The ability to see a situation in a different way is a powerful leadership tool. It’s called “reframing.”
Marine infantry are taught how to take out tanks. Tanks are loud, powerful, intimidating – but they have weaknesses that can be exploited. They use the expression “Hunting Tanks is Easy and Fun.” This is brilliant reframing: a Marine thinks of himself as the hunter having fun, rather than a puny human about to be crushed.
For centuries no army could withstand heavy cavalry charges, until William Wallace created a defensive wall of 20 foot long spears. The Nazi military machine simply went around the impregnable French Maginot line using speed and mobility to their advantage.
Johnson & Johnson reframed their contaminated Tylenol debacle into a new packaging campaign which made their brand even more trustworthy.
Multiple companies have turned the challenges of increased regulatory requirements into a business advantage – they excelled and systematized to a point where competitors could not keep up. Instead of the regulatory burden dragging the company down, it created a business environment where only the very best could compete at all.
These are all cases of reframing. The difficulty plus a creative solution became the means of greater success.
You’re going to face difficult, seemingly impossible situations as a leader. It takes some creative thinking and boldness to find an approach where the difficulty is the seed of the beneficial future state.
Here are some tips to think differently about a problem situation:
Make the difficulty 10x bigger, and 10x smaller, and ask what’s still true.
Shift your perspective up, down, left, right, closer and farther away. Reverse the situation and look at from the top down and bottom up. Insights emerge when you consider problems from multiple vantage points.
How does the strength of the problem become its liability or weak point?
Fire needs fuel, heat, and oxygen. Take any one away and the fire goes out. What are the foundational elements of the difficulty you face that could be neutralized?
What new technology capabilities are emerging that could change the environment where the difficulty currently thrives? What new technology lets you do an end-run around a Maginot line?
What processes could be added to solve a problem? What processes need to be disrupted to create a solution?
What difference does geographic location make?
Are the relationships that can be strengthen (or weakened)?
What are unlikely things that can be put together? Uber = personal cars plus an app.
The key is to think about the problem in a fun way. Play with it in your mind. Don’t make it a horribly frightening “tank” but something entertaining. This is a learnable skill, so practice on small things and you’ll be ready for the big crisis. Remember, “Hunting Tanks is Easy and Fun!”