Method overview

What distinguishes great leaders isn’t that they are first-rate at solving problems, but that they are first-rate at solving the right problems. Most breakthroughs do not begin at the moment of idea conception; rather, they begin the moment the problem is framed in such a way as to allow the concept to emerge.

Abstraction Laddering provides a template for considering a given challenge statement at different levels of focus. When you are seeking more visionary solutions, it can help to step back and look at the issue more broadly. Moving up the ladder by asking Why? allows you to expand the scope of your inquiry.

On the other hand, when your scope is so broad that you don’t even know how to get started, moving down the ladder helps to tighten your focus. By asking How?, the problem is framed more concretely, giving you a more specific challenge to explore.

The benefits of this method

  • Challenges your preconceptions.
  • Helps you refocus a problem statement.
  • Builds a shared understanding.
  • Provides a direction for problem solving.


Quick guide

  • Identify an initial problem statement.
  • Make a laddering worksheet (rungs as blank spaces).
  • Write your initial statement on the middle rung.
  • Explore various options for revising the statement.
  • Move up the ladder by asking Why?
  • Consider the options (broader than the initial one).
  • Move down the ladder by asking How?
  • Consider the options (narrower than the initial one).
  • Discuss and decide which option to use for ideation.

Helpful hints

  • Consider the use of Statement Starters to reframe.
  • Take a quick poll to help decide which option is best.
  • In the end, the initial statement might be the best.

Combining LUMA methods into design recipes

The methods in the LUMA System are great on their own, but they are really powerful when combined into design recipes. Just like when you combine ingredients to make a tasty meal, you can also combine design methods to address challenges such as improving workplace culture or uncovering customer insights.

An example of a recipe from LUMA Workplace®:

Want to learn more about LUMA methods?