Frame of Reference

Frame of Reference

None of  us see the world as it is but as we are, as our frames of reference, or maps, define the territory.” ~ Stephen Covey

frame of reference

Business borrows terms and concepts from many disciplines, but possibly none greater than physics. T e underlying science of momentum and line of sight is easy to connect, but frame of reference is harder to noodle. Imagine you’re riding in a train traveling at a constant speed. If there was a smooth track and the window blinds were shut, you might not be able to tell the train was moving at all. Someone standing along the tracks would see the train zipping along with the full force of its velocity. If two of the train’s passengers were throwing a ball back and forth, to them, the ball would appear to f y straight. Those standing on the tracks would see the ball taking a parabolic course due to the train’s forward motion. To say the ball is flying straight and on a curved path simultaneously is a true statement. The difference in perceiving those dual truths is one’s relationship to the train—one’s frame of reference if you will..

As leaders, we can be blinded by our frame of reference. Imagine you’ve set a tightly scheduled team goal. One day you see a team member doing absolutely nothing at her desk. She is literally sitting there with her eyes closed and you go ballistic. From within your frame of reference, she’s wasting precious time. From her vantage point, she’s quietly rehearsing her closing pitch for a client call that is occurring in ten minutes. Without the proper frame of reference, your tirade rattled her enough that the call was suboptimal and now so are your numbers.

Earnestly questioning your frame of reference, or your “mental models,” is a critical skill of top performers. If you’re prone to act quickly and decisively or to make snap judgments, make sure you understand all the frames of reference before doing something rash.

Consider this …

1. How quick are you to form snap judgments?

2. Recount a time when making a snap judgment or being decisive without all of the facts got you into trouble.

3. Practice the skill of questioning before you blindly act. Ask questions like, “Why?” “Why not?” “What if?


For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide.)


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