Harvard Business Review: Properly framing problems leads to better solutions

Lindner dean appears on IdeaCast podcast to discuss both/and approach

Instead of approaching problems with an either/or mindset, decision makers should focus on a both/and approach.

Marianne Lewis, dean and professor of management at UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business, and Wendy Smith, the Dana J. Johnson professor of management at the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business and Economics, appeared on Harvard Business Review's IdeaCast podcast to discuss their new book, “Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems.”

Lewis and Smith have spent more than 20 years researching decision making and how a both/and approach can improve outcomes. To reach a better outcome, it's important to properly define problems first, Lewis said.

“Problems are messy,” she said. “We put the boundaries around them. And as soon as you’ve put the boundaries around them, you’ve set limitations in what the solutions might be. So really questioning that framing is a first step.”

While the approach Lewis and Smith support might seem obvious and easy, Lewis said, it's not.

“If it was obvious and easy, it would happen all the time. It’s not the norm,” she said. “Our norm is to really think about how do we split things apart, do the classic way to pros and cons, make a decision to move. And we tend to do that in ways that can reinforce that our decisions A or B, tend to stay pretty closely on the same sides as we’ve done before, because we have this reinforcing cycle. And knowing that, really understanding that maybe it’s not as easy as it looks, helps us do what Wendy said earlier, take the breath, right? Step backwards and really think, how do I frame this question? Am I separating and connecting? Is there some dynamic here at play that I could use more to my advantage?”

Hear more from Lewis and Smith on the IdeaCast.

Featured image: Marianne Lewis, PhD, dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, co-wrote “Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems" with Wendy K. Smith, PhD, Emma Smith Morris Professor of Management and co-director of the University of Delaware's Lerner Women’s Leadership Initiative. Photo by Gavin Vargas.

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