“If a problem can’t be solved within the frame it was conceived, the solution lies in reframing the problem.”— Brian McGreevy, Hemlock Grove

When encountering a problem, do you take a moment to put a frame around it?

Exceptional leaders are especially good at framing.  They do this by mastering the art of establishing a clear frame around the problem. They have developed an innate sense of what goes inside the frame and what belongs outside the frame.

Consider the case where a leader finds that their systems integration team released a version of their product into the testing phase but that the product testing team is finding a very high level of defects that need to be addressed,

I have seen many good leaders in this type of case apply pressure on the team. They focus on getting those problems fixed as soon as possible. They hold various meetings to triage the problems. 

The only framing they have done is an implied hurry-up.

The exceptional leader takes the time to frame the problem properly. After seeing the testing problems, the best leader creates the frame that the team can use the mistakes made as information to improve their speed to value. 

With that frame, the leader has created the impetus to fix the problems and learn from them. The leader will put actions like these inside the frame:

  1. Discover the root cause of the defect.
  2. Fix the defect.
  3. Inspect other parts of the system for the same or similar defect.
  4. Identify how to catch that type of defect before entering the test phase in future development efforts.
  5. Identify ideas for how to prevent that mistake from happening in the first place.

I have seen the “hurry-up” framing of this situation lead to the same high re-work situation repeating itself over and over again.  The “learn-from-it” frame leads to very different behaviors. Teams with “learn-from-it” framing get better with every release.
You may think at first glance that this is simply saying that we shouldn’t call things problems; we should call them opportunities. Look closer. The frame may do that on the surface, but the deeper meaning is always embedded in the next part of the best frame. It is an opportunity to do what? That is the key.

For example, many people view the conflict between people as a problem. Instead, I frame it as an opportunity.  That is an incomplete frame.  Here is your thought experiment for the week.  What is a conflict between two people an opportunity for?  

I’ll explore that more in next week’s newsletter.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

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