03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Who Wants Yesterday's Frameworks?

I had been called to Disney to talk with one of their executives about helping them with some organizational development programs. It seemed like a great opportunity. The lobby of their Burbank facility, with pictures of cartoon characters on the walls, was perfect. Creating "The Happiest Place on Earth" was Walt Disney's dream, but at this time, it seemed the place was not as happy as he had envisioned.

Perhaps I could help, or at least that is what one of the coaching brokers in LA thought. I waited in the lobby for the "meet and greet." We were greeted and sent upstairs to meet with one of their executives. We sat down at a round table in his office and introduced each other.

The questioning to determine if I fit into the profile began with, "Which instruments do you use to set a baseline?" I explained that I have been coaching and consulting with senior executives for 25 years and so I prefer using my knowledge of human nature. The Coaching Broker kicked me under the table, and then I added that I am familiar with most instruments. Clearly I had gone off script.

Then the fatal moment occurred. I noticed a copy of Jack Welch's first book in the center of the table. I was hoping it was an accidental placement.

I thought to myself about the many companies who had adopted someone else's framework and how I had to work to bring the organization back to life. Hmmm ... this could be a great consulting opportunity. But surely Disney was not adopting Jack Welch's framework. I decided to bring the book into the conversation so I said, "I notice Jack Welch's book."

Then it happened, he reached over and put his hand on the book and asked, "Have you read this book?" "Yes," I replied. He explained that this is their Bible.

Frameworks That Work For One Company Fail Others

Okay, I have been trained in sales techniques and knew I should not explain that a framework that works for one company could not work for another. I said to myself, "Wait," but my mind rolled on: Frameworks for a company are like thoughts, beliefs, ideas and other cognitive forms that are only an approximation of reality. Not reality itself. We have experiences that cause insight into reality, and then we form cognitive frameworks to describe and categorize those experiences. There is no way that a description of an experience can duplicate the full reality. Unfortunately, many navigate the business world as though the thoughts and beliefs recorded in their memory banks are real. This false understanding leads to loss of market share, incorrect business strategies and the loss of billions of dollars.

Thought Is a Blessing and A Curse

I knew I should not say that now, but what about explaining that: Thought precedes manifestation and is, therefore, a key tool for a businessperson. It is the greatest gift to mankind, but has also proven dangerous. It is clear that human thought is one of the sources of creation. Some say that thought has the power to create reality. There is plenty of evidence to support this view. All architecture, businesses like GE, art, and civilizations are all created by thought.

But, just as thoughts create beautiful realities; they also create horrible distortions. For example, an anorexic person will look in the mirror and see fat, even though there is none. They may be starving themselves to death, but their thoughts tell them they need to lose weight in order to be accepted. This is called a cognitive distortion. Of course, this is an extreme example. But all of us experience some kind of distortion. Old business frameworks are cognitive distortions. They do not describe the reality that created them, yet many companies blindly follow them.

The Difference Between GE and Disney Should Be Obvious

Jack Welch's frameworks solved effectiveness problems he was trying to overcome at GE. They worked brilliantly because Jack had unleashed his genius and the wisdom of his team to create them. However, the genius that Jack Welch unleashed in the moment to solve complex problems at GE could not possibly work at Disney. I said to myself, "No, don't say that yet!"

Then finally I decided to use questions, but I was leading the witness. I said, "What was the key driver of GE's manufacturing companies?" He replied, "Efficiency and productivity." Then I asked, "What is the key driver of success at Disney?" He replied correctly again, "Creativity." Now I thought I had won a great victory, but I had forgotten the key principle I had drummed into my consultant's heads years ago. "Don't ask questions you already know the answer to."

Then it happened. I said, "How can a framework developed for a manufacturing company possibly work for a creative company?" I got this glassy stare and some polite conversation, but no real answer. They found another consultant. But later I consoled myself on being right as I watched Disney lose creative allies and their Chairman and CEO.

As I gave that advice I remembered what one of my mentors had said to me years ago, "Do you want to be right, or win." My thought sounded like Jack Welch, "I want both."