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I’ve been thinking a lot about reframing questions recently. On the whole, this has been down to reading a lot of good stuff around asking the right questions, changing things in a person’s life, and looking at some advertising that seemed to actually feel fresh and new.

While reframing is something that all advertising people try to do – from planners and strategists seeking a new insight, to creatives putting fresh ideas together, I’ve been thinking about applying it in order to get shit done.

At the heart of all of this seemed to be around determining the starting points. Not from the perspective of the authors, creatives and so on, but from mine. I commented on John V. Willshire’s Smithery blog about asking the right questions. I also read a lot on my new favourite place to spend time, Ian Fitzpatrick’s blog.

A lot of things in Dan Hon’s excellent weekday newsletter have sparked more thinking on this – both because I agree with him, but just as often because I don’t. And every Sunday, the newsletter I get from Farnam Street is always an interesting read.

There have also been others on the periphery, whose statements, Tweets and emails have led me to re-evaluate what questions I should be asking, such as Aden Davies, Dave Birss, and Matt Ballantine of Stamp London. Or rather, reframing the same questions so that the results differ, or instead of reticence I am met with enthusiasm.

The example I’ve used for a long time to explain what I mean is this:

“Don’t ask how you can sell more things, ask how you can make it easier to buy.”

I’m not sure who said that (maybe it was me?), but it’s a really good example of what I’m writing about, and it’s at heart of my fledgling business’s offering.

Wants and needs
Generally, when a business or person wants something, they demand. That feels like the wrong way to go about getting someone to help. If they say they need something, it’s marinated in a similar tone.

Of course, there are occasions when demands need to be made, that the straightforward nature makes shit get done.

Yet, if you want to change something, demands rarely work. Transformation – on a business as much as a personal level – requires others to help push forward. Demanding brings out the cynics, the blockers, those with an axe to grind for no other reason than they don’t like the tone.

To borrow a phrase from Mr. Willshire, the required ‘tone of action’ doesn’t respond to demands.

Creating desire
Before the word ‘aspirational’ became so ubiquitous, we talked about creating desire in the advertising industry. We may well still do, I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve heard in a long time. Feel free to set me straight.

The thing about desire is, it uses a completely different tone – one that welcomes collaboration; a tone that is open and welcoming. It makes people ‘aspire’ to get shit done, together. And for transformation, it’s the secret weapon.

Giving people targets (those pesky KPIs we are always being referred to) makes them focus solely on meeting them. And in doing so, they often miss the one thing that could really transform their fortunes (or that of their company).

Selling more products, in my example, is a demand. It can make people think of changing their marketing, doing more advertising, cold calling, direct mail, whatever it is that gets the product in front of people. More demands.

Yet, they could look at their process and make some smaller changes that could open up more sales. Making it easier to buy. That could also include a change in marketing, or more advertising, even cold calls and direct mailings. But the tone would be built on desire. Benefits and features would drift into the background, emotional triggers pushed to the fore. It would be inviting.

It’s always difficult to do this on your own, as a company or individual. Transformation works best with external people – those who can see the wood for the trees, who can find the right path and make suggestions without the politics. It’s even more pertinent in the age of online processes and databases.

As that man John V. Willshire said in a recent blog post:

“There isn’t really any peripheral vision in digital, you can’t spot things hidden in the system if you’re not looking directly at them.”

Let desire uncover those hidden things. Don’t let what you can see in front of you make you demanding.

I recommend reading John V. Willshire’s current thesis on what he’s learned in three years of running his product and marketing innovation studio, Smithery. Start here >

I’ve also been reading a lot of Ian Fitzpatrick’s Winding blog. Find it here >

I almost forgot, the excellent Farnam Street newsletter. Sign up here >

Feel free to add your own comments and thoughts.