The Life and Business Changing Nature of Frames

The Life and Business Changing Nature of Frames


Frames are a critical part of how we think about and perceive our world. But what are frames? How do you change a frame? Why would you want to? These and more questions are answered in this interview with the authors of Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil; Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Francis de Véricourt.



The Book – Framers


Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil by Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Francis de Véricourt.


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About the Authors

Kenneth Cukier

Kenneth CukierKenneth Cukier is a Deputy executive editor at The Economist in London and host of its weekly tech podcast Babbage. He is also co-author of the award-winning book “Big Data” with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, that is a NYT Bestseller translated into over 20 languages. He has also been a research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is a board director of Chatham House, a fellow at Oxford’s Saïd Business School and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

Viktor Mayer-SchönbergerViktor Mayer-Schönberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute here at Oxford University. He is also a faculty affiliate of the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. In addition to “Framers”, Viktor has published eight books (including the international bestseller “Big Data” with Kenneth and the awards-winning “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”. Viktor is also the author of over a hundred articles and book chapters on the information economy.

Francis de Véricourt

Francis de VéricourtFrancis de Véricourt is Professor of Management Science and the director of the Center for Decisions, Models and Data (DMD-Center) at ESMT Berlin. He is also the first holder of the President’s Chair there. Francis has lived and worked in France, USA, Germany and Singapore. He was the first Associate Dean of Research at ESMT and held faculty positions at Duke University and INSEAD, where he also was a professor in Sustainable Development. He was a post-doctoral researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received a MS degree in applied mathematics and computer science at the Grenoble Institute of Technology as well as a PhD degree from Université Paris in, France.


Framers Interview

[00:00:00] David: Hi, and welcome back. Today, I’m talking with the Authors of the book, Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil. Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger and Francis de Vericourt. Kenneth Cukier is the Deputy Executive Editor of the Economist in London and the host of its weekly Tech podcasts; Babbage. He is also co-author of the award-winning book, Big Data with Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger who we’ll be talking to in a second, that is a New York Times bestseller translated to over 20 languages. He’s also been a research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and he’s a board director at Chatham house, a fellow of Oxford Said Business school, and a member of the council on foreign relations. 

[00:00:43] David: Viktor Mayer- Schoenberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, which is actually just down the road from where I am at the moment, I’m here at the Oxford University. He’s a faculty affiliate of the Belfer Center of Science and[00:01:00] International Affairs at Harvard University. In addition to Framers, Viktor’s published eight books, including the International Bestseller, Big Data with Kenneth and the award-winning Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age. Viktor is also the author of over a hundred articles and book chapters on the information economy.

[00:01:19] David: Francis de Véricourt is Professor of Management Science and the Director of the Center for Decisions, Models, and Data (DMD – Center) at ESMT Berlin. He is also the first holder of the President’s Chair there. Now, Francis has lived and worked in France, USA, Germany, and Singapore, and he was the first Associate Dean of Research at ESMT and held faculty positions at Duke University and INSEAD, where he’s also a Professor in Sustainable Development. He was a Post-doctoral Researcher at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a Master’s of Science degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science at Grenoble Institute of Technology, as well [00:02:00] as a PhD from the Universite Paris in, France. Welcome. Nice to have you all here. 

[00:02:06] Francis: Happy to be here. Thank you. 

[00:02:08] David: Absolute pleasure. Can you just start by telling us how you came together to write the book and what kind of led up to it?

[00:02:14] Viktor: You know, we had this phenomenal success Ken and I with Big Data, and we wrote Big Data with the understanding that gathering more data, helps us understand the world, gives us a better perspective on the world, and that’s true, but as we saw, the data age emerge it, we realized that something was missing that people even with exactly the same data came to different conclusions, chose different paths forward, and so we said it can’t just be the data there needs to be something else, and whatever, you know, people do when they don’t know what they’re doing is they go and ask an expert. So we went to Francis and said, Francis, tell us what’s going on. And Francis says, oh, I can [00:03:00] tell you, it’s about models. And that started us on this path and a three year rating project that culminated in Framers. 

[00:03:08] David: Brilliant. Thank you very much. Interesting. So can you just explain what you mean by framing? What is a frame and why frames are so fundamental? Well to just let everything we do as humans actually.

[00:03:19] Francis: Well, I can jump in if you want. I mean, frames are mental models. They are representations about how part of the world work and why they are. I mean, framing is the application of those frames to the channel and situations problems we are facing. And you can, as Victor alluded to, you can for the same problem, same decisions, same challenges, leverage different representation that will elicit different set up, decisions alternatives that you may play with and engage with, but why fundamentally, I think they are so important is because this is really what enabled us to go beyond the present if you want, beyond the information you have right now, [00:04:00] or beyond the past and project yourself far away, extrapolate far away from your current situations and still be right. And if you have, I’m sure we’re going to talk about that a bit later, but if you look at, for instance, machines, machines in contrast are using a lot of data that are from the past, and it can be extremely powerful, but you will be stuck in a certain way of thinking about how the world process, which is past data and then predict yourself into the future. Humans, thanks to their representations can go well beyond that, and with couple of the top points, imagine and be still be correct, what can happen. So that’s why I think they are very, very important and… 

[00:04:38] David: So the kind of models that we work for in order to give us a perspective on what’s happening, but also therefore to be able to project into the future of what’s likely to happen, what’s likely to come up and imagine things and see things that don’t actually exist at the moment.

