How to use and not use business frameworks

Do we need all those business frameworks? Consultants are infamous for churning out 2x2s. A business book does not sell without a good symbolic framework. Strategy presentations are full of maps and frameworks. Where to compete vs How to compete. Products vs. Segments. Blue Oceans. Market attractiveness vs. Competitive advantage. Isn’t that just bla bla, mind games, corporate mumbo jumbo for the board, people showing off their smarts etc?

Yes, after 7 years at McKinsey I felt that way sometimes, sick and tired of all those matrices, pillar frameworks and so forth. To put them together and make them fit can take hours, often in the dark at night. And, because frameworks provide a simplified, partial representation of a situation, you can end up feeling detached from reality, in a mental ivory tower.

Instead, what does get me jumping up and down with energy is when an organisation presents its strategy simply as a set of strategic projects. No powerpoints full of frameworks.

Is the framework dead? No, no, no. Adopting different mental representations to see your situation does create new perspectives and illuminates new opportunity spaces you have not seen before.

‘The quality of managers’ mental representations is a basis for performance differences’ (Felipe Csaszar and Daniel Levinthal in the Strategic Management Journal, 2016).

Developing strategy is a dual search process: exploring strategic options within your current way of thinking and exploring the space of different mental representations (totally new ways of looking at your business) that lead to entirely new strategic options. This is where frameworks help. When you are looking for a new hill to climb, you grab a map to look for one.

But when you have found that hill and want others to join you there, you don’t need to talk much about the map, but instead you rave about the magnificent views, the fresh air, and the adventurous trail.  We no longer need the new frameworks / mental representations once they have pointed us to new strategic projects. We can justify the new strategic initiative using normal reasons. That helps, it makes communication easier throughout the company.

The life of frameworks or other mental representations of reality (e.g. symbols, analogies) is important and short.

  1. Use them to trigger your thinking, to find new areas of opportunity. In our fast-changing times, this is more important than ever.
  2. But once you have found new land, let the frameworks go. Don’t use frameworks to justify your ideas. That would oversimplify your thinking. Instead, talk about the compelling no-nonsense reasons your new project, is the next big thing.

A book needs to be written, bringing together the best business frameworks, one per page. A book that you can read like a book of poetry. To trigger your imagination, one random page at a time. I may write that book, but rest assured, there will be no accompanying version in Powerpoint 🙂