By Tom Posey

Recently, I was talking to a British historian about the early days of World War II.

The British airplanes were returning to base with an enormous number of bullet holes. RAF military command was using armor plates to reinforce those areas on the airplanes where the bullets had struck. Still, more and more planes were being lost.

Finally, they brought in a combat engineer to help. After analyzing the planes, he said, “Let’s spend more time reinforcing where there are no bullet holes.”

“Why is that your recommendation?” asked a commander.

“Because the bullet-holed planes are coming back. It’s the other planes that are not,” he said.

Changing Our Frames

We see evidence of them everywhere, particularly during an election season.  They’re the assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes…the frames of reference that shape our perceptions of the world.

Frames of reference matter. We use our perceptual constructs to evaluate data, communicate ideas, influence others, and do our work. They make sense of our world and our place in it.

Here’s the challenge: We have to stay aware of the fact that we are perceptually biased and tend to see our own perceptions as real. 

Do I relax my own beliefs and hard-won experience in order to let people influence me? Am I so right that I need to argue my position as if I’m a lawyer winning every case?

Together but Different

Teams that embrace other frames of reference report more powerful insights, strategic alignment, and the ability to execute. This means more than the willingness to listen. By providing teams with relevant data and making individual behaviors visible, team members capitalize on the differences between their individual perceptual filters. How the team approaches and then solves a problem becomes more about combining the big picture, holistic perspectives of global thinkers with the more sequential, step-by-step approach of linear thinkers.

These kinds of teams also learn to apply unifying principles like agreeing on a snapshot of a future state and then using it to design strategy and make decisions.

What we’re really talking about is the value of teams that visit and revisit their reality together. It isn’t easy. Developing your ability to use different frames of reference takes trust, commitment, and practice. However, learn to do it effectively and you’ll land more planes.


Tom Posey serves as senior managing director of leadership development at Present Values