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Where would we be without frameworks?

I must admit, there are many occasions when it seems attractive to wing it. You see people stand up and give a spontaneous vote of thanks and, my goodness, it is impressive. How did they do that? You see people hit a problem and they seem to have the ability to swerve around it at the last minute. I do envy them. There is so much to be said for taking every day as it comes.

But wait. Is that vote of thanks as spontaneous as it seems? Is it built on many years making impromptu speeches? And that person who swerved round the problem, are they an expert in their field so that what seems like a successful unplanned reaction may be the fruits of many years of experience?

Frameworks can seem boring. “Oh no,” we say “not another road map”. “Oh no,” we think “Plan A and Plan B are such dreary stereotypes”. This may be the case but these frameworks are reassuring. They tell us that someone has given aforethought to an issue. Perhaps it would be useful for us to remember the famous maxim “to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail”.

Every framework requires an analysis of the situation. Frameworks must be based on as much evidence as possible. What is the problem? What is the cause of the problem? How can it be solved? Identifying the problem isn’t always easy nor is it always possible to see an obvious solution.

I like the example that was faced by the Centre for Naval Analysis during World War II. Aircraft bombers were being shot down on their runs over Germany. The Centre for Naval Analysis needed evidence to solve the problem. They could see from the bombers that returned that most of the bullet damage was to the wings and body of the planes. This led to the (what seemed obvious) solution of strengthening the wings and the body by putting extra armour on these parts. However, Abraham Wald, one of the statisticians, reviewed the data and made the observation that there was a gap in their knowledge. They knew where the planes were damaged that returned to base but they didn't know where the damage was to those that were shot down. In fact, the evidence that was visible showed that the wings and the body could be damaged and the plane could still survive. A new analysis showed that the surviving bombers rarely had damage to the cockpit, the engine or parts of the tail. This wasn't the result of greater protection in those areas, it was that they had been missed by the German gunners, so enabling a safe return. These were the parts of the plane that needed reinforcing. And it worked. The result was fewer fatalities and a greater success of the bombing missions.

Frameworks solve problems and they save lives. They may need preparation time and a bit of “brain hurt” but they are essential in successful business management. Don’t be fooled by winging it - it is nothing more than a gamble.


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