[00:04:54] Francis: That’s correct, and I will add this not only in the future, it’s also in the present, but something that is impossible to [00:05:00] observe, or it’s also to observe alternative realities that you will not be able to observe directly because there are alternative realities, but still imagining these alternative realities help us understand world in the present. So, it’s anything that you cannot directly measure. 

[00:05:16] David: Yeah. And, I would actually add probably our perceptions of the past as well. Fundamentally altered by the frames that we have and how we perceive the past and our reaction to it. 

[00:05:27] Francis: Yes. Correct. Yep. 

[00:05:28] David: Excellent. So, in the book you talk about how frames and models highlight certain things and diminish or ignore other factors, that other frames might in fact highlight, and you give a really up-to-date and relevant example about the different frames that for example, vaccines and anti-vaxxers have, the health frame and the freedom frame. Could you just explain this? 

[00:05:50] Kenneth: Yeah. It’s also, what’s interesting in this dimension is that the environment that we’re in is changed, right? Because of what we know about COVID at a certain period of time say [00:06:00] in January, February, March of 2020 looks very different than when we’re recording this podcast now in the beginning of January of 2022. So in America, where do you’ve seen this crystallized the most, you’re really seeing the cleavage among party affiliation and among identity and the political polarization is in the area of science and the recognition of whether you should actually wear a mask and where you should get the vaccine and those people who had the frame of COVID being like the flu in which you just sort of power through it, but it’s something that it’s, that almost very rarely would actually harm you in any significant way, really believe that it was unfair to be told by a central authority to have to wear a mask, but interestingly enough, you have, people who have the same amount of information, same data, same press conference with Dr. Fauci who hear this and say, well, if a mask is effective and I don’t have to get COVID at all, why wouldn’t I just wear a mask? That’s just science. And it just feels like you’re adhering to some sort of [00:07:00]property of how reasonability should work. And it’s interesting because you can actually take this one domain of whether to wear a mask or whether to get vaccinated. And it colors people’s outlook on life, far more, prescriptively and predictably than so many other features of who they are and with…

[00:07:20] David: Yes. I like this idea that the frame that we take on or the frame that we have changes what is reasonable, what we consider to be reasonable. And therefore also changes what we consider not to be reasonable and how those disagreements, as you quite rightly say, you know, you see that the political polarization and what the frames are that underpin that level of polarization. And, I suppose there’s a question here about whether frames become tighter in opposition. What I mean by that is that people become more backed into a corner, I suppose, is what I’m saying. If there’s some opposition to, or some challenge to that frame, would I be right in [00:08:00] saying that? 

[00:08:00] Kenneth: There is evidence that and we talk about this in the book, in a rarefied area that those people who have an overly tight frame don’t have the mental agility and the mental flexibility to see things from the other side to play with their frames and just sort of bend the constraints and examine mentally the alternatives, and to find a frame that fits better. And sadly, the example that we use is of terrorists, who adhere to a frame, but their frame is extraordinarily rigid and they actually feel that there’s great sort of cosmological negativity and not injustice, but some evil for those people who have this flexibility that they don’t have, who can see things on the margin, who see gray rather than black and white, and we vaunt the tightness of their frame, but of course their frame is a.. 

[00:08:48] David: And it’s interesting, especially, so it’s an area that I’ve worked in terms of extremism and terrorism, is how people get nudged into that position and [00:09:00] slowly tightening that frame. So the frame becomes less and less flexible as they ascension into it, deepens, I suppose. 

[00:09:06] Viktor: And David, that is something that we highlight in the book over and over again, that framing is not just a fact of life, that, but it is a tool that we can use that has flexibility and adaptability built into it. And the problem that these extremists or terrorists have is that they see framing as a fact of life. They can’t escape it. They’re sort of trapped into it while we see it as an empowerment tool, we see it as a tool that helps us improve our decision-making. If we understand that framing, isn’t the box that we are locked in, but actually helps us generate counterfactuals, generate alternative realities that equate with better decision options than we have currently available. So to us, framing is a tool to get better and to shape the world for the terrorists, that’s a box that [00:10:00] they’re trapped in 

[00:10:00] David: Yes. And becomes more serious and deeper as they go along. And this idea, exploring different frames, and I just wonder whether there’s any research about whether doing that actually increases an individual’s cognitive flexibility.

[00:10:17] Francis: Yes. I mean, there are some research and to build on what Victor and Ken said, just to go back real quick on the terrorism A good framer as the ability to ask, ‘what if’ questions? What if , you know, the war will be different or some constraint on my frames where mitigate or relax and all that, terrorists do not ask ‘what if’ questions as much. And so there is a strong link between this frame, rigidity and you know, poor decision-making, now to go back to your questions. These fascinating research that for instance take, U S citizens on who were born and raised outside America, and then by design basically, it’s a, you know, it’s a natural experiment, we’re exposed to different culture that [00:11:00] is different representations about how the world work, how society works, and then went back to America and the research shows that typically these individuals perform better on their job, especially if this is a job that requires a decision making and innovations. Then there are counterparts who are born in the U S and so they have a better positions, higher salaries. There’s even research that show that if you raise as a bilingual kid, you have a more flexible mindset and you have a better adaptability. So, yes there’s research that shows that flexibility, agility, disability, and let us be clear, it’s not only about changing perspective, changing frame. It’s also disability, within them a mental model to ask these, ‘what if’ questions that’s extremely powerful in itself? This is something that if a terrorist could only, you know, what if my frame were wrong ask that very question. So, these flexible muscle to ask, ‘what if’ questions, this is also part of the flexibility agility, we ask is very much present in twos, multicultural individuals.

