“Frameworks and mental models are the building blocks of wisdom, enabling us to make better decisions and understand the world around us more deeply.” — James Clear
Frameworks and mental models are powerful tools that can help us make sense of complex situations and guide us towards better decisions.
More precisely, a framework is a structured approach or set of guidelines used to solve a problem or make a decision. A mental model is a cognitive tool or representation used to simplify, understand, and navigate complex information and situations.
As someone who has worked at Microsoft and with many top companies, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and apply many different frameworks in various situations. In this article, I want to share with you my 10 best frameworks of choice that I have personally used to achieve high-impact results.
These frameworks cover a wide range of topics, from strategy and innovation to productivity and personal development. Whether you’re a business leader, an entrepreneur, or just someone looking to improve your problem-solving skills, I’m confident that these frameworks will be valuable additions to your toolkit.
So, let’s dive in and explore these powerful frameworks together.
On This Page
- 1 — The Golden Circle
- 2 — The Double Diamond
- 3 — The DFV Triangle
- 4 — Porter’s Value Chain
- 5 — 3 Horizons
- 6 — Portfolio of Initiatives
- 7 — Strategy Diamond
- 8 — Porter’s Competitive Forces
- 9 — Blue Ocean Strategy
- 10 — Business Model Canvas
#1. The Golden Circle
You might have heard of Simon Sinek and Start with Why. The Golden Circle is actually a framework that helped me learn at a deep level, why do I do what I do.
Purpose is a powerful thing. When you learn to think, act, and communicate from the inside out, you lead at a different level. And you live your life in an inspired way.
The essence of this framework is to figure out your Why, How, and What. When you know your Why, you have a way to generate and renew your energy.
When you know your How, you know your personal recipe for success. This is very freeing. In fact, I would say this is the key to personal freedom. When you know your Why and your How, you can go anywhere and live your Golden Circle.
Your What then simply becomes the vehicles for expressing your Why and How.
I’ve found that whenever I get disrupted through reorgs, or big changes, I could simply reorient myself back to my Golden Circle and rise above it.
#2. The Double Diamond
What a gem of a tool, lol. Some people do this naturally, but many don’t. The idea is to brainstorm the problem, then brainstorm the solution.
The Double Diamond makes this process explicit. That means it helps teams work better by knowing there they are.
How many times has somebody brought you what they call a “problem”, but then hand you a hammer and say go find the nail? Chance are too many.
It’s called the Double Diamond, because of the two shapes. The first diamond is the problem space. Here you elaborate the problem to find the right problem to solve. A great output is a problem worth solving in the form of a creative question.
The second diamond is the solution space. Again, rather than the “one trick pony” or the “hammer”, the idea is to explore multiple options then choose the most appropriate solution for the challenge. This creates space for creativity and allows for multiple perspectives.
What I’ve learned to do is to make the Double Diamond very pragmatic by just asking two questions:
- Are we on the problem side or the solution side?
- Are we diverging/elaborating or converging/contracting?
Just these two simple questions reveal to the room where people are at in their minds. And the beauty is smart people can very quickly reorient and join forces appropriately, once they can “see” where people are.
See How To Use the Double Diamond to Innovate Better.
#3. The Desirability, Feasibility, Viability Venn (The DFV Triangle)
Long before the Desirability, Feasibility, Viability Venn was a thing, I had learned my own model to keep these 3 perspectives clear.
I learned it the hard way from the school of hard knocks and one day I’ll share that story, because it will add a lot of depth and detail to why these 3 perspectives. are so valuable when working through innovation efforts (actually any effort that involves designing a solution.)
If I had this model before one of my earliest innovation efforts, it would have saved me a lot of pain and waste. To able to juxtapose perspectives to help balance trade-offs is a wonderful and powerful thing. It can even be a career saving thing.
Later on, I ended up embracing this model to accelerate innovation and to help make innovation a team sport.
What I realized in hindsight, is that while this is a powerful model, it needs to also include the 3Ps (People, Planet, Profit.) That would help bake in a much more deliberate sustainability focus.
See 3Ps: People, Planet, Profit Framework to Build a Sustainable Future.
#4. Porter’s Value Chain
Porter’s Value Chain is gold if you know how to use it.
Before I was aware of Porter’s Value Chain, I had created a whiteboard depiction of what I called “Follow the Money.” In my model, I basically illustrated the operational function of a business on the bottom, and then the value creation at the top. (I should share a version of this in the future as it’s still a useful view and different than Porter’s Value Chain. I really focused on “above the line” vs. “below the line” transformation.)
What I like about Porter’s Value Chain is that it makes it easy to see the big chunks of a business. As a leader in Digital Transformation, I had to figure out how to accelerate change and transformation. I also needed to figure out what’s worth changing.
The secret of all business transformation, large and small, comes down to identifying the personas and scenarios along the value chain and creating a better future state. When you can walk a value chain with confidence, and identify the opportunities for improvement through technology changes, you win the game.
Otherwise, the tail wags the dog and technology gets injected into random parts of the business and everybody wonders where their benefits are. And slowly the business crumbles, even while adopting new technologies.
#5. McKinsey’s Three Horizons of Growth
The 3 Horizons of Growth is an incredibly powerful tool. It helps you picture your future business along horizons.
Unfortunately, most people use it wrong. They get caught up in time horizons, and they paint big pictures of a beautiful future that will never happen.
To cut to the chase, if you think of the 3rd horizon as simply “disruptive events” or changes of value in the market, now you get somewhere. These are shifts in value. These shifts are your business risk. You might not be relevant to your future customers.
