Time for a Reframe? Three Ways to Keep Your Mental Agility

It’s one of the most retold moments in the Apple story.  

Steve Jobs, compelled by the Apple Board of Directors to recruit John Sculley, heir apparent at Pepsi at the time, does the greatest reframe of all time with the words,”You can come with me and change the world, or stay at Pepsi and sell sugar water.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

So, if we know how powerful reframes are, why don’t we do them more often?

It turns out the natural course of events in business conspires to lock frames in place.  One powerful way this occurs, is when people get paid bonuses to lock them into the operation.  Think about it…operational scale is all about “getting people on the same page” and using the same process worldwide with measurements for conformance.  

A second issue is confirmation bias: once we have a viewpoint, we see evidence for that viewpoint everywhere we look.  As an example, when you are looking for a new car, suddenly, you start seeing that make and model everywhere, taking notice of “what type of driver” owns a car like that.   Finally, there is a powerful time element to frame reinforcement.  The longer we hold one frame, the more powerful it becomes.  As an example, what is your first thought about someone who has worked in the same firm for 20 years?  There is a reason for that stereotype.

The dangers of staying locked in place too long are threefold:

First, it gives your customers reasons to look at other sources.  As you stand still, the world changes and your current customers are testing new and interesting offerings. A famous example of this occurred at BlackBerry, who was so focused on the CIO’s need for email server security, that they totally missed the user’s desire for richer services – leading to the encroachment of the iPhone and other consumer devices into “their” space.  

Second, it allows that same competition to change the character of the market itself.  Uber is an example here – the shared economy will fundamentally threaten things as sacrosanct as automobile ownership. After all, if you simply reduce the number of vehicles per household, you have rocked the automotive manufacturing world.

Finally, there is inertia.  Once an organization becomes aware that a new approach is needed, the internal friction to affect a change is very high and produces a near universal effect of the incumbent –  dropping them from market share leader to niche player.  If you have been watching IBM’s efforts to rebuild their offerings around the cloud, you can see just how long it takes for an enterprise-size firm to change.

So what can we do?

Staying personally and organizationally flexible is a learned activity. World-class people and firms learn how to be both superb at delivering consistent value and keeping a careful eye on the new and unique.  Here are a few ideas to help you maintain your mental and organizational agility:

  1.  Move – make it a point to do something really new every 36 months.  If you don’t change jobs, commit to a new program of study or take up an intense new activity.
  2. Go and see – put yourself in new places.  I have a colleague who routinely makes a point of doing plant tours in unique geographies and unrelated industries.  She keeps great notes, and routinely has great new ideas to offer her clients.
  3. Read & Listen – It is a tremendous endeavor to create coherent writing and creative content (I can testify to that now with 100,000 words under my belt).  Authors take it very seriously, and the best work literally places you in new situations, absorbing new things.  Read some fiction and nonfiction and go new places in your head.  Listen to the best podcasts.  Tools like Stitcher make it ridiculously easy to replace vapid talk radio with interesting new viewpoints.

So there you have it.  My coaching experience, validated with dozens of conversations, leads me to conclude the unchallenged legacy frameworks are the number one issue that takes executives sideways in their careers – and makes firms targets of disruption.  By applying these items, you’ll keep your frameworks flexible and equip yourself for growth.

I frequently get called on to speak and consult with people who sense their current frame may not be serving them well.  If you’d like to explore that personally or as an organization, give me a call at 847-651-1014.

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