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Eigenquestions: The Art of Framing Problems


A few practical hints on being an expert at framing problems

(1) Start on offense.
A useful quote from :

In our culture, the word "problem" is negative. Problems are seen as the cause of trouble and difficulty. Problems signify a failure of some sort. Problems can be threatening. Therefore, it follows, problems should be avoided.

But in Japan, problems are regarded as "Golden Eggs". It's good luck to find one. It's a chance to improve something. This positive context can be highly motivating. It moves us from a defensive and fearful attitude to an optimistic and proactive one.
- Nick Souter

(2) Start by searching for information that reveals the underlying logic of the problem.
Being a good framer is about being both a great anthropologist (able to capture the details and summarize a discussion) and being a great detective (what's the real issue here). As you’re working through an issue, keep asking “why” until you get to the root of an issue.

One of the trickiest challenges is knowing if the question you're focused on is truly the eigenquestion. One trick is to stack a list of questions and ask yourself - "if I had a clear answer to #1, would the answer to all the others be obvious?" Repeat this process until one question emerges.

(3) Recognize where you are if you're stuck.
Pulled again from , if you get stuck on a problem, recognize the way in which you are stuck:
Stuck in
How to get out
The Ocean
You're stranded. Nothing is pulling you in an obvious direction. A vast sea of endless possibilities, but no obvious opportunities.
To escape the ocean, you need to become an explorer. Try out lots of alternatives.
The Forest
You've got an overabundance of information and possible paths to follow. We can't see the forest through the trees and we tend to go in circles.
To escape the forest, we need to change our point of view. Get perspective.
The Desert
You've become attached to a solution that doesn't work ー a mirage. Even though we know it probably will never work, we find it hard to discard. We keep trying to make it work.
To escape the desert, we need to defy our inclinations and turn around. Go try to make another solution work.
The City
It's gridlock. There are many different routes and roads available, but the traffic is too much. We have options, but they're all endlessly complex.
To escape the city, we need to simplify.
There are no rows in this table

(4) Go multi-dimensional.
Some of the most powerful framings end up being those that cross two questions and option spectrums. The Teleportation example in is a good example. So ask yourself if there are multiple questions that together define a space?

(5) Name the options
Give people a way to discuss and have a dialogue on the options. E.g. in the , there’s a column where you can name the option.

(6) Phone a friend
This doesn't need to be a solitary activity. It’s at its best as a team activity ー see .

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