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Madonna on Problem Framing

08th January 2016

Over the festive break I came across a great story involving a global star and my home city. Pop icon Madonna brought her world tour to Glasgow to play the SSE Hydro just before Christmas. Those attending were treated to something which none of them will forget. The self-styled Queen of Pop left the stage to thunderous applause but when she tried to come back and play one last hit as an encore she discovered that the power had been cut. Furious, she and her dancing entourage went on anyway and played without the benefits of sound, lighting, dry ice and whatever else the intended stage show involved. You can see a clip here. The moral of this Christmas scene? It is simply that when you see something of this sort happen there is usually more than one interpretation of events to consider. Madonna’s was that this was an outrage perpetrated by the small-minded bureaucrats of the venue who dared to cut the power because the show had passed the curfew imposed by the local authorities. “Don’t try to silence the Queen” was her Instagram retort. Staff at the venue were quick to point out that it was the road crew who had disconnected the power and lights when the agreed set had been completed. The fact that Madonna had chosen to return to the stage for one last unplanned number caused the problem. Yet a third explanation is also plausible. The star didn’t appear on stage to open the show until 9.45pm. Perhaps if she’d started at a more conventional 8.30pm everyone would have gone home happier and earlier. So what does this tell us about strategy? Well it reaffirms the central importance of problem framing. As a species we are pretty good at problem solving. It is our skill at problem solving that places us at the top of the evolutionary chain, on this planet at least. However, problem solving can be such an addictive process that it often overshadows the more strategically oriented process of problem framing. Choosing which problem to solve is the reserve of the strategist. You can see that the three explanations of the unplanned, unplugged version of Madonna’s show would produce three different strategic responses. The myriad of problem frames that we inadvertently adopt or inherit influence the long-term strategic behaviour of our organisations much more than we tend to notice. You’ll find further information on problem framing in Strategic Management: strategists at work. I wonder which version of events Madonna will settle on?

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