Distance and Framing

Business owners live and breathe their businesses and are the very individuals most motivated to identify breakthrough solutions to issues or breakthrough ways to capture new opportunity.  Sometimes, however, it is the connection and the closeness to the business that can create blind spots and result in missed or slighted opportunities for growth and success.   A fellow Tarheel and well known poet and author, Robert Morgan,  once said that “Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective and maybe objectivity.”   And “distance” in various forms can be quite healthy for identifying breakthrough solutions for businesses.

Everyone is generally aware of the case of the Post-IT note, the accidental discovery which is now in nearly every supply cabinet in offices around the world.  In the case of the Post-it Note, the 3M scientist was attempting to address an opportunity – by creating a super adhesive –  and ended up with a not so super adhesive.  The unintended and eventually heralded “quality” of his creation was of course that the adhesive would not damage a piece of paper to which it was attached when removed.  It took distance – another individual, the span of nearly a decade,  and very different context and perspective  – to recognize the opportunity we know as Post-It Notes today.

Another story from Wired Magazine made me think of the value of challenging our perspectives in terms of how we frame and tackle opportunities and  problems.  This article centered around the fortitude of the flight recorder boxes installed in airplanes.  Noted in the article was a particular situation following the Air France Flight 447 crash in June of 2009. The flight recorder boxes for this flight eluded discovery for nearly two years as they settled at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  Miraculously upon eventual discovery and retrieval, the data was protected, in tact and could be retrieved and deciphered.  Good news? No doubt, it took amazing engineering and product testing to create a vessel so suited to withstanding harsh environments and protecting the valuable data inside.  But step back, distance yourself from the framing of the problem a bit.  What if?  What if the problem had been framed as the best way to get real time data available for deciphering, solving or avoiding disasters? At that time, stock quotes, as just one example, could be delivered in near real time to devices of all types including smart phones that ordinary citizens could own.  Being very competent and maniacally focused on the physical fortitude of the devices yielded an amazingly durable product but what if the end game had been to find a way to make the data available in as near real time as possible for analysis?  By changing the way a problem or opportunity is framed, exploring it from a variety of different perspectives, and removing biases or attachments to just improving current solutions or “building a better mousetrap” as they say, the chances for a breakthrough solution are greater.

Consider how you as a business owner or confidant of one may create strategic “distance” between yourself and the opportunities you face.  The irreplaceable value of your knowledge and commitment to your business goals is key, but by soliciting input from periodic advisory teams, creating a culture of out of box thinking for your employees, and engaging an objective trusted third party you may just gain the strategic “distance” you need to see new solutions and opportunities. And sometimes, breakthrough new ideas for re-energizing the business become your reality and not just the stories of 3M and Post-It Notes!

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