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which the implementation process undermines even good solutions (Bardach, 1977; Elmore, 1978; Freudenberg and Gramling, 1994; Gottfried and Conchas, 2016; Peters, 1999; Pressman and Wildavsky, 1973). Policymakers, for example, have been trying for decades to reform U.S. public schools. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent. The result? About as successful as America’s switch to the metric system. In the 1950s Congress passed legislation mandating adoption of metric standards and measures. More than six decades later, if you knowwhat a hectare is or can visualize the size of a 300-gram package of crackers, you’re ahead of most Americans. Legislators did not factor into their solution what it would take to get their decision implemented against longstanding custom and tradition.
In short, the dif!culties surrounding improvement strategies are well documented. Exemplary intentions produce more costs than bene!ts. Problems outlast solutions. Still, there are reasons for optimism. Organizations have changed about as much in recent decades as in the preceding century. To survive, they had to. Revolutionary changes in technology, the rise of the global economy, and shortened product life cycles have spawned a “urry of efforts to design faster, more “exible organizational forms. New organizational models “ourish in companies such as Pret à Manger (the socially conscious U.K. sandwich shops), Google (the global search giant), Airbnb (a new concept of lodging) and Novo- Nordisk (a Danish pharmaceutical company that includes environmental and social metrics in its bottom line). The dispersed collection of enthusiasts and volunteers who provide content for Wikipedia and the far-“ung network of software engineers who have developed the Linux operating system provide dramatic examples of possibilities in the digital world. But despite such successes, failures are still too common. The nagging question: How can leaders and managers improve the odds for themselves as well for their organizations?
FRAMING Goran Carstedt, the talented executive who led the turnaround of Volvo’s French division in the 1980s, got to the heart of a challenge managers face every day: “The world simply can’t be made sense of, facts can’t be organized, unless you have a mental model to begin with. That theory does not have to be the right one, because you can alter it along the way as information comes in. But you can’t begin to learn without some concept that gives you expectations or hypotheses” (Hampden-Turner, 1992, p. 167). Such mental models have many labels—maps, mind-sets, schema, paradigms, heuristics, and cognitive lenses, to name a few.3 Following the work of Goffman, Dewey, and others, we have chosen the label frames, a term that has received increasing attention in organizational research as scholars give greater attention to how managers make sense of a complicated and turbulent world
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(see, e.g., Foss and Webber, 2016; Gray, Purdy, and Ansari, 2015; Cornelissen and Werner, 2014; Hahn et al., 2014; Maitlis and Christianson, 2014). In describing frames, we deliberately mix metaphors, referring to them as windows, maps, tools, lenses, orientations, prisms, and perspectives, because all these images capture part of the idea we want to convey.
A frame is a mental model—a set of ideas and assumptions—that you carry in your head to help you understand and negotiate a particular “territory.” A good frame makes it easier to know what you are up against and, ultimately, what you can do about it. Frames are vital because organizations don’t come with computerized navigation systems to guide you turn- by-turn to your destination. Instead, managers need to develop and carry accurate maps in their heads.
Such maps make it possible to register and assemble key bits of perceptual data into a coherent pattern—an image of what’s happening. When it works “uidly, the process takes the form of “rapid cognition,” the process that Gladwell (2005) examines in his best seller Blink.He describes it as a gift that makes it possible to read “deeply into the narrowest slivers of experience. In basketball, the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening in the moment is said to have ‘court sense’” (p. 44). The military stresses situational awareness to describe the same capacity.
Dane and Pratt (2007) describe four key characteristics of this intuitive “blink” process:
• It is nonconscious—you can do it without thinking about it and without knowing how you did it.
• It is very fast—the process often occurs almost instantly.
• It is holistic—you see a coherent, meaningful pattern.
• It results in “affective judgments”—thought and feeling work together so you feel con!dent that you know what is going on and what needs to be done.
The essence of this process is matching situational cues with a well-learned mental framework—a “deeply held, nonconscious category or pattern” (Dane and Pratt, 2007, p. 37). This is the key skill that Simon and Chase (1973) found in chess masters—they could instantly recognize more than 50,000 con!gurations of a chessboard. This ability enables grand masters to play 25 lesser opponents simultaneously, beating all of them while spending only seconds on each move.
