Interesting new article in the Harvard Business Review on the benefits of using reframing techniques to think about problems in a different way, here. You may have heard the “slow elevator” problem before, but if not, here it is:

A building manager gets complaints from her tenants about a slow elevator. If she automatically assumes that the problem is that the elevator is too slow, she will probably look for mechanical solutions, like upgrading the engine or retooling the algorithm. But it may be that the real problem is that the tenants find waiting for the slow elevator annoying. If that’s the case, then the building manager can expand her “solution space” to include options that are cheaper and less drastic than reengineering the elevators — like putting up mirrors in the elevator waiting areas, so that people can gaze at themselves while they wait. Indeed, this is how many building managers have successfully addressed this issue.

Of course, this kind of “problem reframing” is bedrock to alternative practice. We might call it something like “looking for the interests under the positions” or “reframing to interests.”

Author Thomas Wedell Wedellsborg shares this story and another example from a dog shelter in Los Angeles, in which reframing the too-many-dogs-needing-adoption problem has led to incredible results. He also provides some useful strategies around reframing problems in the workplace; I plan on sharing these with my negotiation students, so that they can better envision what real-life reframing might look like.

Jennifer Reynolds is an Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon Law and the Faculty Director of the ADR Center. Teaching civil procedure, conflicts of law, negotiation, and mediation, her research interests include dispute systems design, problem-solving in multiparty scenarios, judicial attitudes toward ADR, and cultural influences and implications of alternative processes. She is also a contributor to ADR Prof Blog.