Waiting for an elevator can be frustrating at times. Especially, when you are getting late for a meeting.

Recently I was visiting the office of a friend. He was sharing the curious story of the elevator problem. A lot of tenants in the office building were complaining about the elevator. It’s old and slow, and they have to wait a lot. Several tenants were threatening to break the lease if the problem was not fixed soon.

Since he was the secretary of the office owners’ association, the matter had come to him. Most people quickly identify some solutions – replace the lift, install a stronger motor, or perhaps change the algorithm that runs the lift. Nothing wrong with the solutions, but the question I had for him was – Are you solving the right problem.

Most of the times, when we look at solving problems, we use the root cause analysis or the “5 Why” questioning technique – digging deeper – till we feel satisfied that we are attacking the root cause of the issue. This can be helpful. But creative solutions nearly always come from an alternative definition of your problem.

Mary Parker Follet’s story about two people fighting over keeping a window open or closed is a classic example. While the stated problem is to keep the window open or closed, it is only when the problem is restated from each person’s point of view does the problem get resolved. One person wants fresh air, while the other one wants to keep the draft out. By opening the window in the next room they arrive at an integrated solution.

Reframing is not about finding the real problem, but it is about seeing if there is a better one to solve. The very fact that a single root problem may be existing is misleading. Problems are multi-causal and can be addressed in many ways.

In the case of the elevator problem, how would you reframe the issue. One property manager came up with a brilliant idea. He said it is the wait that’s causing the problem, so let’s put up mirrors next to the elevator. This simple measure has proved wonderfully effective in reducing complaints, because people lose track of time when given something fascinating to watch – namely themselves.

Another way of reframing would be that it is a peak demand issue. Spreading out the demand by doing something simple like staggering lunch breaks would help solve the issue.

Next time you encounter a problem, instead of rolling up your sleeves and jumping in, you might want to take a step back and look at reframing the problem. As in the famous song ‘Let it Go’ from the movie ‘Frozen’ – “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem so small”

At Able Ventures, we help you in solving your people challenges. We put in a new lens with every assignment and that’s the reason why we are still in business after a decade. We are adopting technology in our solutions now and are looking at every problem – in a new way. Looking forward to hearing your views. Please write to me at smita@ableventures.in