[00:11:58] David: And in fact, I think there’s a, [00:12:00] so Edward DeBono was talking about right and wrong, and this idea of asking that question about what if I’m, and that can lead us into starting to explore the frames as well. 

[00:12:10] Francis: Oh, within your own frames. I mean, it’s like, it’s challenging some of the, any frame you’re using make causal claim about how the world works. There’s always a causal relationship that you leverage when you run the counterfactuals, you do not run it in a vacuum. These counterfactual is controlled by different constraints and also some explanations about how they would work. And you can ask ‘what if’ questions about those explanations? You can start there and you say, well, what if I change a little bit explanations. And then how the world will look like, such as global warming. You know, what, if we do not produce these CO2 emissions, how the world would like, and then by relaxing that, I mean that production of CO2, we met a world where there’s no global warming and therefore we know there’s a link between CO2 and global warming. So, basically asking those, ‘what if’ questions within the frame is in itself extremely poor form. 

[00:12:59] David: It also [00:13:00] seems that this ability to be able to both relax the rigidity of the frame and also skip between frames is, kind of underpins creativity and innovation as well. 

[00:13:10] Francis: Yeah, that’s correct. I mean, we talk in the book about thinking outside the box. We basically trashed his metaphor. We enjoy doing that, was a lot of fun. Why? Because I see to this day you hear some consultants, some author, celebrating, thinking outside the box, explaining you or the type of method you can apply to think outside the box. And these 30 years of research is not necessarily ours, not us, and we’re seeing that, but the 30 years of research that show that if you nudge people to think outside the box, that is in effect to try to think without any constraints, you hurting to speak for them, so they become less innovative for decision-makers, and indeed the idea is the magic is the box. So the, you know, think better within your box or think in the right box. I mean, change boxes if necessary, enhance your need to have at your disposal, several boxes for [00:14:00] the same problem. So you have this ability to shift perspective, but don’t try to think without the box first it’s impossible, and if you try to do that, you’re going to hurt yourself. Trust me.

[00:14:08] Kenneth: Talk to a lot of innovators and look at their method, and we identified the sort of the formula in which, constantly say that innovation loves constraints, the source of their creativity are the constraints, whether it’s the architect, Frank Gehry, who makes the academy of appearance, the famous children’s book, Author Dr. Seuss, who many people don’t realize this, but Green Eggs and Ham, it came about because of a bet with him and his publisher, whether he could write a book with only 51 syllable words, because it was meant for children to learn how to read, and he hated this idea, he bristled at it, but because it was $50 on the line, he was going to do it, and sure enough, he did. And likewise Martha Graham there was constraints prior to that, in terms of the, she’s the foundation of modern dance in the early 20th century. At the time women were physically constrained, they wear tight corsets, forced them to do [00:15:00] very classical movements like ballet, and she said, No, modern dance, but she actually had a very rigorous form of breathing known as the, sort of the Martha Graham method, in which there was a new constraint, but interestingly, when it comes to a business, whether it’s Steve jobs or entertainment in particular with Saturday night live, which might be the most important way in which constraints work, the basis of improv comedy is not that anything goes. Not at all, you create a universe and then you have to adhere to that universe. And the point of improv is that everything happens has to has happened is the way that they phrase it, which is, you can’t have someone say something and then you ignore it because you think it goes into the wrong direction. Now, if you take this idea of these tight constraints, these self-imposed walls, that innovators place on them when it comes to the, at the highest level of performance, like live television in America, right? Saturday night live iconic, now just transpose that into an office setting in business. [00:16:00] I have personally been in too many meetings in which we’re all supposed to go on to some sort of post-it, big post-it note and card and pin it to a wall and think outside the box and blue sky thinking and completely be a fresh. Now of course it’s a complete failure because everyone brings in their stale idea as what they had in the morning, and they had yesterday into the meeting that they think this time, now everyone’s going to see their genius, so it doesn’t work, but secondly, when you don’t have those constraints, it just, as Francis said, it comes to nothing, but when you actually have the come to Jesus moment of very tight constraints, then you can innovate. 

[00:16:32] David: Yeah. And certainly if you, I’ve done quite a lot of interviews with entrepreneurs and quite a lot of them say, whilst they enjoy the success, the moments they really enjoy is when a business has failed and they’re having to start again, because they are under a lot of constraints, they are under a lot of pressure. They don’t have the money they’re having to really be creative in order to move forward. 

[00:16:52] Kenneth: So what I did as a manager, as I’ll let you, my colleagues caught this, right, same second, but I’ll just simply say to implement it. What I’ve [00:17:00] done as a manager is to take the blue sky idea of what we want to do. For example, launching a new section, and I come up with these crazy news imposed constraints and just make it, I pretend as if it’s invaluable and suddenly everyone first pulls out their hair and they don’t let up disliking the bristle addict, but the success always speaks for itself. It always improves. 

