There Are Alligators in the Board Room


Alligators are reptilian feeding machines.  Controlled by little more than their prehistoric lizard brain, they respond to food and territory.  I can remember vividly a Florida vacation with my parents at the age of seven, the heat and the smell of decaying swamp grass at some nowhere highway tourist trap that bred baby alligators so little boys like me could take a picture with one.  I sill have the photo.  There I watched in wonder and awe as a man with a hook for a forearm wrestled a seven-foot alligator into submission.  When another kid asked him what happened to his arm, he took out a large jar of formaldehyde and displayed his severed limb, suspended in the yellow liquid as if at any moment it would flex and wave back at me.  “Gator,” he said smiling.

And while we’re on the topic of alligators, have you ever noticed that board members have really sharp teeth?  When you think about it now, do you really want to go into the board room?

A “frame” is a linguistic device that tells a story.  It links your subject to an emotion and more importantly, limits or “frames” the discussion of that subject toward one perspective or argument.  Frames are used a lot in politics; “Tax relief”, “Clear Skies and Healthy Forests” and “Time for change,” are all recent examples.  Those interested in the use of framing are referred to the books of George Lasker.

Recently, however, I’ve been noticing the use of framing in business, both externally and internally.  A frame can be both negative and positive, but like dark matter in the universe, you find the negative variety much more prevalent.  Unlike credos, one aspect of “framing” is that it is manipulative.  Frames need to be avoided in the executive meeting room and especially in the gap between sales and marketing.

At a recent strategy session designed to bring an executive team together and build some consensus, a facilitator asked what the “Givens” were for the next year.  The team members listed a few things such as the number of open requisitions and the budget.  Then a Director of Marketing said, “For Project Z… failure is not an option.”  The facilitator wrote this down and a few heads nodded.  What this marketing person had done was limit the conversation with a “frame”.  Who wants to disagree with this statement?  In disagreeing, are you agreeing with failure?  Are you for failure?

My response was a question, “Really, perhaps you’ve already failed?”  What if there are options beyond just success and just failure?  What about a slower or lower risk approach?  This opened the discussion again.

Another favorite I’ve recently heard is “Go big or go home!”  What does this mean?  I don’t really want to go home, so it must mean I need to go big?  Right?

How about a Sales VP that says, “You’re either on this bus or not!”  What bus?  Where is the bus going?  Why do I need to be on it?  And why are we taking a bus when there are only three of us and a car would be faster?

What would happen to the discussions between sales and marketing if we were more aware of framing?  What if when we heard our colleagues use it, we could simply reply, “Really?  Can we examine that?”

Now, I want to ask, “Is smoking really healthy?”      

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