Capitalists focus on the financial returns from capital invested, and most business leaders prioritize issues that are financially material. For anyone with a pension linked to market performance, that is a good thing. But this single-minded focus can be a major problem when it comes to tackling slow-building, systemic challenges, such as global warming, that could take down not just supply chains but, over time, entire economies.
It is no accident, then, that we increasingly hear discussion about “framing” in boardrooms and C-suites. Political analyst George Lakoff, notably in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant!, has shown how the way we frame such challenges shapes our reasoning and priorities much more than most of us recognize. Crucially, he concludes that our unconscious mental frames “shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions.”
The message for business leaders, as for social change agents: To change our frames is to change the way we perceive, prioritize, and invest time, effort, and money. “Reframing,” Lakoff tells us, “is social change.”
A critical first step is to understand the different mental and political frames currently in play. At least six main frames are at work in the sustainable business space. Each has its strengths and limitations. Having a clearer grasp of these mental models can help business leaders to work with others, both inside and outside their organizations, to build more sustainable businesses.