7 Deadly Assumptions #2: Framing – Leadership Network Blog
At some point in time you’ve probably played a version of a game called “The Back-to-Back Game” (not a very clever title, I’ll admit). It begins by participants pairing up and standing in front of their partner. Pairs are given 60 seconds to observe their partner’s appearance, trying to develop a mental picture of each and every detail. Then the pairs are instructed to stand back-to-back and change 5 things about their appearance without their partner’s knowledge. After another minute, the pairs face one another again and try to pick out each of the changes that were made. There is chuckling and general merriment from participants, with the exception of those who rue such silly games.
That’s the first round. Pairs are asked once again to turn around and change five additional things about their appearance, without correcting the first five. Groans and giggles ensue as participants struggle to come up with five more changes. After time is up, they face their partners one more time to identify the new changes. Whew, that’s great…we’re done.
Then a third round is announced, which is usually met with weeping and gnashing of teeth. How many of us could think of 15 things to change about our appearance on the spot? If the facilitator is kind, he or she will quickly abort the third round, ask participants to fix their appearances and have a seat. A short debrief ensues.
There are many takeaways for this exercise. One key takeaway has to do with the availability of resources needed to make the required changes. Most people participating in this exercise use a very narrow frame when it comes to options for appearance changes. They only consider the resources immediately available on their person. This usually involves removing things, and you can only go so far with that in mixed company. From this limited perspective, options are low and frustration is high. However, if they would only take a moment to widen their field of view, participants would quickly realize that a room full of resources is available to them, all just a few steps away.
Why Do We Choose the Narrow Frame?
The struggle with this exercise is a direct result of our second Deadly Assumption – Framing. Framing causes us to believe that the only options we need to consider are the ones within our immediate field of view. And if this assumption makes a simple game challenging, imagine what its doing to our complex, strategic decisions. But why do we so often choose the ‘narrow frame’?
In many of the decisions we consider in life (personal, spiritual, and strategic), we limit ourselves to ‘whether or not’ decisions. Should I buy a new car? Do I give to this special need or not? Should we launch another campus? But this is a trap. When we focus so hard on a single choice, we blind ourselves to all the other options that could be available.
The Heath Brothers, authors of the book Decisive, tell the story of one such decision made by the Quaker Corporation. In 1994, Quaker’s executives got excited about the promise of Snapple and acquired the company for a whopping $1.8 billion. Unfortunately, they had severely underestimated the difficulties of incorporating Snapple’s teas and juices into the company’s manufacturing and distribution systems. (Not to mention the questionable brand synergy between wholesome Quaker and quirky Snapple.) Three years later, they sold off Snapple in a hurry for $300 million.
They’d been caught in a narrow frame, considering “whether or not” to buy Snapple. What if they’d considered 2 other potential acquisitions at the same time? Or considered pouring $1.8 billion into their own R&D and marketing? Or buying 100 small regional brands for $18 million each? Chances are they could have avoided a history-making loss.
Hopefully you will not be faced with a decision that will cost you $1.5 billion, but one could argue that, when it comes to strategic Kingdom decisions, the ‘opportunity cost’ could be significantly greater. So how do we overcome this assumption and make better decisions?
How to Overcome the Framing Assumption
There are some simple things you can do to avoid narrow-framing your choices. It will take more work, but in the end you’ll make better decisions. Here are some suggestions:
- Avoid ‘whether or not’ decisions. Whenever you are trying to develop strategy for the future, always develop three (or more) equally plausible alternatives. This will force you to broaden your field of view and engage in more in-depth thinking.
- Take your best option off the table. Framing causes us to become so enamored with our initial ideas that we ignore all others. If you force your team to generate additional ideas by eliminating the one you’re considering, new ideas and insights can emerge.
- Approach your decisions from a different point of view. Have some or all of your team take on a different role, perhaps that of a ‘competitor’ or your ‘customers’ and have them approach the issue or opportunity from that perspective. The shift in perspective will allow you to overcome this deadly assumption and consider new possibilities.