of IBM. One of his employees made a very costly error that cost the firm ten million dollars. The employee had to meet with Watson in his office. As the employee entered the office he said, “I suppose you want my resignation.” Watson looked at him and said in disbelief, “Are you kidding? We just spent ten million dollars on your education.”

From this point forward, you can bet that Watson had both the attention and cooperation of the employee. This is reframing. The mistake had already occurred and the money was lost; Watson chose to see this mistake as an opportunity to salvage some value from this employee.

Example 2:

The second example of reframing is about the psychoanalyst, Milton Erickson. Erickson was a master at helping his clients to solve their problems with reframing. In this example, a father brought his strong-willed daughter to see Erickson, so Erickson could “fix her.” As the father explained, their daughter always had her own opinion to express rather than just listen to him or his wife and accept what they had to tell her. The father explained that he and his wife did not know what else to do with her.

Erickson thought about the problem and actually did not provide any advice. Instead, he reframed the situation for the father and got him to look at the situation from another viewpoint.

What did Erickson say? Erickson replied to the father, “Now isn’t it good that she will be able to stand on her own two feet when she is ready to leave home?” This silenced the father as he understood the impact of Erickson’s reframe. He now understood that his daughter’s independence was not a problem to be eliminated. Rather, his daughter’s independence was an opportunity that he and his wife needed to channel appropriately so she would not accept poor treatment when she became an adult.

How to Apply Reframing in the Workplace

If you manage or lead a group, use reframing as a tool to have your team assist you in innovative and creative thinking.

For example, with a budget cut, have your team assist you in coming up with recommendations for changes in work operations.

Present the budget cut as an opportunity rather than a problem. Have them help you identify less meaningful work and overly difficult processes that can be adjusted or eliminated.

Next, rather than accepting common organizational thinking that more has to be done with less (I suspect you dislike that saying as much as I do), argue instead for doing less with less!

Challenge the assumption of doing more with less with the input you received from your team. Quantify the recommendations and then present them to your senior leadership. By reframing the budget cut as an opportunity rather than a problem, you have engaged your team, improved morale, identified organizational change that badly needs to occur, and proved your worth to senior leadership. Those results are not bad at all for just a slight adjustment in your thinking and approach to a problem!

The next time you face a difficult problem reframe it and find the hidden value that comes with every difficulty.

The saying, Every Cloud has a Silver Lining, is true.

We just have to find the silver lining and use it positively to our advantage.


Video: What is Reframing and How to Use it in the Workplace


Every cloud has a silver lining. Reframing is making the effort to find that lining and use it. Click To Tweet
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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