[00:17:21] Viktor: Just take the iPod, the famous music player. There were digital music players before that, but what made the iPod so special was that the Chief Engineer at Apple was in Japan, visiting suppliers, and he got a little hard disk, and the Japanese said here is this little marble. This hard disk that can hold five gigabytes of data, but we have no understanding, nothing that we can do with it. We don’t know what to do with it, and so the guy took this hard disk with him, and on the airplane was looking at it and the hard disk that in terms of the hard disk and the [00:18:00] capacity constraint, what the iPod could be, and that created the iPod. And so the constraint was really, in a way the grease, the machinery of cognition and creative. 

[00:18:10] David: Yeah. Again, it’s kind of, you’ve got these boundaries, we’ve got to work in the boundaries. How on earth are we going to do that, that sparks, that creativity. Yup. Lovely. And I would also say certainly from a philosophical and a psychological point of view, just an agreement that there’s no such thing as theory, free thinking. We’re always operating from a theory, frame always. Yeah. Cool. Great. Can we, I just want to kind of move on just with time. One other things that I really found fascinating was the idea of misapplied frames and how a frame can be used to suppress the thinking and ideas of people with different frames and you go into some depth in this within the book. Could you just explain this a little bit more?

[00:18:53] Francis: Well, okay. So we can take the example of the Lysenko in Russia. You know, it would be funny if it didn’t [00:19:00] end up tragically and if not, you know, in the end, because of his misframing many people die. Again, the idea of framing is the idea of applying specific mental model to a situations, misframing is when you choose really the wrong model, and then as we discussed, you get convinced that you see the right option, the right thing to do, and then you dig a hole for yourself basically. And so what happened in the thirties in Russia, that in a sense Lysenko, I forgot his first name, I think it was Trofim Lysenko basically applied with the support of studying obviously, it applied the communist frame to biology and the idea that you are going to plant the crop together because they are from the class, social class and then, you know, people from the same social class, they work better when they are close together. Any farmers in Russia knew that this was crazy, you need to space them, but no, because the frame of communists tells you, you need to work together. And it ended up being a disaster, I mean, people died of [00:20:00] starvation, and this is basically the cost of misapplying a frame to a situation, that is misframing, this is when what happened. So that’s why you need to be very careful when you pick your frame to the situation. Good to look at the same situation from different frames to see which one fits. I mean, the metaphor would be, if you only have this screwdriver you are going to try to nurse your nails with your screwdrivers. So you need to have a hammer and a screw drivers to see what fits best, and then, you know, the hammer fits better. 

[00:20:28] Viktor: It also assigns responsibility in a way. You know, it’s not the frame most of the time that its at fault, it’s framing that’s at fault, and namely you, so we argue in the book that with one exception, there aren’t bad frames. In fact it depends on the context of the goal, but there is a lot of bad framing. There is a lot of taking a frame and applying it to the wrong situation, which of course is our responsibility rather than the…

[00:20:54] David: And this actually talks into this whole idea of critical thinking. And quite often, one of [00:21:00] the problems that I see, certainly when, critical thinking or programs are trying to develop critical thinking is, they kind of stop at the evidence bit, which is, here’s an argument or a hypothesis. Here’s the evidence let’s analyze it, without thinking through, which is the next part of critical thinking, the consequences and projecting, what are the consequences likely to be of this particular frame? And I think that’s a kind of a critical component that gets missed out in a lot of kind of critical thinking programs that I’ve seen, is they just stop it, the analysis of the data. If you see what I mean. 

[00:21:33] Viktor: Yeah. 

[00:21:33] Kenneth: The second order effects, right? I think where I see the largest mental shortcoming, is people who just live in a first order effect universe and miss the second step. And that’s where the counterfactuals become so important. Right? That’s where framing is so essential because we, as you pointed out, David, we can see what doesn’t exist. We can see what’s not there. It enables us to extrapolate from the now, to see the tomorrow. It’s almost like a [00:22:00] mental radar with reality and, or I guess, yeah, radar sort of looking ahead, whether you don’t have visibility for, but you still can understand. So that’s why it’s so essential that if we learn how to frame and we learn how to play with the three C’s, if you will, the causality on one side, the constraints on the other, and in between the two, the counterfactuals that we have mental rehearsals, et cetera, we can actually interact with the world in a much more useful way because we’ve got that critical facility to see, not just simply what’s ahead of us the first order effects, but the second order effects that are inherently non-visible, yet will come.

[00:22:37] David: Lovely. Thank you. One of the central themes of the book is about seeing frames as a conscious choice. Can you just talk a little bit about this and help us understand how people can get in a position where they’re able to identify and choose from a range of different frames?

[00:22:52] Francis: Well okay, so let me start. I get the, this is more for can, I guess, but the first step, I’ve learned them from him, so that’s why I’m saying for [00:23:00] him, but the first step is to be aware that we are using frames, that he is, as you said yourself, you always have your theory behind your mind, the theories of mental model and so when you make a choice, when you embrace the situations to reflect on what are the causal assumptions I’m making, or what are the constraints I’m currently imposing on my thinking, what do I put outside my model, or what do I count for? And then you start to do those ‘What If’ and do these counterfactual to see what are the consequences of mitigating these constraints or tending causalty here and there. And so just starting there, just having, as Ken loves to say a language, he convinced me on that. It took me sometimes because, you know, but he’s right, I mean, it’s like, for me, it’s so abused, but he is right, this is the first thing is you need to learn that language, that vocabulary and experiment with it. And once you’ve done that before changing frames, your frames in general are good. That’s why you stick to them. They have helped you through as far, they have something, so [00:24:00] before dropping them and switching frames, let’s see where it takes you. And then of course, the next step is that you need to have these repertoire frames that is to have a diversity of her presentation at hand, so that if the situation changes, if this is novel to you, you have this agility to shift frames, and so you need to then expand your repertoires of frames.

