Category Archives: frameworks

Overton Window

Another entry for my set of frameworks.

The Overton Window is a political science term for the subset of policy ideas that a mainstream political actor feels comfortable espousing.  These change over time.  For example one time public policies aimed at encouraging the right sort of people to have children while discouraging the wrong sort resided comfortably inside the Overton Window.  These days ideas of that kind survive, even thrive, but they do it outside of mainstream political discourse.

That illustration is drawn from the Wikipedia article on the Overton Window.

This idea is useful in any community.  Consider for example management.  There are dozens and dozens of ideas about how to manage (just to be concrete I’ll pick two very random examples: a) own a  standard or b) metrics management)  At any given time your firm, department, team will have a subset of these that are inside the it’s window.  A political (or PR) process will be unfolding around the struggle to move a given idea back or forth on along this scale.  Consider for example family life: how about taking a vacation in a third world country?

Of course there are ideas that are entirely invisible.  Ideas that haven’t managed to enlist even a single political actor.  One of the reasons to hire new people, travel, socialize, etc. is to draw ideas into the window.

And then there are ideas that the mainstream suspects it should give some consideration.  I’ve often worked for firms where we had concensus that it would be a reasonable idea, in the abstract, to drag some idea into the window: e.g some QA, or a security audit, or a 3rd party design review, or an HR department, or an innovation lab.  But lip services is one thing.  Dragging an idea into the window is easy compared to getting it into the mainstream where it can thrive.

The mainstream is very good at fighting off infections.  It is unlikely to thank you for infecting it.  The most talented, or maybe I mean polite, political actors manage to shift the window without anybody noticing.

Oh Boogers

Two more little frameworks for the collection, this time about swearing.  The swearing section of Pinker’s talk appears to be taken from the book Forbidden Words.

There are five (practical) applications for swearing.

  1. Dysphemistic – Opposite of euphemism. Force listener to think about negative thing.
  2. Abusive – Abuse, intimidate, or insult others.
  3. Idiomatic – Refer to (but do not explicitly mention) something in order to arouse interest, be macho/cool, or express to peers that the setting is informal.
  4. Emphatic – Emphasize what is being said (pretty self-explanatory).
  5. Cathartic – Rid oneself of negative feelings by outwardly expressing it.

I am trying to train my self to quickly categorize which one of these is in play when ever I hear somebody swear.  Of course, none of these is as simple as they look.  Cathartic, for example, might be a kind of plumbing problem where the emotion escapes our inner containment building, or it might just be a signaling device for notifying others that our inner plumbing is over heated, or it might be a fight warning repurposed by our language centers.  Also, with swearing, you never know who the audience – often it’s part of our inner dialog.    Clearly there is plenty of room for ambiguity and misunderstanding as to intent.

People often apologize after they swear.  “Excuse my French”  You would think there would be unique apologies for each of those five.

Slicing this in an entirely different way swear words appear to come in five principle subspecies, and they – sort of – travel with a emotion.

  1. Body Effluvia (disgust) – oh booggers!
  2. Sexual (revulsion) – Fuck a duck!
  3. Others (contempt, hate) – Damn Middlemen!
  4. Supernatural (awe) – EGad!
  5. Disease, death, infirmity (dread) – A pox upon you!

I plucked that list directly from Plinker’s slides.  He assures us that the emotions are all negative.  But I think powerful is more accurate.  I can’t quite tease apart disgust from revulsion; and I suspect that titillating is actually the emotion triggered by sexual swearing.

We do not appear to have labels for all these different species, though blaspheme names the fourth one.

The third one has a modern label: politically incorrect.  Which only goes to highlight that advocates of politically incorrect speech are pro-swearing; probably for the purpose of being abusive bullies.

Kinds of Relationships

Pinker is a bit of a jerk.  He is very dominate by virtue of being a fire hose and he never tempers his pronouncements with even the slightest bit of doubt.  Thus you often feel a strong “now just wait a minute there!” emotion when reading or listening to him.  All that said it can be fun to go for along for the ride.

I once worked in a team that had gifted it’s self a subscription to an wonderfully foolish supermarket tabloid.  We kept in the conference room.  Slowly but surely we would, all of us, read every article.  And, we came to notice that the fictions reported, entirely with a straight face, in these articles began to enter our brains as if they were true.  You’d find your self saying “I read that in Brazil they found … no wait, maybe that wasn’t true … oh nevermind.”

