The most basic trait of good solvers is their optimism. Faced with a difficult situation, they do not resign themselves to their fate. They tell themselves that there is a better way forward – and that they can find it.
However, optimism is not enough. History is full of blissful optimists who run headlong into the wall. (and its first movement, the framing). (…) Knowing how to reframe well does not necessarily mean caring about the details. Rather, it is seeing the big picture and having the ability to consider situations from multiple points of view.
Reframing is not limited to the beginning of the process, nor should it occur independently of the work of analyzing and solving the problem. On the contrary, your understanding of the problem will take shape at the same time as your solution. As entrepreneurs and design thinkers alike will tell you, you can’t hope to properly frame a problem without getting your hands dirty and testing your thinking in the real world.
The American Kennel Problem
To show how this process works in practice, I’ll show you one of the most powerful examples I know of. (…) Americans love dogs: more than 40% of American households own one. But this predilection for the adorable furry balls on legs has a downside: it is estimated that, each year, more than three million dogs are placed in a kennel and offered for adoption.
Kennels and other animal rights organizations do their best to raise awareness. Their ads typically feature a poor abandoned dog with a sad look, carefully chosen to arouse compassion, above a slogan like “Save a life – adopt a dog”. It may be a call for donations. Thanks to this kind of action, approximately 1.4 million dogs are adopted each year. But there are still more than a million left behind, not to mention cats and other pets. Despite the commendable efforts of shelters and animal protection associations, the shortage of adopters has persisted for decades.
All is not black, however. (…) Lori Weise, director of Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles, is one of the pioneers to have launched the intervention program at the kennel. This program does not seek to adopt more dogs. Its action aims to keeping dogs with their first families, so they don’t even enter the kennel network. On average, about 30% of dogs arriving in a shelter come from “resigned masters”; they are deliberately abandoned by their owner. In the community of voluntary shelters, united by a deep love of animals, these masters are often judged harshly: Do you have to be heartless to throw your dog away like a broken toy! To prevent dogs from ending up with these “bad” owners, many shelters – despite their chronic overpopulation of homeless dogs – require potential adopters to go through a painstaking review of their credentials, making adoption even more difficult.
False a priori
Lori saw things differently. “The whole ‘bad masters’ thing didn’t sit well with me,” she told me. I have met many of these people through my work, and most of them have a deep attachment to their dog. They are not bad people. This story was too simple. »
To learn more, Lori hosted an elementary experiment at a South Los Angeles kennel. Whenever a family came to give up their dog, one of Lori’s staff would ask her, “If you had the chance, would you rather keep your dog?” If the family said yes, the kennel employee sought to find out why the family was getting rid of their dog. If Lori and her staff could help solve the problem, they did so with association money and professional connections.
The statistics drawn from this experiment categorically contradict the postulate of the profession: 75% of the masters affirmed that they would prefer to keep their dog. Many were in tears when they left – often they had taken good care of him for years before going to the kennel. Here’s what Lori has to say: “Retired masters” aren’t a people problem. In general, it is a problem of poverty. These families love their dog as much as we do, but they are also exceptionally poor. (…)
Lori found that the intervention program was not only economically viable, but also more profitable than the group’s other activities. (…) This action has also allowed families to keep their beloved animals – and, by preventing them from ending up in the kennel, it has freed up space for the benefit of other animals in distress. Thanks to the work of Lori and several other pioneers, kennel intervention programs are being emulated across the United States, and this approach has received support from several professional organizations. As a result of this initiative and a few others, the number of abandonments in kennels and the number of euthanasias have never been so low.
Explore the frame or break it
(…) To break the framework, it is to leave completely the initial framing of the problem. Lori’s program broke the frame. She rethought the very objective of her work – now seen not as an adoption problem but as a program to help poor families wishing to keep their pets – and helped change her sector of activity in the process.
(…) Even for seasoned solvers, it is easy to get lost in the details, to scratch the problem as it is formulated by looking for clues while completely forgetting to question the overall framing. Keeping in mind the idea of breaking the frame, you will be less limited by the way the problem is framed when it first arises for you.
(…) Solving difficult problems is not always a matter of details or does not always require particularly Cartesian thinking. It can also consist of interpret and make sense ; to see what is already there but rethinking its meaning. Much depends on our ability to question our own beliefs and challenge perhaps long held assumptions – about our colleagues, clients, friends, family, and even more so about ourselves.
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