Reframing

Change—and the urgent need for it in this industry—has been a central theme of many an editorial (especially on this page), and it’s been the topic of many private conversations and a number of recent industry conferences.

In her keynote address at the Plumb Club Forum in March, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive officer Carly Fiorina focused on identifying needed change and coping with unexpected change. The American Gem Society’s annual Conclave in April featured as a keynote speaker the author Malcolm Gladwell, whose first book, The Tipping Point, is devoted to examining the forces that drive change to the point where it “tips” and alters the balance of an environment, a business, or, in the case of the American Revolution, the world.

In his presentation, Gladwell addressed the concept of “reframing.” Human beings tend to look at a given situation within a particular context—i.e., a frame. But for major change to occur, the familiar context must be removed and a new one put in place. More important, all parties involved must be in accord regarding the necessary change.

A native Canadian, Gladwell used as an example that country’s national health care system. Unlike the United States, Canada has a government-backed universal health care system ensuring that every citizen has access to at least basic care. In the early stages of the system, he admitted, Canadian medical care often was inferior to American medical care (it has since improved), but nobody was turned away if they were poor or uninsured. All citizens got some care, as opposed to some citizens having excellent care and others having none.

Critical to developing it, he continued, was that everyone involved—doctors, hospitals, pharmacists, patients, government, and insurance companies—agreed on one thing: It was essential for all citizens to have access to health care. All understood that some compromises in quality might have to be made in order to provide universal access, but all were willing to accept that as a necessary condition to achieve the goal of ensuring that every Canadian citizen was covered at least to a basic degree. That was a critical reframing of views about health care.

By contrast, he said, in the United States there’s no agreement. Politicians want to provide universal health care, but citizens and businesses don’t want to foot the bill through increased taxes. Doctors don’t want insurance companies telling them how to practice. Hospitals want to make sure they get reimbursed for all their expenses. Pharmaceutical companies want to make money and develop new drugs. Insurance companies want to keep costs down. Patients naturally want whatever’s going to make them well—and want their insurance company to pay for it. Until everyone is willing to concede a little turf and get on the same page, universal health care is unlikely to happen in the United States.

The health care example is a good analogy for the jewelry industry. While every industry has its issues and its dissenters, our industry seems especially fractious, with each sector—indeed, even subgroups within each sector—focused on advancing its own agenda rather than working together to drive growth for the industry as a whole.

The dairy industry has its famous milk moustache campaign. I’d bet many of you can sing the “look and feel of cotton” jingle, and you can finish this sentence without a second thought: “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without ____.”

The jewelry industry has yet to do anything similar. Again and again, this industry gets caught up in controversies or arguments about semantics that the consumer, frankly, probably cares little about—while we resist the idea of creating a compelling universal campaign to drive desire for fine jewelry in general.

We spend tremendous energy nitpicking over little points and spend a lot of time and money flying around the world to meet and discuss change. Imagine what we could accomplish if we put as much effort and resources into actually solving the problems instead of just talking about the need to do so.

We’ve got to stop thinking small. We must enlarge our vision beyond simply selling more of our own product and begin reframing our context. We need to focus on how to get consumers to buy more fine jewelry, period.

Here’s a campaign idea to get started: “Without jewelry, you’re just not dressed.”

You take it from here.