Framing Bias: The Perception and Its Impact on Creative Problem-Solving

Diptych of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza | Piero della Francesca | circa 1473–1475

Information is not static, it’s fluid and it’s dynamic based on when, where and, more importantly, how it is communicated to us. The lens through which we perceive information has an extraordinary impact on how we think, make decisions and handle problems. This phenomenon is called framing bias, which is inherently a cognitive process that silently molds our understanding of the world. It affects how we perceive complex issues and influences the decisions we make and plays an essentially instrumental role in the construction of our reality. Whether it’s seeing the bottle as half empty, which evokes a sense of scarcity and concern, or perceiving it as half full, which instils a feeling of abundance and optimism. Or, viewing the meat as 80% lean may lead to a positive assessment of its healthiness, while framing it as 20% fat may prompt concern about its potential negative impact on health. Considering a task as 90% complete might elicit a sense of accomplishment and confidence, whereas seeing it as 10% incomplete may trigger feelings of urgency and pressure to finish. In each case, framing bias subtly and surely shapes our attitudes, emotions and how we act upon them.

Overcoming framing bias involves actively challenging our preconceived notions and looking at problems from different perspectives. Here are a few techniques that will encourage more creative thinking and help overcome framing bias. 

Ask Questions
Questions create a favorable environment to break the pattern of thinking. Continuously questioning the reasons behind the initial framing of the problem is one of the key ways to break the framing bias. Whether it’s “Why?”, “Why not?”, “What if…?” – questions challenge the problem’s framing with hypothetical scenarios. Genuine inquisitiveness and curiosity a the key to gain a deeper understanding of any given problem and a topic.

When faces with a mental impasse lock in the realm of creative thinking, consider incorporating a bit of fun with structured improvisation, which is a great way to instantly shift your thinking perspective. Think of a fictional persona, such as a famous historical figure or a fictional character and contribute to the problem-solving discussion from their perspective. For instance “What if we approached this from the perspective of a child?” or “How would Picasso approach this situation?”. This pattern-breaking technique will greatly help you step out of the usual roles and thought patterns, encouraging you to explore new angles and potential solutions that you might not have considered before.

Speaking of question, there is a technique that CIA uses to train their agents to break from the framing bias. The CIA  realized that they had to make their agents more open by reframing the tasks, so they came up with WOMBAT (What Might Be All The…)  question which triggers exploration of all the potential possibilities outside of the obvious solutions.

So whether it’s in individual endeavour or a team effort, keep in mind that the framing of the question will dictate the quality of the answer.  

Analogies and metaphors

Draw parallels between the current problem and unrelated situations or objects. Analogies and metaphors always lead to fresh insights and alternative perspectives.

When faced with a complex problem, our minds are wired to rely on default, familiar patterns of thinking and previous experiences, which creates a narrow framing bias and stops us from seeing beyond the obvious solutions. By introducing analogies and metaphors, we break away from this narrow thinking and open ourselves to fresh perspectives. Analogies and metaphors are a powerful technique to overcome framing bias and enhance creativity in problem-solving.

I have a fundamental belief that there is an analogy for every situation in other professional domains, such as animal world, plant ecosystem or age-old cultures and traditions. I also fundamentally believe that there are no new problems, there are the same problems in new settings. So deep diving into other domains, drawing inspiration from literature, films, theatre, ancient wisdom, understanding various forms of art, can significantly help in approaching problem solving in an unconventional way.

Thinking in analogies and metaphors works by highlighting similarities between two seemingly different things or making direct comparisons. When we compare the problem to something else, we bring in new associations and attributes that were not immediately apparent. So conceptualizing the problem in a more abstract or symbolic manner, allows you to explore it in a different context. It might be challenging at first, but it’s a well worth effort to make that will majorly expand your creative problem solving capabilities.

Random Stimuli

Introducing random stimuli: a word, an image or an object, is also a brainstorming technique that helps break from the patterned thinking and trigger unexpected associations and novel ideas.

Using random stimuli is a powerful technique to stimulate creative associations between seemingly unrelated elements and the problem at hand. The idea is to introduce an element that is entirely random and unrelated to the problem, and then explore ways to connect it to the problem in unexpected and imaginative ways.

Let’s say you are trying to improve collaboration among teams in a corporate setting. The random stimulus could be “A feather”, which symbolizes lightness, harmony, communication, freedom and so on. Bringing the concept of the feather in the environment could manifest itself in “feather discussions” format, where teams take turns sharing their opinions or ideas in a free-flowing and non-judgmental manner. The feather can be passed around as a physical reminder to let each person’s voice be heard without interruption or judgement, regardless of their role and professional background. This is just one example, any stimuli serve as a creative trigger to form connections and associations with the given problem. The main idea is that incorporating unrelated elements helps unlock new perspectives and ideas that might lead to innovative and effective solutions. The key here is to embrace the randomness to explore the possibilities with an open mind.

Overcoming framing bias is an ongoing process. By actively employing these techniques and continually questioning your assumptions, you can develop a more open and creative mindset, which will surely lead to creative problem-solving outcomes.