[00:24:20] David: Everybody wants to come in on that as well.

[00:24:22] Kenneth: Okay. You know, as always, I think Francis always hits home runs. So I always feel like there’s not much more to add other than to reiterate our underlying things that Francis has already said, but I say that about both co…. 

[00:24:33] Viktor: Yeah, let me add a one line if I may. And that is, we actually, we, humans are pretty good at framing and we are pretty good at practicing our frame. We are starting to do that at a very early age. In fact, when children engage in, pretend play, whether it’s playing doctor or playing shop. In a, ‘what if’ universe they’re in a counterfactual universe, and so they are training their counterfactual thinking. When [00:25:00] we later in life read a novel, when we watch a crime movie, when we play a good video game, we are in a, what if, situation training our counterfactuals. That’s a good thing, but we don’t do it in adult life as often as we do it in childhood, and so Alison Gopnik one of the experts in the field says, the children are the research and development department of humanity while we are more marketing and sales and we can reverse.

[00:25:26] David: Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why I’m pushing this, is that certainly adults, people in organisations, making decisions, politicians making decisions, is they tend to back themselves into a framing corner as it were by rehearsing their own frames, defending their own frames, as opposed to actually examining, you know, what other frames are there, that they can actually see this from? And I suppose my concern is, how do people in business, how do people in life, adults, actually get back into that? I’m kind of answering my own question here about [00:26:00] playfulness, getting to that place of playfulness so that they can start exploring other frames and starting to see the problem from those frames. And I suppose that’s the question is, how do they go about getting back into that? I suppose 

[00:26:13] Viktor: Two things I think are really important. One is to understand that what you call playfulness, what we sometimes call, you know, being a couch potato is actually productive, cognitively productive, and that this isn’t just entertainment, but that is actually training, honing, practicing, our framing skills, and that’s very important. The other thing is that we don’t need to be so utilitarian about it in the sense that we say, okay, so now today I get up and I learned three more frames, because how would you go about learning three more frames and knowing that you are needing these frames rather than other frames, far more important it seems, than learning a particular frame is to develop a curiosity and [00:27:00] a certain serendipity to be interested in new frames in the first place, so that you want to confront yourself with new stuff, that you are not afraid of venturing out of the path that you always take. That kind of a love for the new, a love for the novel, for the undiscovered, from your own perspective is far more important than going down a to-do list and acquiring a certain number of frames.

[00:27:25] Kenneth: And to build on that, to keep in mind that, that has been the biggest trend of the last two decades when it comes to how people are educating themselves and most importantly, when they leave school, sort of taking on new knowledge, if you remember, you know, the 20th century was the era of conferences that you would go to, to drill down and get better at what you already knew. So if you’re a radiologist, you went to a radiologist convention and you became a better radiologist and it added to the depth of your knowledge, if you will, it was the knowledge was vertical. Today, it doesn’t look like that at all, it’s all very horizontal. You go to an event, not to become better at what you already do[00:28:00] but to learn about other people and what they’re doing. So the way that they solve their problems, you can incorporate into solving your own problems. TED is the classic example of that, in which you go there and you get a smorgasbord of frames from other people who in 15 minutes can crystallize what they know, so you can take it in and bring it into yourself. So whether the person is talking about power poses or education and dance, you’re a better business person because of it. That to me is glorious, masterclasses do that as well and online learning. It’s a glorious example of how people are getting better at being what they do and they’re fulfilling their passion by learning from other people in the same domain, but in domains, outside of their domain. 

[00:28:44] Francis: I want to also really insist on the social network part. I mean, you need to go back to your executives and managers and, to expose yourself to diversity of frames is also to expose yourself to people who think differently than you, and we have [00:29:00] this tendency to surround by people who think like us, we like people because we are alike and we are alike because we share the same frames, the same representations about how the world work. So, in a personal, you know, of course probably you want to be married or to have a partner who has a share frame for many things. In friendship also, I would argue, but even in organisations is very important to force yourself, to engage with people who might really be different, it’s a bit against our nature. Same when to, build on what Ken was saying, when you look at TED talk and when you look at topics, we have, again, the tendency to look at the topic that we like. So we start to look everything about AI, and then we look all also TED talks about AI. So, the willingness to say, what, let me look about a TED talk about chemistry, for instance, or something I really don’t think I care much about, because it forces me to explore outside my repertoire of frames. So there’s a bit of, like effort, like courage, if you want to go beyond what you like and what is [00:30:00] easy for you. 

