Reframing Problems

Michelle Spencer
Apr 13, 2018 · 4 min read

I work where three areas intersect: legal, learning, and technology. Two of these areas are in the midst of extended periods of great change and major upheaval: legal and learning. Many in both legal and learning struggle with this. The American legal system is built on precedents, so the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset is pervasive in much of the legal community. The corporate education system is steeped in learning myths and many readily chase after the latest buzzword without bothering to dig a little deeper to see whether the methods are credible. We skim the surface and may make small changes, but rarely achieve major impactful change, because we are inclined to slip back into our comfortable old habits. Big changes are hard.

Technology, however, is built on what has become near constant change and innovation. Because I was immersed in IT for so many years of my career and leading others through change in my training and project management roles, I understand and am much more comfortable with change than most, but that’s not exactly what this post is about. It’s about our ability to get above the fray and reframe the problems we have. You see, this is where the smart folks in technology shine. The best in the business are all about solving problems, because they think about old problems in new and completely different ways — reframing problems.

Last night, while watching Grey’s Anatomy, it hit me. My greatest career successes have come when I’ve taken the time to get above and away from the problem and mentally or physically move all of the pieces around in different ways, looking at things from completely different angles and viewpoints, especially those that are the most contrary to mine. (I’ll put in a plug for design thinking here as its starting point is empathy, something in which those of us in support roles should excel.) Unfortunately, we keep looking at the problems we have in legal and learning through the same lenses that we always have when what we need to do is completely reframe the problems. We have to look at them in completely new and different ways. Yes, I know that sounds obvious, but it’s harder to do than you might think. Stick with me for a couple more paragraphs and see if your problem pondering isn’t reframed after you finish this post.

Problem Solution Diagram
Problem Solution Diagram

Here’s what flipped the switch for me. (SPOILER ALERT: For any Grey’s Anatomy fans who haven’t seen last night’s episode, you may want to stop here.) One of the doctors on the show had an expectant mother who was at a high risk of having complications during her delivery. The same doctor had been doing a study on the mortality of mothers during and after the delivery of their babies. In a moment of panic as the woman went into labor, the doctor sent one of her interns off to assemble a cart with everything she would need if the woman experienced any of the common complications of giving birth. However, all of this was unnecessary as the woman had a perfectly normal delivery.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. That would make this post (and the show) dull and boring, and I doubt the storyline would have stuck with me. Moments later, a woman who had a routine delivery the day before experienced some postpartum complications. The team grabbed the cart and used it to great effect, saving precious moments in treating the woman. This is when it hit the doctor that she had just solved the problem for which her mortality study had been created. As she said, “The key to not turning birth into trauma is to prepare for it as if it is a trauma.”

They should have been looking at giving birth as a trauma and preparing for trauma all along — reframing the problem, so that the problem becomes the solution.

What things can you flip around and reframe so that the problem delivers the solution? This is what continues to occupy my thoughts today. I’d love to hear what thoughts this prompts for you, so please share!


Originally published at Legal Learning Development Network.

Michelle Spencer

Written by

Lifetime learner, native Texan and world traveler; founded Legal Learning Development Network (aka LLDevNet) to improve life for legal professionals and others.

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