The Power Of A Question

Unlocking Innovation With Reframing

question mark

If you’ve dealt with knotty problems, at some time or another you have likely pushed back from the table and said, “Are we even asking the right question?” or asked “Should we be coming at this from another direction?”

There’s a fancy word word for creating new questions or angles of attack: “Reframing.” But we tend to only use it when we’ve hit a dead end.

CEOs are now engaging the power of reframing for all business initiatives, not just when teams get stuck. To some, that seems like over-kill. Usually the situation is obvious isn’t it?

In a word: NO. In the hundreds of projects I’ve covered, a team’s first impressions usually miss the true business issue – they are asking the wrong question. And when they ask the wrong question, they usually get the wrong answer.

Boring To The Extreme

Take perhaps the most mundane of capital expenditures: replacing old vehicles. In one memorable encounter, a truck had 280,000 miles and the fleet manager framed the situation as: “We need a new truck. We either get a new truck or keep fixing the old one.”

However, when prodded to reframe the problem with the business purpose in mind (shuttling maintenance supplies between sites), the new frame was: “We need maintenance supplies in the right place at the right time.”

Because maintenance was the core business need, we asked the maintenance leader to weigh in with possible solutions. They pointed to newly installed maintenance software and supplier support that essentially eliminated the need for shuttling material between sites.

Reframing not only saved the purchase cost of the truck, but triggered process changes that saved over a hundred thousand dollars in expenses (driver salary, fuel, maintenance, etc.). Not so boring.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Most of your decisions are more complex than replacing vehicles. IT initiatives, capacity expansion, and other strategic investments all hold much greater potential for reframing the question. But left to our own instincts, teams usually skip directly to generating solutions – for the wrong question.

It requires an outside force to instill the discipline of reframing. Only the CEO, as the decision-maker, holds the power to pull teams back and require they reframe every problem. Initial resistance is typical, but in doing so, their people unlock new perspectives that generate better solutions.

In the end, capital budgets are stretched further and accomplish more than what anyone imagined possible.

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.

You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

Naguib Mahfouz – Nobel laureate

© Dave Wittenberg