Effectively Framing the Problem

Being effective innovators means focusing on and effectively framing a significant problem.  Before I go any further I think it is important to revisit my preferred definition of innovation from Sal Kaplan. In this interview from 2016 Kaplan says:

"My simple definition: innovation is a better way to deliver value. In my book, it's not an innovation until it delivers value or helps someone solve a problem in the real world. It's important to differentiate invention from innovation. Too many conflate the two.”

For an idea to reach the level of innovation it must “help someone solve a problem in the real world.”  The first step in our march towards innovation in classrooms, schools, and districts is to ensure that we are solving a real problem. 

Clarity about the problem you are trying to solve is vital to success in developing a solution.  The right framing of the challenge will get you off on the right foot, help you organize how you think about your solution, and crystalize where the design opportunities exist.  The framing of your challenge is not a science, but there are some things you can do to improve the effectiveness of your framing.  Write down your answers to the following questions to begin framing your problem or challenge:

  1. What problem are you trying to solve? 
  2. What evidence do have that it is a problem? (Evidence is more than a “gut feeling”)
  3. Why is addressing this problem important?  For example, if we fail to solve this problem does it cause other issues across our system? 
  4. Is the solution to the problem obvious?  (If the solution is obvious, then it does not demand innovation)
  5. Do you have control over the problem?  Will solutions be actionable by you? 
  6. If you solved the problem is there potential to positively impact the whole system? 

Digging into your problem at the beginning of the innovation process to examine your problem will save you time and energy later in the process.  Answering these questions does not guarantee that you have a problem worth solving, but it increases the odds. 

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