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To use a framework or not use a framework – that is the question

Frameworks are an approach to logically thinking through business problems. They are a response to an analysis of a business problem. They will give a reasoned and trusted method for dealing with the problem and it is why we recommend them.


But, let’s pause for a second. Over millions of years humans have been honed to react instinctively to situations. Our ancestors didn’t have computers, spreadsheets and frameworks. In many cases when they faced problems they reacted immediately. Of course, they may have faced a similar problem before and so have a solution in mind. This would be a framework by any other name although I’m sure they wouldn’t have called it such.


These gut reactions to something are what Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist, wrote about in his system 1 and system 2 thinking. Deliberative thinking which echoes many of the frameworks on this website is the hallmark of a well managed workplace. They follow processes that are known to work and they are applied. This is system 2 thinking – the analytical, rational approach to decision-making. System 1 thinking is where a quick, instinctive reaction is made. Studies by Cornell University estimate that we make 200 such decisions a day about food alone. The classic example is if we were in a jungle and met a tiger - we would react in a quick, intuitive way, we would scarper.


In business, fast thinking (ie system 1 thinking) is regarded as cavalier and dangerous. In a modern organisation we have no end of data and there is the temptation to always seek more in order to make a decision. Maybe this slowing down of the process is a good thing but equally, it could be an excuse for not being able to act. We are known to overthink things.


This raises the question as to how and when we should use system 1 and system 2 thinking. If the decision maker has considerable expertise in an area, their quick and decisive actions are to be encouraged. If the problem under review is one in which emotion matters more than reasoning, again a system 1 reaction may well be the right one.


What I have been talking about here is common sense. It is just that we don’t always know when to apply it. Deliberation is not always the best option. So, what to do? Trust your gut and the chances are you will choose the right path. However, when there is a big problem to face, one with long-term consequences, slow thinking and the use of frameworks, would be in order.