Speaking at Saturday's OZY Fest, an annual festival coordinated by OZY Media featuring entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and politicians, Gladwell pushed reframing the problem as the first thing politicians--and businesses--must do before acting. "I think that sometimes we skip over what ought to be the first and most important question, which is thinking long and hard and deeply about how to frame the problem," Gladwell said. "What problem are we trying to solve? What is the best way to conceptualize the thing we're trying to do?"
The Outliers author noted the seat belt as an example of a successful reframing of a problem. He described how thousands of Americans died annually because they weren't wearing seat belts. "We pass laws, we have public education campaigns, we have billboard campaigns," Gladwell said. "None of them worked. Every every single one of those attempts to change American behavior when it came to the seat belt failed."
What did work? Gladwell points out that things changed when lawmakers took a different approach to the problem. Instead of forcing adults to wear seat belts, they decided to focus on children. "The new frame is about your responsibility to those more vulnerable than yourself," Gladwell said. "It's appealing to people's instincts as parents to protect those they love, and that frame works brilliantly."
Gladwell argues this same idea of reframing a problem is essential to the health care debate--and just about any intractable issue you may face in the course of running your company. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without universal health care, and the debate rages on. Gladwell says the key problem, in this case, is that there are too many frames. To move on, he added, there can only be one. He listed five possible issue frames: cost, access, quality of care, doctors' autonomy, and innovation. "You can make a case for every single one of them," Gladwell said. "But they are mutually exclusive." So how can the debate be settled? He said that politicians and even different groups have to sit down and decide what the most important frame is, and make sacrifices on the others.
He brought up Canada as an example. A Canadian himself, Gladwell explained how the government decided the frame they were sticking with was access. Canada offers universal health care but makes other sacrifices. "Until you sit down and have that conversation about what you want, you can't do anything," Gladwell said. "And you will spend the rest of your life arguing."
The same is true for business: Identify your priorities and try to limit the fallout as best you can.