Eigenquestions: Art of Framing Problems


Eiqenqestion in Framing Problems

Framing is the process of breaking down a problem into a set of choices, trade offs, and options that enable a team to make a call and move forward. Benefits...

  • Common language: Framing enables a shared, well understood sense of the problem.
  • Question prioritization: Too often debates start with "solutions," before we determine if we're asking the right questions, in the right order.
  • Options enumeration: Great decisions start with a clear set of options, as hard problems are rarely as simple as a "yes/no" on a single option.
  • Inclusion: For most people, their ability to participate in a debate starts with feeling heard. Good frames give a spine to the variety of options and opinions suggested by others. Once they are all in place, people can let go of their initial opinion, and objectively discuss the alternatives.
  • Faster decisions that stick: A common complaint of structured decision making is that it can be time consumingーwhy bother constructing alternatives if one of them is already obvious? The worst decisions in these cases are ones that are arrived at quickly, but are just as quickly reversed, and thus the apparent speed turns into an illusion. Good framing helps produce "decisions that stick."

3 techniques for expert framing

1. Eigenquestions

The eigenquestion is the question where, if answered, it likely answers the subsequent questions as well. Great framing starts by searching for the most discriminating question of a set — the eigenquestion

2. Diagrams

Framing is both a right brained and a left brained activity. The left brain helps with analysis, logic, and organization of a problem while the right brain aides in synthesis, imagination, the ability to generate options, and the most effective way to communicate those options to others.

3. Team Framing

It's also easier to enroll in a decision when you understand the frame. And human nature compels us to question alternatives in tough decisions. By clearly capturing the right group of choices in a simple frame, collaborators can more easily buy-in to the choice.

Tips And Tricks

1. Start on the Offense

In our culture, the word "problem" is negative. But it can be positive - 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.

2. Start by searching for information that reveals the underlying logic of the problem.

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.

  • You are stranded - no obvious answer - but lots of possibilities. Solution: Explore - try out lots of alternatives.
  • Overabundance of information and possible paths. Solution: Change point of view - get perspective.
  • You are attached to a solution that doesn't work. You keep trying to make it work. Solution: You need to deny your inclinations - go try to make another solution work.
  • There are many different routes and roads available, but the traffic is too much. We have options, but they're all endlessly complex. Solution: Simplify.

4. Go multi-dimensional.

Some of the most powerful framings end up being those that cross two questions and option spectrum. 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 dialog on the options.

6. Phone a friend

This doesn't need to be a solitary activity. It’s at its best as a team activity.