Midway in the movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, there is a powerful moment of reframing. Jack’s fiancée has surprised him by coming to Moscow. She discovers Jack is working with the CIA, and insists on being part of the covert operations. Jack is vehemently opposed. Jack’s boss interrupts their argument by saying, “This isn’t couples therapy. It’s a geo-political crisis”. Instant reframe. Different context. Different decision.
Reframing is a key leadership skill, critical to problem solving and innovation. Reframing is the ability to take a different perspective on a situation in order to develop a new approach or solution. It requires stepping out of your paradigm, and using a “new lens”. In the simplest form, reframing is what happens when you say, “Let’s look at this in another way”.
Here are three perspectives I use to help leaders reframe situations:
- Stakeholder Lens
Who are the stakeholders who can impact or will be impacted by this situation? How would they describe this challenge or situation? How are their views different from or the same as yours? What would they see as possible solutions?
- Opposites Lens
What do you believe is true about this challenge or situation? What if the opposite was true? What would be the appropriate action? For instance, what if the generally accepted economic forecast is not true?
- Systems Lens
Think about the various levels of a system: Individual, Group, Organization, Community, Global. At which level are you viewing the current challenge or situation? How does the situation change if you view it from a different level? For instance, if a group is underperforming, how might the organization as a whole be contributing to that problem? Or conversely, how might the performance of a few individuals be impacting the performance of the group?
How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal suggests four lenses to diagnose and solve organizational problems: Structural, Human Resources, Political and Symbolic. Used singly or in combination, these lenses help leaders avoid hasty, myopic solutions.
Reframing brings new meaning to the lyrics, “Do you see what I see?” Enjoy the experience.