[00:30:00] David: Yeah, one of the things we use, so I used to work in one of the innovation labs for a couple of the innovation labs in the UK. And one of the activities that we used to do with executives is get them to dress up as something like Scooby-Doo or Abe Lincoln or somebody else and say, right, okay, you are this character, how would this character approach this problem? And that automatically started to put them into another frame, and at first they kind of used to bulk about dressing up as Scooby-Doo, but once they got into it, it was great fun, and they started to see different perspectives kind of 

[00:30:35] Kenneth: That’s exactly right. And in our book, we actually have a guide for working with frames at the very end of the book, and one of the things we suggest is, for people who are confronting a problem to ask. How would I do this, if I were my boss? How would I do this, if I were my biggest corporate rival, right? Sort of my enemy weirdly enough, I’ve often done that with, I’m going to, I work at a media organisation, but with a [00:31:00] lot of hard charging people, and there’s a very healthy rivalry among us and that I think spurs us to do great things. So often I’m finding myself, you know, as I sort of think through, as an editor, what I need to do per section, how would I do this, if I was the person who hated me most, right? Who is my enemy internally? Like if this person took my job, what would this person do to show that Ken Cukier is actually useless and pathetic? And then I do what that person would have done, then I wrap myself in glory because I’ve sort of paired two other great editors who I completely admire, who are my colleagues and who if they took on this role, this is what they would do. So I’m going to do that myself and I’ll have that glory as well. I think that lots of executives do that without much deliberation. They sort of do it naturally. They’re always thinking that way, but this is a way for those of us who aren’t quite as amazing as our betters to actually learn from as sort of take that methodology, that approach, learn from it and become better ourselves by [00:32:00] deliberately taking on the frames of other people and putting ourselves in that mental space for producing a different range of alternatives and therefore better outcomes. 

[00:32:10] David: Excellent. They’re really nice examples. Thanks Kenneth. One of the areas of the books that kinda caught me, and I found fascinating and I kind of not really thought about before, and it’s probably why it kind of hit me in the face and given the march of technology and rapid development of things like artificial intelligence and machine learning in so many areas of our life, they’re helping us make decisions. The point that you make in the book is that none of these things, AI machine learning, computers actually work from a point of view of frame, and I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about that and what is the impact of the fact that they don’t and they don’t appear to be at the moment capable of doing.

[00:32:49] Viktor: Well, artificial intelligence itself is a little bit of a misnomer. What machine learning actually does is that it is really very capable of uncovering[00:33:00] patterns, hidden patterns in data, in large sets of data, and to expose that and then to use that as training data to hone its own algorithm, but it is incapable of doing two things. One, generalize and abstract, it’s stuck in the data. It only sees the trees, never the forest. We humans have the ability to generalize and to abstract, and that’s incredibly powerful because we can take something from one context and make it a template and apply it in another context. The concept of a forest is eminently more generalizable than the idea of a tree. And secondly, what the machine can’t do is, it can’t see what isn’t there. It sees the past and the present and projected into the future, but if the future is different from the present, then it’s incapable of making any good predictions. And so the machine is good in times of little change when you optimize towards efficiency, [00:34:00] but the machine is really bad in times of radical change, when you need new ideas. 

[00:34:05] David: And making judgments based.. 

[00:34:07] Viktor: … . Yes, on something that you don’t see, but that you have to imagine, and this imagination, this sort of targeted dreaming, or the dreaming with constraints as we call it, is something that the machine can do. It can’t dream, it can only permutate through a very large option space, and by the time it’s through with that, we’re all dead. 

[00:34:29] David: You’re right. Sorry, go on. 

[00:34:30] Francis: No, no, I just want to build on what Viktor is saying. I mean, in a sense, the machine can only tell you something that is in the data and the data is by definition from the past, or really the present. If the person the present are really predictive of the future, as Viktor mentioned then it’s working, what we can do with our frame is that we can extrapolate well beyond the data. Really imagine things well beyond the data we have and still be correct. So it’s really about how tied to the data you are. And if you [00:35:00] want to the machine to work well, that’s why you need a lot of data because you need to cover as many possibilities, but also possibilities are known, I mean, they happen, that’s why you have the data. What we can do is go well be….

[00:35:10] David: Given that the both of you are kind of at the forefront of certainly thinking in terms of computers analytics, things like that. I suppose there’s kind of a natural question that comes out of this, is the projection of where things like machine learning and AI is going, is there potential that they’re going to be able to work using frames in the future? Horrible question, I know. 

[00:35:34] Francis: No, no. I mean, you know, I think that machines are already working with frame. The only thing is that we are wired up to frames in the way we select the data on which the machine is trained, the algorithm itself. So there’s a lot already of human framing that are cooked into the algorithm and the machine and the data. What we believe is that the machine will not be able by itself to come up with their own new [00:36:00] representations. That what, we don’t believe that the machine can represent, can do the act of by itself, represent.

[00:36:06] Viktor: And let me add one more important thing here. We should not hope for the singularity, that the singularity that is the machine taking over, is going to solve all of our questions. A, because then it’s going to be questionable, whether we still have a seat on the table of evolution, why should we, and B, because the problems that we are facing are now, we can’t wait the couple of decades for the machine potentially or not to become smart enough. In fact, we have that very powerful tool of framing. It would be ridiculous not to use and utilize that tool and rather to delegate it to them. 

[00:36:45] David: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. 

[00:36:46] Francis: I mean, there’s some noise outside, so I hope it is not bothering you, but I want to add one more thing though, is that what I believe, I strongly believe, but either still, AI will have a role in our ability [00:37:00] to frame that it sometimes AI points out in the data, something that our frame had not perceived for instance. And so by having working with AI, we can start to sometimes reframe to think differently about the same problem. It’s not the machine who tells you here’s a new frame. The machine says, oh, look at that, hey you didn’t think about that, and then you look at it and then, oh yes, maybe I need to rethink, reframe, develop a different mental models. So, I think AI is going to play a critical role, not only to prediction of things that are predictables as Viktor mentioned, but also to give us directions about how we may want to reframe our thinking. 

