Sometimes even the best ideas get muddled in their uninspired wording.
Take framing. It’s an incredibly powerful idea about how we view information often at our own peril. But using the word frame or “frame response” typically doesn’t rally one to action. It might not even register a glint of excitement.
But maybe it should.
The idea of frames is incredibly powerful -- because process can hijack our thinking even when empirical evidence supports another view. Clients often call it getting blindsided. They were not aware of their own thinking bias.
If you frame the problem wrong or incompletely, you’ll never solve it. But frame it correctly and you’re closer to a smarter solution.
Alan Rowe tells a great story in his Harvard Business Essentials book called Decision Making.
Three people are trying to ship packages from their local post office. One of the customers is a recent immigrant from a Soviet bloc state; another is an operations manager from a manufacturing plant; and the third is an entrepreneur and founder of many successful companies.
Twenty people are in line and only two postal employees are available to help them. Everyone is frustrated with the pace of progress except for the immigrant. She is impressed with the service. “Back in the old country,” she says, “there would have been only one person working at the counter and he would take a break every half hour. It is so much better here.”
The operations manager had a different perspective. “This is a classic bottleneck. I’m sure someone could reengineer the entire process to move things more quickly and at less cost.”
The entrepreneur is pleased by the experience of waiting in line because it gives him an idea for a new business. “I wonder what people would pay for a no-waiting alternative to the post office -- a shop with advanced, self-service kiosks?”
This is essentially what framing is all about. Three individuals seeing and processing the experience differently.
The way we frame a problem has enormous influence over the options we generate and the solutions we choose. You find some great insights in J Edward Russo and Paul J. H. Schoemaker’s book, Winning Decisions.
• Frames filter what we see. (They control what information we pay attention to and what is obscured.”
• Frames appear complete. Frames simplify the world -- but they do not capture all of reality and we tend to fill in the gaps with ideas that justify that frame.
• Frames are exclusive. We typically see one frame at a time. It’s difficult to simultaneously look out the windows on both the north and west sides of a room.
• Frames can be hard to change. Once we are locked into a frame, it can be difficult to switch. When people (or companies) have an emotional attachment to their frames, a change can be very threatening.
One of the things we do at Inotivity is to shine a light on frames. Are you looking through a lens that may be blinding you to other opportunities?
Does how you view a problem draw your attention to some aspects of a problem while ignoring others?
Frames often compete with each other.
Some classic competing frames are: buyer-seller exchange vs. part of a relationship; Customer with a complaint vs. free informant or Intel; the need to win vs. the desire to make a contribution.
Here are some ideas on how to avoid being blindsided by a framing problem:
Don’t automatically accept an initial framing. Ask -- is this an issue? Is this the problem? Or is it blinding me to the real problem? Might it be a part of a system of related problems?
Seek other perspectives. Look at it from different points of view -- especially the end user or client. Ask a child.
Uncover and challenge any assumptions that may lie beneath the dominant prospective.
Think the opposite. Reverse how you would typically frame the problem and see if any ideas challenge or enhance your original perspective.