People follow people, not frameworks


Leadership (Photo credit: pedrosimoes7)

Social networks and social media have given voice to the voiceless, it’s a beautiful thing. More people can post stuff through the various channels we have at our disposal for the various types of media we can use to communicate. But, counter to what it has enabled us to do it’s also brought less critical thinking.

For example, it isn’t a secret what type of content gets the most traffic and clicks: lists.

You see them everywhere! And it won’t stop. Driving our voracious appetite for lists is our desire for cookie cutter ideas, as well as having more time for ourselves in our hectic lives. The problem with “lists” is that they don’t make the distinction between topics that are more art than “checklist” driven. Most of these lists are dumbed down and create the perception that following a template will yield a predictable outcome.

And most people are not conscious enough to think for themselves, so they mindlessly follow them.

List posts get shared and bookmarked all the time, yet I don’t think people come back to them after that. Mostly they serve the purpose of providing the reader a short-term reward with the feeling that they read something useful during the day.

But did it really move them? I doubt it.

It is this same issue that has powered and given rise to “framework fatigue”.

Who’s up for another framework? Uh…

Social media has made consultants out of most everyone. And it seems all one has to do to be known as a consultant is write up a report, create a fancy infographic with its accompanying framework and voila, you got the makings of a consultant/thought leader.

I’m not calling anyone out, there are a few people out there who do a really good job and they have my praise. I’m talking about those that discerned that there is this prerequisite that to be a consultant you have to use frameworks, otherwise you are not “cookie-cutter” value for any company. So, they go out and pull out yet another framework out of thin air, put a fancy name on it and call it their own.

I have a feeling that those who come up with frameworks don’t drink their own Kool-Aid. Rather, like a Doctor that doesn’t work out, they prescribe it accompanied by a fancy framework.

I’ve heard from peers that they have clients who are loving their frameworks, yet I ask them: do they love you or the frameworks? What will happen when your frameworks become irrelevant, will they still love you?

Because frameworks are simplified versions of complex challenges, they tend to be very popular in this “don’t make me think too much” society. And as is the case in large organizations, it doesn’t seem like a lot of radical thinking is happening, so a heavily researched framework will usually provide a short-term reward for the C-suite.

I’m not in any way discounting tools. I use them too, I’ve built my own and in other cases have combined them with existing ones. To name one, there are frameworks like the Business Model Canvas, that have their place because they are uniquely useful, but should be used after you’ve done the grunt work; not as a fill-in-the-blank wishful thinking exercise.

Innovation is all about leadership

A recent HBR post brought the issue of following prescriptive formula’s to the fore in the most “framework” heavy topic of all: leadership.

From The trouble with leadership theories:

To be clear, Good to Great is filled with excellent research and insights. And leadership theory has its place. Theories pull disparate ideas and data into working models, distinguishing concepts and providing a systemic perspective.

But the trouble with leadership theories is they’re easy to hide behind (often inaccurately). They become proxies for actual leadership. When something important is on the line, people don’t follow five-tiered triangles, four-box matrices, or three concentric circles. They follow real people.

I advise clients to capture theories of leadership in their own words. Merge book smarts with street smarts. Avoid using jargon and vague concepts.  Make it visceral and real. Keep it brief; write it on a single sheet of paper.

Same goes for innovation, people follow people; not frameworks.

It doesn’t take a genius to know this. Yet, it always seems like people need some validation before committing to a course of action. And analytically driven frameworks are usually the prescription for indecisiveness. I think this happens because there is no real passionate hit-you-in-the-gut leadership driving people forward.

As I’ve said in the past, frameworks are helpful for common understanding, to help you put a puzzle together, to synthesize the collective brain. But they don’t fill you with courage to act; people do.

And to follow up on that, for the purpose of progress it’s far easier to get people thinking differently than acting differently. And much more difficult is for those actions to stick when you are gone. And while stories wrapped around fancy names like Level 5 Leaders and Lean Startup may well get people to act, frameworks won’t make it stick.

The best prescription for innovation I can offer you is this: rather than looking for prescriptive frameworks, learn and apply the skills every innovator has. Learn to ask questions, to think for yourself and come to your own conclusions. That skill will last you a lifetime; frameworks won’t.

Learn to trust yourself more than the prescriptive advice of others, discover things on your own and develop your own point of view.

How do you get started?

Think about something that bothers you, it can be how a product/service works, some process that you think shouldn’t be there, or another approach to doing something. If it bothers you enough, you probably have a good idea of what to do about it. Next, try whatever idea you got in your head, no need to ask for permission; just try it.

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