The same process of rapid cognition is at work in the diagnostic categories physicians rely on to evaluate patients’ symptoms. The Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” requires
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physicians to be con!dent that they know what they’re up against before prescribing a remedy. Their skilled judgment draws on a repertoire of categories and clues, honed by training and experience. But sometimes they get it wrong. One source of error is anchoring: doctors, like leaders, sometimes lock on to the !rst answer that seems right, even if a few messy facts don’t quite !t. “Your mind plays tricks on you because you see only the landmarks you expect to see and neglect those that should tell you that in fact you’re still at sea” (Groopman, 2007, p. 65).
That problem tripped up leaders at Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, and countless other organizations. Organizations are at least as complex as the human body, and the diagnostic categories less well de!ned. That means that the quality of your judgments depends on the information you have at hand, your mental maps, and how well you have learned to use them. Good maps align with the terrain and provide enough detail to keep you on course. If you’re trying to !nd your way around Beijing, a map of Chicago won’t help. In the same way, different circumstances require different approaches.
Even with the right map, getting around will be slow and awkward if you have to stop and study at every intersection. The ultimate goal is “uid expertise, the sort of know-how that lets you think on the “y and navigate organizations as easily as you drive home on a familiar route. You can make decisions quickly and automatically because you know at a glance where you are and what you need to do next.
There is no shortcut to developing this kind of expertise. It takes effort, time, practice, and feedback. Some of the effort has to go into learning frames and the ideas behind them. Equally important is putting the ideas to use. Experience, one often hears, is the best teacher, but that is true only if one learns from it. McCall, Lombardo, and Morrison (1988, p. 122) found that a key quality among successful executives was they were great learners, displaying an “extraordinary tenacity in extracting something worthwhile from their experience and in seeking experiences rich in opportunities for growth.”
Reframing Frames de!ne the questions we ask and solutions we consider (Berger 2014). John Dewey de!ned freedom as the power to choose among known alternatives. When managers’ options are limited they make mistakes but too often fail to understand the source. Take a simple example: “What is the sum of 5 plus 5?” The only right answer is “10.”Ask a different way, “What two numbers add up to ten? Now the number of solutions is in!nite (once you include fractions and negative numbers). The two questions differ in how they are framed. Albert Einstein once observed: “If I had a problem to solve and my whole life depended on the solution, I would spend the !rst !fty-!ve minutes determining the question to ask, for
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once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in !ve minutes” (Seelig, 2015, p. 19). Asking the right question enhances the ability to break frames. Why do that? A news story from the summer of 2007 illustrates. Imagine yourself among a group of friends enjoying dinner on the patio of a Washington, DC, home. An armed, hooded intruder suddenly appears and points a gun at the head of a 14-year-old guest. “Give me your money,” he says, “or I’ll start shooting.” If you’re at that table, what do you do? You could faint. Or freeze. You could try a heroic frontal attack. Youmight try to run. Or you could try to break frame by asking an unexpected question. That’s exactly what Cristina “Cha Cha” Rowan did.
“We were just !nishing dinner,” [she] told the man. “Why don’t you have a glass of wine with us?”
The intruder had a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry and said, “Damn, that’s good wine.”
The girl’s father . . . told the intruder to take the whole glass, and Rowan offered him the bottle.
The robber, with his hood down, took another sip and a bite of Camembert cheese. He put the gun in his sweatpants . . .
“I think I may have come to the wrong house,” the intruder said before apologizing. “Can I get a hug?”
Rowan . . . stood up and wrapped her arms around the would-be robber. The other guests followed.
“Can we have a group hug?” the man asked. The !ve adults complied. The man walked away a few moments later with a !lled crystal wine glass,
but nothing was stolen, and no one was hurt. Police were called to the scene and found the empty wine glass unbroken on the ground in an alley behind the house (Hagey, 2007).
In one stroke, Cha Cha Rowan rede!ned the situation from a robbery— “we might all be killed”—to a social occasion—“let’s offer our guest some wine and include him in our party.” Like her, artistic managers frame and reframe experience “uidly, sometimes with extraordinary results. A critic once commented to Cézanne, “That doesn’t look anything like a sunset.” Pondering his painting, Cézanne responded, “Then you don’t see sunsets the way I do.” Like Cézanne and Rowan, leaders have to !nd ways of asking the right question to shift points of view when needed. This is not easy, which is why “most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed, and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover
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Intrude = groan