I have exactly that same problem with Pinker, but it’s worse.  All I can recall is that at the time I read or heard him explain X I had strong doubts about the argument’s coherence; but now – later – it’s too late.

With that warning out of the way … I enjoyed this talk he gave (video, audio, partial as cartoons).  For example it has a very fun offensive section on swearing and the functional purpose taboo words.

One thing I liked was that his had a number for frameworks I should take the time to add to my collection.  For example Alan Fiske three kinds of relationships:

  • Dominance — don’t mess with me
  • Commonality — share & share alike
  • Reciprocity — business like or tit for tat

It is no end of fun to map those three into some of my other triples (rock, paper, scissors?).

If I actually go look into Alan Fiske’s work I bit it appears there are four kinds; let me quote from here.

P – Market Pricing (MP): Haggling over a commercial transaction between strangers who do not plan to meet repeatedly. Involves bidding, bluffing and countering while keeping one’s true buying limits a secret. Non-personal instrumental exchanges with no self-disclosure.

A – Equality Matching (EM): Equality of exchange over time, a balance of exchanged favours, accruing social debt and obligation when receiving favours, the discharge of debt or gain of credit when giving favours. Tit-for-Tat. Ground rules for peer relationships.

E – Authority Ranking (AR): Negotiated inequality, deciding over time who has more importance, status or dominance over others. Unequal exchange where the dominant obtains resource advantages but accrues an obligation to support or sustain subordinates in some way.

I – Communal Sharing (CS): People contribute what they can and take what they need. Almost always constrained to the inclusive fitness group, nuclear family and sometimes various degrees of extended family, rarely beyond.

In the four reciprocity has been split into two groups; reflecting how very different one shot transactions are from longer term transactional relationships.


I’ve not read Stephen Prothero’s recent book “God is Not One.”  But, listening to him interviewed last night I was much attracted to his list. What each of the eight major world religions treat as their big problem, and what their solution is.

Religion Problem Solution
Buddhism suffering awakening
Christianity sin salvation
Confucianism chaos social order
Daoism conformity naturalness, simplicity
Hinduism endless cycle of reincarnation release
Islam pride submission
Judaism exile return to God
Yoruba disconnection follow our destiny as revealed by diviners

It is likely I’ve made mistakes in the above, it’s based on some web browsing and what I recall from the interview I listened to. More rows and columns would be fun. For example principle rituals would make a great additional column.

I am a sucker for frameworks like this.  That is a variation on one of my favorites.  This one about sketching out the differences between Puritans and Quakers –  a dialectic that has much to says much about American culture.

It would be fun to have a table like that for programming languages.

Hegel & Brown’s Big Shift

Makes sense to me:

  • Knowledge stocks -> Knowledge Flows
  • Knowledge transfer -> Knowledge Creation
  • Explicit Knowledge -> Tacit Knowledge
  • Transactions -> Relationships
  • Zero Sum Mindset  -> Positive Sum Mindset
  • Push Programs -> Pull Programs
  • Scalable Efficiency -> Scalable Peer Learning
  • Stable Environments -> Dynamic Environments

I’ve not read the book.  Three things I might wonder about

  1. Won’t economic actors will strive to own or control one or more in the first column to enable the item in second column?
  2. Isn’t there something deeply at odds between the point about relationships and the point about stablity?
  3. Why is there nothing here about the the shifting slope of the power law curves?

More here

I got the book out of the Library.  It’s awful, maybe they out sourced the writing.

Bad Behavior

I can’t believe I haven’t put this list in my collection of frameworks.

These are the eight ways to untrain a bad behavior, from Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog.

  1. Shoot the dog
  2. Punishment
  3. Negative reenforcement
  4. Extinction
  5. Train an incompatible behavior
  6. Put the behavior on cue
  7. Shape the absence
  8. Change the motivation

Number 6 is my favorite.  For example if you want to get somebody to stop reading, pay them to read; and then later, stop paying them.  It really works.

Enabling Change

I was working with someone a while back who was in the midst of advocating for an alternative approach inside his organization.  He was frustrated.  He was deeply convinced of the benefits of his new approach and frustrated by his colleagues passivity.  My first thought was to recall a few of my lists, for example this one.

But later I got to thinking – I do have the list he was looking for.