So, what you should actually do is use these disruptive events as signals to create small business experiments you can do today to validate and learn new business models.
There are a lot of reasons why businesses large and small struggle with this. For one thing, if you want to work backwards from the future, even if it’s just a year away, you need to have a sense of trends and insights that will change the market. But how many leaders know, appreciate, and leverage Strategic Foresight or even do some form of trend scouting?
I’ll cover this in much more detail in the future as it’s fundamental to business growth. Foresight is the frontend of strategy, and strategy is the backbone of business growth.
See McKinsey 3 Horizons for Growth.
#6. McKinsey Portfolio of Initiatives
Success is a numbers game. I learned that to win this number game, it takes a portfolio approach.
When you think in portfolios, you can organize your product catalog better. When you think in portfolios, you can organize your execution much better.
Portfolios give you the balcony view.
Portfolios can also act like a funnel and a filter. You might start off with a larger portfolio of ideas but as you work through them, they drop off because of lack of impact or lack of ability to execute.
But as a business leader, the value really comes down to being able to frame and organize your execution, and when you combine this with a 3 Horizons of Growth, you’re actually modeling the behavior of the organizations who execute, innovate, and grow better.
#7. Strategy Diamond
So you think you have a strategy? A lot of people do. Until you show them a Strategy Diamond.
I’ve seen skilled leaders consistently and confidently create game-winning strategies by using a structure approach. The Strategy Diamond can be one of your greatest tools in your toolbox as a business leader.
If you think of strategy in very simple terms such as: “What is your future winning position?” and “What is your difference?” and “What you do and don’t do?”, then you really set the stage to win your future.
If strategy is so great, why doesn’t everybody do it? Because they never learned it, or they never saw it done well.
When strategy is done well, it’s how a business comes out of nowhere and disrupts you.
When strategy is done well, it’s a how a mammoth of a company learns how to dance.
When strategy is done well, it’s how a company thrives despite the overall or overwhelming market conditions.
I’ve learned to really wield the Strategy Diamond with great appreciation and awe…because it truly is awesome.
#8. Porter’s Competitive Forces
Porter’s Competitive Forces is in incredible tool for exposing the strength or weakness of your differentiation.
It helps you understand how easily or not you can be disrupted.
I had been aware of Porter’s Competitive Forces model and I had appreciated it from afar.
Then one day, I watched a skilled colleague walk through an example and effectively rip apart a major business. He exposed how they would get disrupted and what they would need to change to protect their long-term position.
He was able to easily prioritize where to spend effort to actually build a better business with longevity.
In that one example, Porter’s Competitive Forces went from this theoretical, abstract model to a very real thought framework that brought smart people together and enable the genius in everyone to systematically address threats and countermeasures to the future of a world-class business.
#9. Blue Ocean Strategy
In all of my experience, the Blue Ocean Strategy is the most powerful tool for disruptive innovation. It was one of my favorite tools when I was head coach for Satya Nadella’s innovation team.
Most people fall into the trap of sustaining innovation, because it’s much easier to just improve what you already do and what you already know, but that’s 10% growth, at best.
Disruptive innovation is where the action is. Why?
Because it’s where your greatest business growth is. I’ve seen numbers as high as 70% growth from HBR, but the bottom line is that it’s exponential growth.
But really, it’s less about disruption, and it’s more about how to stay relevant by serving your future customers by addressing their pains, needs, and desired outcomes.
That takes empathy. You need to have a sense and feel the shifts in values.
The Blue Ocean framework helps you translate your business model into what the market needs that underserved and to compete in the Blue Ocean of opportunity vs. the Red Ocean that’s overcrowded and filled with competition.
#10. Business Model Canvas
The Business Model Canvas was another favorite of mine when I was head coach for Satya Nadella’s innovation team.
I needed a very simple and common way to represent a business and how we might change it.
I found that I could easily whiteboard the Business Model Canvas or create slides for virtual sharing.
My best hack was to actually create two version of a Business Model Canvas:
- The current business
- The future business
I found that trying to show everything on one canvas was a mess. But by splitting it, I could get everybody to first agree that yes, this is what the current business looks like. And then I could play with multiple future business changes and spin up more canvases to show the business change.
It sounds simple, but this simplicity goes a long way, especially when everybody might have a different picture of the business in their mind.
When everybody could visualize both the “current business” and the “future business”, this made it a lot easier to get excited about transforming the business. It also helped when people would start to talk about how the business doesn’t do that, and it was easy to reframe, yes, that’s the current business, but now we’re solving for the future business.
It helps bring more people along in the journey, and it also helps deal with the constant struggle of “As-Is” vs. “To-Be”. To be, or not to be, that is the ultimate business questions.
What are Your 10 Favorite Frameworks?
I’ve shared my 10 favorite frameworks that I’ve used at Microsoft to achieve greater impact.
These frameworks have helped me and my teams make better decisions, solve complex problems, and deliver exceptional results.
From design thinking to strategy and business models, these frameworks are adaptable and versatile, making them valuable tools for anyone looking to make a significant impact in their work.
Case Interview Secrets Book
One of the best books I ever read on how to use and apply the best McKinsey frameworks is Case Interview Secrets: A Former McKinsey Interviewer Reveals How to Get Multiple Job Offers in Consulting, by Victor Chen.
What surprised me was how the first time I went through the book, I felt like a dear in headlights.
It basically exposed major gaps I had in being able to choose the right framework and apply it.
But I was thankful for that because it really helped me take my whole framework and mental model game to a new level. It’s challenging, life changing, and career changing.
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What is Strategic Foresight?
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