Business becomes more dynamic every day. Markets change overnight. An app to catch a cab is worth $50 billion. Does anyone remember Blackberry? This new normal of accelerated Darwinism in business requires critical thinking and the ability to process and digest complexity. Mission statements and project plans are not enough. The use of frameworks and the thinking and process to create and evolve them become a core asset of the organization in this hyper-competitive environment.

I am a recent convert to the practice of framework thinking. My whole career has revolved around helping organizations through large, transformational change initiatives. These almost always start with some form of a business plan. The plan documents the need for change (which is usually obvious) and then goes further to recommend a solution and a roadmap to implement. Bam, we’re on our way!

This traditional linear thinking often treats strategy as a consultant-driven process based on industry best practice that spawns a series of projects to be executed by skilled project management professionals with detailed project plans and risk registers. The missing element from this sterile approach is a framework or set of frameworks that provide the context and the story that unites people to make the change relevant.

So what is a framework and why do they matter? Generically, I think of a framework as a skeletal structure of interconnected components that supports an objective and provides a dynamic, systems view that allows for modulation as factors change. But frameworks are more than that definition. Frameworks encourage the exploration of the system and the seeking out of tension and critical thinking to better optimize outcomes. The development of a good framework requires the engagement of people and provides a forum to uncover the intricacies of relationships within an ecosystem. They share some common principles:

  1. They’re structures that help establish a shared definition.
  2. They tie together multiple dimensions that provide context around a specific topic.
  3. They provide logic against which an outcome can be achieved and decisions inferred.

Frameworks provide a portal to a new way of approaching complex topics. They capture the essential elements and allow for a visualization of the relationships. Framework thinking becomes a mindset, an appreciation of the whole that can be deployed in numerous situations, including:

  • Strategic frameworks that clarify mission and vision
  • Problem solving frameworks that stimulate thinking to get to the root of an issue
  • Design frameworks that shape a system
  • Planning and execution frameworks that set direction and track achievement

As attractive as the utility of frameworks is the application of frameworks to create meaningful inputs and outputs. The process should include live discussion with teams of stakeholders to facilitate conversation in the pursuit of truth – filling in gaps, testing tensions, identifying critical success factors. The outcome of a framework building process will provide the outline of a story that allows the complex to be communicated in a way that consistently and coherently captures the soul of the topic.