Frameworks and procedures make us feel secure. They excel when execution and efficiency are crucial. However, when we hit a wall, or when we are stuck with a problem; when we hear an explanation that is presented to us as the only explanation posible… it may be time to take a step back and consider things from a different point of view.
The comfortable framework that we’ve built around the situation may be hindering us from finding better alternatives, or a solution at all. We may be so fixed in our point of view that we fail to consider that other people probably understand the problem differently. They may be seeing relevant aspects of the situation that we are blind to.
Clayton Christensen, explaining the concept of jobs to be done, tells the story of a company trying to offer a better product for their customers but actually failing to understand what the customer wants the product for. (It’s not the main point of his explanation, but I think is a good example of different points of view of the same situation.) A restaurant chain discovers that some significant part of their clients buy their milkshakes in the morning before going to work. The do their homework: they group their customers in segments, study the competition… and after several iterations, they decide that they clients would benefit from more shake flavors, added nutritional value, etc. To their surprise, this strategy has no effect and the sales remain essentially the same.
In face of failure, they decide to actually go to the point of sale and talk to their actual clients. Christensen calls this understanding the job to be done. Why are they really buying milkshakes for. What job are the customers ‘hiring’ the milkshake for?
“Most of them, it turned out, bought [the milkshake] to do a similar job. They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry, but knew that they’d be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand."1
In his book Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferriss explains the question he asks himself whether considering a business decision, personal relationship, etc. What would this look like if it were easy?
What happens if we frame things in terms of elegance instead of strain? Sometimes, we find incredible results with ease instead of stress. Sometimes, we “solve” the problem by completely reframing it.
Reframing can be an excellent tool when used properly. The difficult part is recognizing that the current frame needs to be changed or discarded2.
- Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing. This video of Christensen explaining the case in class is worth watching: link. ↩
- There are several ways to do this. For example, you can consider the constraints of a given situation, identify the critical ones, and test if you can walk around them. For example, see Bill McNeese overview on the Theory of Constraints, popularized in novel form by the book The Goal. ↩