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Reframing as an Influence Strategy: Making New Ideas Seem Familiar

by B. Kim Barnes

This article was first published on LinkedIn on November 8, 2017

Note: This article was originally accompanied by the photo, above © B. Kim Barnes

Some years ago, people were very upset about a new technology. They worried that it would cause people to become lazy; to stop learning, researching, and remembering things themselves because it would be too easy for them to turn to a readily available source of information. What was that technology? Television? The internet? Google? Actually, it was printing. Scholars feared that learning would be cheapened, that machines couldn’t possibly reproduce the deep wisdom of the ages that scribes had laboriously copied for millennia. These fears could certainly lead to a great deal of resistance to such a momentous change. So…if it were up to you, how would you introduce this new, innovative, and potentially dangerous technology?

Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, clearly understood the value of reframing. He called printing, “artificial writing.” He understood that many people can accept new ideas and innovations more easily if they come dressed in familiar clothes. We tend to respond to something we don’t understand with fear or caution—yet we embrace something that seems familiar, but better. People, on the whole, like to feel that they have some mastery of their world and the tools they use every day. Many people of my generation saw the computer as an extension of the calculator or typewriter. We still call our smartphones “phones” even though we use them in hundreds of other ways.

When we want to convince others to try a new process, experience, or product, we often focus on the benefits to them. We may also try to demonstrate the problems with their current choice. People may respond politely or evasively–a common response is some variant of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Frequently, we go away feeling frustrated that, though our idea is obviously better, the other is simply not open to it. And we may explain that to ourselves in ways that are unflattering to that person or group.

So how can we use the understanding that people are comfortable with what they know and skeptical or even fearful of things that fall outside of their experience? As innovators and as influencers, we need to be willing to understand how others perceive the world. We need to find a way to locate our ideas on their map of reality. We can ask ourselves questions such as these:

  • What needs of the other might my idea help to fulfill? What pain points do they have that are relevant to my approach?
  • What familiar metaphor can I use to explain how my idea works? What is it like that the other understands?
  • How can I give the other a sense of the comfort and ease with which they can adopt the idea?

Making the unfamiliar familiar is an art, not a science. Finding an appropriate metaphor may require us to move past our own comfort zone and way of interpreting reality. When you enlarge or change the way you frame your idea, you’re making room for others to consider it as a possibility. may begin to see within the new frame more possibilities than you previously imagined. What apps might Gutenberg have developed had he opened his frame even wider??

Kim Barnes is CEO of Barnes & Conti and is the developer of Exercising Influence™, the most popular influence training course worldwide.

Browse the Barnes & Conti Resource Library for more articles on risk-taking and innovation.

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