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Reforge CEO, Brian Balfour on frameworks and communication

Patrick Campbell Jan 26 2021

Our world is full of problems. On the macro level we have things like climate change, infectious diseases, hunger, and the list unfortunately goes on. 

On our individual level, we have pushing and building our companies, finding fulfillment, and yes, dealing with aunt Marcella and her antics. 

Yet, you can’t solve a problem. You can agree that something like climate change is a problem—and that took a while—but if you seek to solve the problem you’re doing the equivalent of throwing a bunch of stuff up against the wall and hoping something sticks. 

Instead, you need to break the problem down into root causes and impact. Climate change, for instance, has a multitude of causes, all with varying levels of impact. You have cow farts and burps, which have less of an impact than factory emissions. One of these is also easier to solve than the other. Only when you've thought things through, can you pick the right causes to focus on given the resources that you have. And when you solve for a cause, you truly find solutions to mitigate the systemic problem that you're going after.


What we just used is something called problem-cause-solution, which is a framework. And frameworks work for getting everyone on the same page and ensuring you’re prioritizing where you’ll have the most impact. It’s a way of thinking through a problem. Frameworks are all around us and the best amongst them, tell us not only the "how" to get after mitigating a problem, but also the "why." 

And perhaps no one is better at representing frameworks than the deity of frameworks himself, known as Brian Balfour. Brian’s been a good friend of mine for a decade since we met in Boston. He’s led growth at Zoominfo, HubSpot, and is now the Founder and CEO of Reforge, an education platform that helps those in tech accelerate their careers by teaching them the "how" and the "why"—the frameworks—for thinking through businesses' toughest problems. He’s one of the deepest thinkers I know. And he gives his thoughts on how you should think.

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Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.


Key term

What are frameworks?

Frameworks are the basic structures of information collected, ideas, facts, etc.. They provide support and focus for something you're trying to accomplish or a problem you're trying to solve. 


Why are frameworks important?

Frameworks help you communicate better by establishing a shared language. Most problems stem from assuming people are understanding things the same way that you are—that's usually not the case. By constructing frameworks, you’re able to develop a visual representation where everyone is able to see the same thing, creating a shared understanding—a shared language.

For businesses, growth is a typical, but complex "problem" you're constantly trying to solve, making frameworks extremely necessary. Frameworks, however, can't be copy and pasted. Even though you may be trying to solve for the same problem, like growth, every company has its own nuances. You have to perfect them to fit your goals. 



Action plan:

What to do today: 
  • Follow Brian Balfour.
  • Discuss and evaluate your existing frameworks with your exec team.
  • Schedule a time to review and assess the efficiency and effectiveness of your frameworks.
What to do next quarter:

Build or update your frameworks. Once you've evaluated your current frameworks decide whether they just need updating or if you need to develop some, or all, from scratch.

Here are some steps to help you get started.

  • Establish what you're trying to solve for
    • What is the problem you're solving for, or what your project is. Clearly establish the intent.
  • Conduct extensive research
    • Collect as much raw information as possible. Companies often make the mistake of not gathering enough research. You may only use a fraction of the data collected, but it'll be thorough and complete.
  • Determine the shape of your research
    • Once you've collected your research, organize and categorize it if needed, and then determine the best shape, literally, to relay this information. It could be a 2x2, a flywheel, a loop, etc. This is where your design framework starts coming to life. 
  • Evaluate your shape for insights or holes
    • Once you've placed your research into a shape, review it for insights or holes. If there are too many holes, you may need a new shape. Rinse and repeat until it fits and makes sense to everyone working on this problem or project.
  • Pressure test
    • Pressure test it against different situations to, again, expose any insights or holes. And like the previous step, you'll likely complete more than one iteration to solidify your framework.

What to do within the next year:
Implement the framework/s you developed and evaluate the outcome. Continue evaluating and updating your frameworks, because even if it's the same problem, it may have evolved.  

Who should own this? 

Anyone in charge of leading some kind of project or solving a problem, would benefit from developing frameworks. And as Patrick and Brian both mentioned, the more senior you get, the better you have be at communicating the problems you're seeking to solve, to the people not directly involved—frameworks can help facilitate this.


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This is a ProfitWell Recur production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space.

By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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