How reframing can stop smart people giving dumb answers

Ever been in a room full of smart people asked a question?

It’s not hard for them to come up with a bunch of perfectly sensible, rational answers founded on prejudice and assumption experience and logic. Reasonable and rational propositions abound but crucially, they’re often not founded on evidence.

It’s pretty much how it seems some financial reporting works. Revenue was down 4% this quarter due to :

  • the weather was [hotter/wetter/colder/windier], so people didn’t behave normally
  • the [insert sports event here] took place which distracted people
  • competitors launched a new ad campaign
  • the planets weren’t in alignment
  • etc, etc.

Some, none or all of them may be true but as they say, correlation is not causation.

This post about discussing challenge and direction on The Lean Thinker blog, highlights a great use of reframing to get round this problem.

Mark describes how a well-meaning manager keeps asking one of his people “How can we reduce the overtime”.

In response to the words “How”, a smart, creative, well intentioned person will find it hard to resist coming up with bunch of solutions – i.e. leaping straight form A to Z, the end result. This process then often triggers analysis paralysis whereby it’s eminently possible to rationalise for and against any given solution, preventing any considered action or steps being taken.

By stating instead what you want the end result to look like e.g. “I’d like the overtime to be less than 10%”, you require the improver to figure out what sort of task she has ahead of her. If you’d like to be at point B you have to know what point A looks like to figure out the best path, so that means establishing the current conditions (evidence) and then working on an interative programme that moves that condition steadily towards the goal.

Of course, stating an intention is only part of a successful strategy, you have to guide and coach through the process to ensure the ‘game’ doesn’t become simply hitting the magic number.

Words can both constrain and reframe so ensure somebody is paying attention to them.

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About Robin Wilson

I spent 13 years at the UK's number one property website creating and managing multi-million pound digital products across the full lifecycle, from strategy, product design and development to implementation and operational management. I'm passionate about embedding great culture rooted in responsibility and systems thinking when building teams.