  • enable small wins
  • provide field trips where the problem can be observed in the wild
  • increase contact with actual users, preferable ones with high emotional trigger; i.e. fame, sympathetic, impedence matched, etc.
  • don’t ever attack or dismiss their core competency, e.g. do not propose your new approach in contrast to existing practice
  • invite them to join you solving your sales problem, e.g. create an imaginary client and discuss your challenges selling to that client
  • lots of short stories of others using the approach helps – it creates social proof, demonstrates value, invites a monkey see monkey do pattern
  • create clear low cost affordances for action
  • stand ready to encourage anybody who exercises those options
  • plan out how this blends into existing their time management
  • plan out how this blends into existing sources of encouragement
  • plan to provide air cover, money, staff, and to resort their objectives
  • map out existing social networks and know that it’s the network not the individuals you need to transition

You can use that list to for an initiative (both to help or hinder), and you can use it to shift culture.  Two take two examples of culture – if your organizations tends to pile on lots of objectives or very a narrow repertoire  for giving encouragement you can be sure that new ideas are being squeezed out and adaptability suffers.  Of course adaptability it not an unalloyed good.

Why Do We Pay Attention?

Why do we read those blogs, email, chats, twitter, voice mails, newspapers, magazines, etc. etc.  Presumably there is some logic to that.  Some motivational schema.  There’s money in the answer to this question.  Will my students pay attention?  Will my novel be a hit?  Will my newspaper survive?  So, surely this question has been extensively studied?  I can think of a few examples.  There are handbooks on teaching, writing, advertising that all look into the question.

Here is an another attempt, coming at this from the currently popular puzzle of what might stop the free-fall of newsprint and it’s codependents (i.e. investigative reporting, PR, local advertising, etc).  He blocks out four reasons why we expend resources to accumulate new information:

  • Entertainment – is everybody animated now?
  • Deciding – in a yellow wood?
  • Staying Expert – sort of a service contract model i guess
  • Paid To – diagnosing, trained,  flattery?

These are not independent.  For example, the author of a highly technical paper targeted at a community of experts will often include a significant amount of entertaining content since he knows that makes the material more memorable or more viral.  But one reason it’s clear these are disjoint categories is how when your goal is drawn from one category it can be  irritating  to have content from one of the others popping up.

I found it disconcerting and then amusing that what I’ve labeled “paid to” he named flattery.

I’m not particularly comfortable with this framework.  Why do fans pay attention?  But, it is fun to compare it various other schemes: story templates, selling scripts, etc.  For example in the  typical  fairy tale our hero is cast out of one’s home, goes on a quest, and then returns home.  That has all four elements.  For example when we are influenced by the use of social proof in a situation that has elements of deciding; but helps to highlight how there is a social aspect to all four.  When we tell a story by opening with a mystery to hook our readers, a standard bit of teaching advise which I used in this posting, then we are pulling on a few cords from all four.  And where does the phrase “breaking news” fit into that framework?

And what’s up with cliff hangers?  People do pay to have those resolved.  Did Ben find a job yet?  Tune in tomorrow!

based on The 4 reasons anybody ever consumes information…

The Misery of Opportunity

Fun video by Barry Swartz author of “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less”.

Why choice makes people miserable:

  1. regret over the choice not taken, and fear of that future regret,
  2. the cost of managing a portfolio of options,
  3. the benchmark for success is raised higher, i.e. expectations escalate
  4. self blame, when the choices made later appear to have been the wrong ones

He reports a study they did: those who maximize a job choice did in fact capture significantly more income, but at a cost.  They are more: pessimistic, anxious, stressed, worried, tired, overwhelmed, depressed, regretful, and disappointed.  They are less: content, optimistic, elated, excited, and happy.

Adds something to my thinking about option spaces, but still I regret not having the option of seeing the copyrighted cartoons.

Advertising Templates

From “The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads” (pdf).

  1. Pictorial Analogy
    • Replacement
    • Extreme analogy
  2. Extreme Situation
    • Absurd alternatives
    • Extreme Attribute
    • Extreme Worth
  3. Consequences
    • Extreme consequences
    • Inverted consequences
  4. Competition
    • Attribute in competitition
    • Worth in competition
    • Uncommon Use
  5. Interactive Experiment
    • Activation
    • Imaginary Experiment
  6. Dimensionality
    • New Parameter Connection
    • Multiplication
    • Division
    • Time Leap