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Reframing Negative Decision Making.
By Kevin Dwyer
Friday, 27th December 2013

We have heard constantly about the mess left by the outgoing Labor Party and seen demonstrated what the Prime Minister does not believe in, but have heard very little about what the government believes in.

It's been 100 days since the election of the government led by Tony Abbott. What has surprised many commentators, including NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, is that the negative stance of opposition has not yet given way to the positive role of government after gaining such a substantial majority.
We know the government does not believe in climate change or the effectiveness of a market mechanism such as a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme to reduce the levels of carbon emissions. We also know they do not believe in gay marriage, optic fibre to the home as a means of providing ubiquitous services over the internet Australia-wide or taking Australians into their confidence over asylum seeker arrivals by boat. After a triple backflip over school funding, we know that they most likely do not believe in equalising opportunities for a quality education through a differential funding model.
And in somewhat breaking news, we know that they do not believe that it is worth investing money in an industry that supports more than 30,000 jobs.
That is not to say whether the government is right or wrong, just that the relentless negativity of opposition has carried over to government.
What do we know that they believe in which is positive? Not much really, other than perhaps paid maternity leave, is my observation. What has been the result in the polls?
According to Newspoll; “Just three months after being elected, the Abbott government's primary vote support has dropped to 40 per cent while Labor's two-party-preferred support has jumped five percentage points to put the ALP in front 52 per cent to 48 per cent”.
And in the first The Australian Financial Review/Nielsen poll since the September 7 election, it was reported that “Labor leads the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, a post-election swing towards Labor of about 6 percentage points”.
Media commentators see the government as having the shortest honeymoon of any incoming government in living memory.
It is my observation that continued negative decision making by the government has adversely affected their popularity.
Successful organisations and governments are led by positive people who, in the main, make positive rather than negative decisions.
They do this by framing the issues and problems they face as opportunities for improvement, rather than something to be overcome.
For example, a devaluation of a currency by 25% that has an adverse impact on the profit of an organisation selling imported products can be seen as a reason to slash costs by cutting marketing and operations costs to try to regain some net revenue. Or it could be seen as an opportunity to be innovative in finding lower cost channels, finding new ways to build loyalty through adding to perceived value and developing add-on sales revenue.
The mindset is very different in each case, and the message we send our followers is very different. When we set about slashing costs, we usually have a negative mindset. The message given to our followers is what we cannot do and what the rules are. When we set about innovating to find lower cost channels and new ways of increasing revenue, the message we give our followers is a positive one to innovate with licence to change what we do to get a better result.
Even the seemingly insurmountable problems can be reframed so that we make positive decisions rather than negative ones, and send positive empowering messages to our followers rather than negative restricting ones.
Defining the problem
Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
Problems can be reframed as opportunities if we take the time to define the problem. Let’s take the current problem faced by the car manufacturing industry. It has been framed as a problem of spending good money after bad and that no one could save the car manufacturing industry from global realities of car volumes, labour rates and exchange rates. The problem is insurmountable.
What if the problem was defined as improving our manufacturing skill base? What would the solutions have looked like? What would the political rhetoric have been?
What if the problem was defined as improving our research and development and car design capabilities to sell to the rest of the world? What would the solution and political rhetoric look like?
Defining and redefining the problem based on root cause analysis or negative brainstorming reframes the problem to an opportunity, to create new benefits.
Helicopter view
Gaining a helicopter view of a problem creates new perspectives, which typically generate new solutions, reframing the problem in a much broader context.
A helicopter view is one in which we zoom out and see the problem in relation to other issues to determine high level causes and effects and then zoom in to observe some of the detail of the problem. Creating a helicopter view or multiple helicopter views requires an ability to think systemically and to have access to information and knowledge about the topic at hand in detail and in general.
For example, what if the carbon tax debate and the broader climate change issues and debates were seen as a risk management exercise? Would the concentration of the media on opposed position of climate change “deniers” and climate change fraudsters and the oppositional politics be more sensible and be reframed at options to reduce the risk of the worst predictions coming true at the lowest cost today?
Some people have the capacity to develop a helicopter view based on their own experience and thinking skills. However, it is reasonably rare and developing a helicopter view usually requires collaboration and access to data from multiple sources. It requires a team approach with a common desire to define and solve the real problem.
Taking a helicopter view also tends to remove the emotion of negative decision making, giving rise to a solid view of what needs to be done and the overall positive impacts of taking action.
The impact of negative decision making
It is my observation that negative decision makers tend to, through their desire to avoid something rather than create something, encourage a form of groupthink where closed-mindedness is the norm. People associated with the negative decision making rationalise warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions. They also stereotype those who are opposed to the group as biased, or even weak and evil.
Negative decision making reduces options generation and innovation. Negative decision making reduces the development of people. Negative decision making reduces the belief that followers have in a positive future and creates a negative culture.
Let’s hope for Australia’s sake that we begin to see positive decision making as the norm of our governments soon, as they reframe the current spate of negative thinking and decision making.

We welcome your comments.
Contact Kevin by email at or via phone on +61 (0)408 508 490

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