[00:37:38] Kenneth: We already have great examples of that. Deep minds, Alpha zero algorithm, like Alpha Go, Alpha zeros train without any human data where AlphaGo did have great human matches that are learned from great go players as well as great chess players, cause the Alpha zero, do both chess and go learn and became better players because of it. However, what they were, [00:38:00] things that they identified such as, you know, new chess strategies, for example, that don’t value the piece and don’t value the position, but value the mobility of the pieces, right? The theory of mobility versus position, we chess scholars had understood for hundreds of years, the value of position, but not of mobility. It was looking at the wins by Alpha zero that I understood it. However, Alpha zero does not actually understand the concept of mobility, it just knows how to win. Right? It’s just a large prediction table, probability table. It was the human ability to extract that representation, that if you will, that theory or a theme, that concept of mobility, give it a name, right. Which was enabled us to become better humans ourselves, having learned it from the AI. I think that sort of symbiosis is going to characterize how we interact in the future. However, it’s really important to remember who the master is, who the servant is, right? The AI was a tool to help us. 

[00:38:56] Francis: And if I even want to build on that, if you talk to [00:39:00] manager executive consultant, today the use of AI in companies is really most of the time to look for efficiency. It’s like, okay, this is messy processes. We have a lot of data, let us train an AI, its going to be much faster. And usually the decisions are really sorry, the most boring decision it’s a, you know, it sees information correct, or it sees a supplier providing error in its information. So something that you will hire an intern to do that, and so you use that be more efficient and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I really believe that in the future organizations which will be able to leverage AI to have them reframe, as we just mentioned to say, point us in some directions are going to be in the future, to me, at least the company that will really know, learn how to leverage these new technology the best way.

[00:39:49] David: Yeah. And that’s a framing itself. There’s lots of nodding. Okay, so just to kind of move us on a little bit, because this is a kind of an area that I’ve got involved a bit on the periphery[00:40:00] is this idea of cognitive laziness, and I just wonder to what extent do you think that kind of laziness or cognitive laziness is actually contributing to people’s willingness to explore frames? I don’t know. 

[00:40:11] Kenneth: On one hand cognitive laziness is good, right? We use frames in order to make representations and abstractions and generalizations, and they help us in the moment by compressing information, so we can answer questions in here and now, if not, we’d always have to run the experiment through and run the thinking through. So, there’s a great quote by Alfred North Whitehead, help me here, that civilization advances by automating more and more of man’s thinking we can find the right one, the actual quote itself and put it into the show notes because it’s a lot more eloquent by the foremost scholar of science and philosophy, but the point is that for lots of things, we don’t want to have to do a lot of mental processes. We want to basically just adapt, take a frame and then answer a question here and now, so we want [00:41:00] to impose it. Cognitive laziness should be a value that we want to adhere to, where we don’t want to be lazy is when we want to have deliberate thinking, to play with the…. To say, I have a frame, but I’m going to actually play with the constraints or I’m going to re-imagine different counterfactuals and adapt that frame for the circumstance. And only if really need be, only at the in extremist, if the frame doesn’t work, do we want to then reframe, but that should be a whole separate moment. And often these reframing is simply taking a new frame from the repertoire, but you know, again, in extremists we have to reinvent, right? We have to invent an entirely new frame, and those moments are our earthquake moments, right? CRISPER is an example of reframing genomics to be able to not just simply uncode the, you know, the DNA, but simply, but actually to edit the DNA. The classic reframing in life, which sort of helps people understand it is that heliocentric to geocentric theory of the universe in which you [00:42:00] can actually plot the planetary emotions just as well equally well, with both periods with both maps, right? However one is better because it’s a better fit for reality and therefore it allows you to do more things with it, right, but you needed to, again, it was an absolute conceptual shift from the earth being the center of the universe to being one of many planets that are in a trajectory around them. 

[00:42:24] Viktor: When we think of cognitive laziness, I think it’s also important to realize that the context in which we’re in, I mean, in the seventies, the eighties, the nineties, it was basically an efficiency driven economy. I remember in the 1980s, the Japanese were supposed to take over, because they were relentlessly pushing efficiency. You know, now 25 years later, we’re the Japanese, but precisely because in an age of efficiency, cognitive laziness is okay because you have the answers to the questions that they’re there, but if you don’t have the answers to the [00:43:00]questions, if you’re faced with new challenges, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s global warming, whether it’s social injustice, and discrimination, or whether it’s the fundamental reconfiguration of our economy, we need new answers, and these new answers require unfortunately, cognitive work rather than cognitive laziness, which is unfortunately not what we have been used to and what we have practiced over the last couple of decades. 

[00:43:26] David: Yeah. 

