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Frameworks Are a Powerful Tool That I Love, but Do You Know When to Put Them Aside?

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Frameworks Are a Powerful Tool That I Love, but Do You Know When to Put Them Aside?

Almost five years have passed … So perhaps it’s time that I draw the learnings, in the most constructive way possible, and put the rest behind me.

In early 2013 one of my business ‘heroes’ came to town to hold a two-day-long training event about business trends and strategies. I was looking forward to it. I’d heard this person speak many times previously, and I’d always had something new and important to learn. His creative take on entrepreneurial success was both intriguing and inspiring.

On the first day of the event, while speaking on stage, he invited members of the audience to sign up for one of the boardroom sessions he would be holding after the training. The price of the session made me cringe; I was running a start-up business, on a tight budget. But hey, if he delivered on his promise, ‘helping participants achieve real breakthroughs by offering game-changing ideas’, that would be worth every dollar and much more. To make the decision easier, he even offered a money-back guarantee to those who felt after the session, that they hadn’t received value.

I was in, and my hopes were high. Knowing that this educator had a background in architecture, just like myself, I envisioned a flowing and enjoyable conversation about new opportunities for my business.

Well, things turned out slightly differently. ‘Mr Entrepreneur’ looked at a couple of basic metrics of my business and based on one of his evaluation frameworks; he quickly concluded that I simply wasn’t ready to run my own enterprise. He made it clear that I’d be better off dropping my business altogether, along with the book I was halfway through writing.

To pour salt into the wound, he emphasised that most start-up entrepreneurs who believe that they are set out to do something special are actually deluded. In his expert opinion, I would have been better off finding someone who was already doing the exact same thing that I was pursuing and join the bottom of their food chain.

I was naturally gobsmacked and perhaps understandably defensive. After all, I had only recently finished a business training program that he, himself endorsed, and was building the foundations of my business using the advice of mentors he personally partnered with.

Moreover, I didn’t even get the chance to actually tell him what my business was about. But none of that mattered … According to this expert’s framework, my business had no hope.

True, I was a slow starter, with no entrepreneurial role models in my family or social network until the day I started my business. Like many first-time business owners, I was on a roller-coaster ride and made many wrong decisions. Nevertheless, I knew that what I was pursuing was worthwhile, and yes, something special. In fact, I had spent years trying to find independent design consulting firms specialising in human-centric workspaces, with no success. So, I was at a point where the possibility of failing in my own business seemed a more attractive option than continually failing at finding my peer group.

I was crushed and confused. Nevertheless, the very next day I effortlessly closed a deal with a new client and embarked on one of my most rewarding workplace consulting projects to date. I also continued writing and publishing my book, which has now opened new doors for me and has received numerous positive reviews.

Still, my confidence was shattered for a long time. When I look back at difficult times in my past, I often find it easy to acknowledge how certain incidents have helped me become the person I am today. However, this was an experience I wish I’d never had.

Why am I telling you this story today? I’m pretty sure you would never force a ‘solution’ on your clients that they only see as a setback. You certainly wouldn’t ridicule them for their dreams and passions, even when some of their ideas might be a bit naive. And you definitely wouldn’t judge them for not finding value in your advice (and then break the money-back guarantee agreement).

But here is my point … Frameworks can be immensely powerful. They can be fantastic tools for making sense of problems and finding solutions, in essentially any area of business.

I’m a huge fan of frameworks myself. I have developed several of them, and use them in my work almost every day. In my own profession, I see problems and solutions through the lenses of my frameworks; they have become integral parts of how I think.

Still, when I think back to the conversation I had with this star entrepreneur, who had achieved great success by developing and promoting some admittedly useful business frameworks, I’m reminded that even such valuable tools have a time and place.

No matter how accurate and useful our frameworks are for evaluating problems and identifying solutions, there are times when it’s best to put them aside, look at problems with fresh eyes, and connect with people without any preconceived notions.

This is not always easy to do. We have to take off our ‘expert’ hat and listen to others with the open mind of a child. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how to do this well …

But, when I’m in front of a client who needs my help, and my frameworks don’t offer a complete and unanimously successful solution, I definitely keep trying to think outside all the boxes I’ve created to make my work more streamlined and effective. Hopefully one day I’ll become really good at it.

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