As we saw in Part 1, opportunities arise once you begin to connect the dots. What happens when you see only one dot? Maybe the other dot is hidden right behind it. That means you must change your viewpoint. That brings us to Part 2 of opportunity pursuit: reframing.
If you’ve been grappling with a problem for a long time, and keep running in circles, there is a good chance you could use reframing. The problem might be right in front of you, and it might seem like a no-win situation with no real solution in sight. In such cases, it often makes sense to change your frame of reference, rather than charging ahead headlong.
What Happens When You Don’t Reframe
Sticking to old frames can be insidious. For an example, we need to look no further than the oft-cited Kodak case. In January 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy after fighting a protracted battle to survive amid a dwindling market share. Competition from digital photography dethroned Kodak. The irony is that Kodak invented the digital camera back in 1975. What went wrong?
In 1996, Kodak’s revenues were at $16 billion. Kodak was the undisputed number 1 when it came to cameras as well as camera film. The company was regularly named among the most valuable brands in the world. In fact, a good photograph was synonymous with a ‘Kodak moment.’
This was before digital cameras and smartphones became mainstream. Soon after, analog cameras as well as photo prints almost became redundant.
Unfortunately, Kodak tackled this onslaught by investing more marketing dollars trying to reverse the tide. Needless to say, it was a losing battle. In January 2012, this iconic company filed for bankruptcy.
In hindsight, one might say that Kodak focused all efforts on solving the wrong problem. It kept asking, “How do we boost sales of our cameras and film?” instead of a reframed question, “How can we grow our business?”
How Reframing Leads to Winning
And now a contrasting example – Nintendo. Before it became a top gaming company, Nintendo first found success by selling playing cards – a primitive form of gaming. It then moved on to building its arcade games including runaway successes like ‘Donkey Kong’ and ‘Mario Bros.’ It also became one of the early players in the hand-held gaming market.
When the market tide changed, Nintendo moved on to gaming consoles, including Wii, with a gaming system that used the cutting-edge motion-sensing technology. The recent success (and controversy) around its augmented reality-based Pokemon Go, is a great testament to the company’s efforts to remain ahead of the technology curve.
Again, Nintendo’s continued success was possible only because the company asked itself the right questions and adopted broader frames while planning its growth strategy. If it had decided to stick to playing cards or arcade games, the company would have sunk without a trace, no matter how great those offerings were.
So, How do I Use Reframing?
While most of us might not face challenges of the magnitude of those that Kodak or Nintendo faced, we regularly face issues where we feel ‘stuck.’ For example, let’s say you are an HR manager grappling with employee attrition in the company. Maybe this is how you would describe your problem to a friend: “We are facing attrition because we don’t pay people enough. Our old-school management won’t raise salaries. The situation is hopeless.”
When faced with such a seemingly hopeless situation, one great way to tackle it is to reframe the situation and view it through a different lens. In the following paragraphs, we shall see just how to do that.
Reframing is a critical technique you can use in the pursuit of opportunities. Some people think of reframing as a special gift that only few creative minds enjoy. I disagree. I believe that many of us can learn and practice reframing. How so? Well, here are three steps to effective reframing.
1. Identify the Assumptions Underlying Your Frame
First and foremost, it is important to identify and acknowledge your current frame. What are the assumptions, beliefs, and viewpoints that are causing you to look at the problem in a certain way?
In our example where you play the HR manager, you are operating from the belief that workforce attrition is always bad for the company. Is that true in your case? How does the top management view this attrition issue? Is it hurting the company bottom line or is it a non-issue as far as they are concerned? If people are dropping out because of a poor culture fit, maybe that’s a good thing for the company? Maybe it means that you need to re-look at your recruitment processes to ensure a better fit?
2. Ascertain the Validity of Your Assumptions
Is the frame based on valid information? Oftentimes we adopt a frame blatantly ignoring evidence to the contrary. Is our frame consistent with the reality?
In our example about attrition, here are a few questions that could validate or invalidate your frame. Are people really leaving because of the money? How do your salaries measure up against industry standards? If people are indeed leaving your company because of they are unhappy with the salary, how is it that company X, which pays even less, retaining its employees?
Even if attrition is a problem, does it have an adverse impact on how customers perceive us? For example, how is it that our customers are more satisfied with us than competitors, despite the employee attrition? In short, is the situation really hopeless?
3. Consider a Different Frame
Can you see the problem using a different frame? To change your frame of reference, you need to first gather as much information as possible.
Back to the attrition example, let’s say that our validation proves the problem to be real. Is there really no way to convince your management to look into the issue? Maybe it makes sense to engage a renowned consultant who can (1) help establish the real cost of attrition; (2) present a comprehensive survey of factors causing attrition; and (3) suggest possible interventions, together with costs. This way, you are armed with the right information to help influence the management.
In other words, by finding an alternative frame to ‘low pay causing attrition’ namely, ‘choices that optimize costs’, you reframe the attrition issue into a broader discussion of cost drivers, which the management may appreciate.
Often, we operate with a very narrow frame of reference that severely restricts our ability to look at the big picture accurately. It’s like the story of the elephant and the blind men. Unless someone steps back and looks at the elephant with a wider frame, they are unlikely to be able to tackle the elephant.
Unless you have the most appropriate frame of reference, all your efforts to solve a vexing problem will not only be futile, they might be counterproductive. With effective reframing, new opportunities become possible. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Once you’ve figured out how to connect the dots and look at opportunities from the right frame of reference, you will likely open your mind to a number of hunches that will pop up when you least expect them. How do you harness these hunches and execute them on the ground? We’ll talk about that in our next blog in our pursuit of opportunities series – ‘Surfacing hunches.’ Stay tuned!