Brokerage Ops the July/August 2020 issue

What Does This Make Possible?

Reframe vexing problems and think beyond the constraints of the moment.
By Elizabeth McDaid Posted on July 8, 2020

Dr. Elizabeth Scott, in a recent write-up in Verywell Mind says, “When facing potential stressors, the way we view what we’re experiencing can either exacerbate stress or it can minimize it.” I know this to be true from personal experience.

On March 3, I tripped in Union Station in Washington, D.C., and fractured my tibia. One surgery, one plate and eight screws later, I found myself in a wheelchair with absolutely no weight-bearing ability for 12 weeks. I indulged in self-pity for the first couple of weeks. Then I read five words that completely changed my outlook. Those words were “What does this make possible?” This simple question is an example of a very powerful cognitive tool called reframing.

Reframing is a way of changing how you look at things and thus changing your experience with them. It is a mental coping strategy. It helps one look at a situation from a different perspective. When I reframed my broken leg, I actually became excited about all the different things this situation presented. I started doing my pencil sketching again. I upped my goal for number of books I wanted to read this year. I learned the joy of a low-impact Peloton ride. Reframing my injury turned it from a major trauma I had to deal with into a fun challenge I wanted to overcome.

Reframing doesn’t only help with handling stress. It is also a valuable tool in the workplace because it promotes innovation and creativity. In her book inGenius, Tina Seelig writes, “Taking a different perspective can lead to stunning breakthroughs in any industry.” When used as a problem-solving tool, reframing allows you to utilize creative and innovative thinking to achieve outside-the-box solutions. Seelig says, “All companies need to continually reframe their businesses in order to survive,” especially in the areas of changing markets and technology. Framing and reframing problems opens the door to innovative new ventures.

When I reframed my broken leg, I actually became excited about all the different things this situation presented. I started doing my pencil sketching again. I upped my goal for number of books I wanted to read this year. I learned the joy of a low-impact Peloton ride.

Reframing vexing problems is a standard part of design thinking. However, according to Art Petty, in the Pragmatic Institute article “How Effective Leaders Use Reframing to Tackle Challenges,” effective leaders at all levels can master and use it to tackle the issues and challenges of organizational life. He offers three situations where reframing can create incredible results.

When getting ready for a challenging conversation in which you are giving negative feedback to someone, try to reframe it in the following way: instead of feeling dread, approach the conversation in a positive spirit. See it as an opportunity to jointly identify the issues and do mutual problem solving. Reframing the discussion allows you to create a more productive dialogue.

In the face of a competitive threat, organizations can develop tunnel vision. It is easy to fall into the trap of “how can we match their offering?” One way to reframe this is, first, recognize that you know what the competitor’s strategy is and where they are placing their resources. Then, instead of going head to head with them and asking how you can match their strategy, reframe the question to “Where can we solve problems for our customers that our competitors are too distracted to pay attention to?” In addition, “How can we minimize the value of what they are doing by drawing upon our unique strengths and relationships?”

During the talent selection process, most firms ask who the most qualified person is for this position. However, this might not take into account what your firm will need in the future. If, instead, we asked who is the most likely to help us move from where we are today to where we need to go in the future, the person hired might be very different. You might end up selecting candidates who are the best learners, the most open-minded individuals and those who thrive on things that are new and different—just the type of person who can help you reinvent the organization.

To help your team embrace reframing, Petty suggests the following approaches.

  • Encourage solution development using multiple frames. Help the team shift from “This is a problem” to “This is an opportunity.” This change in perspective will allow them to let go of some assumptions and rethink the issue.
  • Increase the field of view. Don’t get bogged down in looking at the problem through the lens of your own industry. Increase the field of view to include the environment, marketplace, and even the world at large.
  • Reframe the problem by rethinking the question. Strive to deliberately challenge the question you are asking. Tina Seelig gives an example of reframing “How should we plan a birthday party for David?” to “How can we make David’s day memorable?” The challenge isn’t the birthday party; it’s creating a memorable day.
  • Try “why” and “why not” as powerful reframing tools. We have all heard of the “five whys” technique. You keep asking why until the situation reaches a new level of clarity. You can also reframe by asking “why not.” This can help uncover false assumptions or limiting beliefs.

Reframing takes effort, attention and practice but is a behavior well worth learning. It allows you to think beyond the constraints of the moment. It’s a powerful tool for stimulating curiosity, promoting innovative thinking and allowing you to answer “What does this make possible?”

Elizabeth McDaid SVP, Leadership & Management Resources, The Council Read More

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