[00:43:26] Francis: I mean, to me, it’s not so much about cognitive laziness. In fact, people put a lot of effort to keep their frame, not change frames, to defend their frames, to reject it. It’s a lot of cognitive work, it’s like, you know, in front of all the evidence sometimes. So, it’s, you know, it’s often more misallocation of effort. You know, I’m teaching right now decision-making to my MBA students who are really smart, bright young women and men, and I just taught two days ago, this case where the question was whether or not to launch a project and their were the yes camp and the no camp, trust me [00:44:00] both sides did excellent framing. They were working on two different frames roughly, and they put a lot of effort to have their frame works, works, works. And at the end, I ask them who changed their mind and nobody changed their mind. Nobody, in fact, really try to embrace the frame of the other one, but they put a lot of effort. So, it’s more about the agility of the mind, again, it’s you can have a strong muscles and put effort and strong, strong muscles, but if you’re not flexible, you’re not going to go far. So, to me laziness is not the main point. It’s really, where do you allocate your effort? What type of cognitive skills you put in your effort. 

[00:44:35] David: You’ve just given me an idea for a paper actually around paradox of cognitive laziness. Thank you. Okay, brilliant. Just to kind of move us on looking at the time, you know, there’s so much in this book, it’s kind of impossible to cover it all in such a short period of time. And I really do recommend that people get it and read it because every section is thought provoking. So to finish off, what three practical things do you think people could [00:45:00] start to do right now to help them to become a better framer? 

[00:45:03] Kenneth: I can give you one and I’ll let the others come up with others but the one I think is mental rehearsals. It’s the one that I use the most, that I learned from, you know, writing the book with my co-authors, which is the idea of playing the situation before it happens in your mind, in a very structured and deliberate way. It’s something that a very elite soldiers do before military operation. It is something that high performance athletes do all the time, there’s very special coaches that are dedicated to it. An example is that an Olympic ski jumper will get to practice runs on that particular slope before they actually compete, but when you ask them about how their practice has gone, they say, yeah, they’ve done it 60,000 times because they put themselves into the position where the wind will be slightly different, where they’ll hit a burr on their blade as they’re going off the ramp, all of these different things and then they think about how they’re going to respond to it. So they feel very prepared when they’re [00:46:00] in the moment I find that mental rehearsals might be that one thing that I put… 

[00:46:03] David: Excellent. Thanks Kenneth. 

[00:46:04] Francis: So, what I do, which is not easy, but it has helped me a lot is when and the advice would be next time you have a big disagreement with someone at work, or among your friends or even your spouse, I don’t know, but you have a very, very big disagreement. You know, usually the tendency we have is to attribute this disagreement to the bad personality, the bad intent of the other side. And we think in terms of respect to them, but instead of doing that just for a sec, just for a time, try to embrace and uncover the mental model to the other people are using, try to identify what are causal claim they are making, which different constraints they are using and try to see the world through their eyes, and maybe you’ll see something new. I mean, what I’m saying is, it’s not that you have to change your mind, it’s not that you have to change your opinions, but at least for couple of minutes, try to embrace that perspective and see through their lenses because, if you take their sunglasses, put them on your nose and see, okay, [00:47:00] how do I see the world now? And then you can give it back, but I think these, you know, help learn different frames and also sometimes help negotiates and help find solutions. 

[00:47:08] David: In fact, it was a, sorry, Viktor, I’m just going to… there was a really interesting study that was published about 18 months ago. That was looking at how people can understand the perspective of other people. So people, for example, who from a certain culture or something and what they found was by asking them to go back and imagine that they’d been born into that culture rather than try to take on that culture’s perspective cold as it were, just what would it have been like growing up in that culture has that affect for people 

[00:47:41] Francis: Yeah. I mean, so what I want to say that these also, and we talk about that in the book that there’s a theory that said that our ability to frame the human species came up over the edge of evolution with his ability to think in terms of frames and mental model is because we started to coordinate among ourselves and to be able to [00:48:00] coordinate, you need to start to imagine how does the other person see the role or see the situation from his or her perspective? And so this is very related to what you’re saying, that as soon as all species started to do that in a way that we know chimps monkeys can do, that is, we chimpanzees cannot take the perspective of another animals, we can. And so this is very, very, very fundamental to what defines us as… 

[00:48:24] Kenneth: I was going to add that in Robert McNamara’s memoirs, Requiem, he was the head of defense department during the Vietnam war. He says that his biggest regret and the reason for America’s failure in Vietnam was primarily the lack of ability to put themselves in the mind of the Vietnam. 

[00:48:42] David: Yeah. And in fact, there’s a video, the fog of war, where he goes through a series of lessons, very powerful, very, very powerful. Yeah, excellent piece of work.

[00:48:52] David: Viktor. 

[00:48:53] Viktor: You know, so far you’ve heard practical advice and also maybe the subtle message that it takes a [00:49:00] lot of effort, which is true, it’s not costless, but I want to highlight that the end, that a lot of those that have framed really well get great satisfaction out of it. It’s a deep cognitive enjoyment, that they’re experiencing. It’s not something that is just a slog, it really is a joy at the end. A joy because we see the world differently, but also because as we see the world differently, we can shape it. We can leave the world with a little bit of a dent of our own 

[00:49:32] David: … and in a better place. And I also think that some of that joy in it, it comes out in the book is that idea of playfulness, having a play with different perspectives, different frames. Brilliant. Thank you very, very much, for your time and just for being here with us, I really appreciate it. If people want to contact you, how is the best way for them to do that 

[00:49:52] Francis: Email, Email, Email.

[00:49:53] David: Okay. We’ll put those in the show notes then. Thank you so much, Framers: Human advantage in an age of [00:50:00] technology and turmoil has been published by Penguin Random House and is available now, I highly recommend it. It’s an excellent read and really thought provoking and an important book. Thank you very much. 

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page