Framing = To Lure into Deception

In this Thinkibility Boost we will explore the relation between thinking and framing.

In visual arts and particularly cinematography, framing is the presentation of the visual element in an image, especially the placement of the subject in relation to other objects.

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Framing can make an image more aesthetically pleasing and keep the viewer’s focus on the framed object(s).

Something similar happens with mass communication. In essence, framing theory suggests that how something is presented to the audience (called “the frame”) influences the choices people make about how to process that information. The basis of framing theory is that the media focuses attention on certain events and then places them within a field of meaning.  Framing involves social construction of a social phenomenon – by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other actors and organizations.

Framing is in many ways tied very closely to Agenda Setting theory. Both focus on how media draws the public’s eye to specific topics – in this way they set the agenda. But Framing takes this a step further in the way in which the news is presented creates a frame for that information.

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Political Framing

This is usually a conscious choice by journalists – in this case, a frame refers to the way media as gatekeepers organize and present the ideas, events, and topics they cover.

Most of the time framing is a technique used by politicians or their advisers to favor a wished representation of the facts, usually when things went wrong.

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Political Spinning

This is called spinning. The main objective is to lure the public into  believing propaganda. A standard approach used in “spinning” is to reframe, reposition, or otherwise modify the perception of an issue or event, to reduce any negative impact it might have on public opinion.

Spinning might be discovered by misleading or false

  • Metaphors: To give an idea or program a new meaning by comparing it to something else. See for an analysis of political metaphor here.
  • Stories (myths and legends): To frame a subject by an anecdote in a vivid and memorable way. For an introductory text, see story telling in politics.
  • Traditions (rites, rituals and ceremonies): To pattern and define an organization at regular time increments to confirm and reproduce organizational values.
  • Slogans, jargon and catchphrases: To frame a subject in a memorable and familiar fashion. Here a list of political sloganscatch phrases, buzzwords and jargon.
  • Artifacts: To illuminate corporate values through physical vestiges (sometimes in a way language cannot). Look here for 25 Amazing Political Artifacts From the New-York Historical Society
  • Contrasts: To describe a subject in terms of what it is not. For an introduction read Contrast in Presentations Creates Contour

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Cold Cases –

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What could we learn from solved cold cases? What has caused that the case is solved after years of investigations without results? What were the reasons that a solution was waiting for discovery, but never did? Solved cold cases are illustrative for how we think wrongly.

In September 1961, 25-year-old Lucy Johnson, mother of one, was at her home in Surrey, British Colombia. She was not seen the next day. Or the next. Or for the next 52 years.
For one reason or another, Lucy was not reported missing until four years later. Obviously, this raised questions, and suspicion fell on her husband Marvin. Police even dug up the husband’s backyard in search of a body, but they found nothing. Decades passed, Marvin died, and there seemed no hope of solving the case.

 

According to Wikipedia, a cold case is a crime or an accident that has not yet been fully solved and is not the subject of a recent criminal investigation, but for which new information could emerge from new witness testimony, re-examined archives, new or retained material evidence, as well as fresh activities of the suspect.

However, it is not always new and fresh information that helps to solve the case, but new perceptions. Even new information tends to be interpreted in old perceptions. Information is not perception.

Lucy’s daughter Linda, a small child at the time of her mother’s vanishing posted ads in newspapers and other media outlets in search of clues. Then in 2013, she received a phone call. The woman on the other end of the line claimed to be Linda’s stepsister, whom she’d never known existed. The woman said their mother Lucy was alive and well, living with a whole new family in the Yukon.

 

Sometimes a viable suspect has been overlooked or simply ignored due to then-flimsy circumstantial evidence, the presence of a likelier suspect (who is later proven to be innocent), or a tendency of investigators to zoom in on someone else to the exclusion of other possibilities (which goes back to the likelier suspect angle)—known as “tunnel vision”

However unbelievable the claim sounded, Linda followed up it. Sure enough, her mother was not the victim of foul play as suspected. She’d simply fled to another life. Marvin had abused her, claimed Lucy, and when she’d tried to leave with her daughter, he’d stopped her. So she just took off on her own.

 

In our view, solved cold cases are excellent vehicles to study thinking methods, as what students and scientists are supposed to do at the  Thinkibility University. At its East Wing they are excellent in Reverse Engineering of Thinking Strategies we wrote earlier about.

When Linda visited the caller to check whether the woman in question was indeed her Laura, she recognized her mother immediately.

 

The people working there are not trained as criminal investigators but will use systematic and deliberate creative thinking techniques. Not only to improve forensic investigations but improving thinking methods in general. For scientific research as well for daily practical thinking.

As you might notice in the following mind map, little attention is given to the role of perception in this example of a  Crime Scene Investigator Job Description:

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The following books could be good starting points to be studied by the East Wing:

Solving cold cases happen when limiting thoughts and behaviors are challenged.

But how to challenge “limiting thoughts and behaviours”?

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Design New Concepts – Thinkibility Boost

There are several ways to design a new concept deliberately. But what is a new concept? Not many people have a quick answer to this question, other than “differently than expected”, “something else as normal”, “not seen before” or just “interesting”.

One of the easiest ways to design a new concept is to escape from an existing concept. For that, we need a concise description of the existing concept, otherwise we will be lost in all the details containing in the concept.

In an earlier blog post we gave some handles to describe a concept:

  1. Give it an appealing name;
  2. What is the function of the concept: aim, goal, objective? What should be achieved?
  3. Wat is the mechanism or working principle? How does it work? How is the function carried out?
  4. What are the values of the concept: advantages, positives, the importance, worth, or usefulness, merits, beneficial? Why does the concept deserve to exist? For who else?

For instance:

  1. Football match
  2. The function of a football match is to exercise sports
  3. The working principle is that there are two teams that try to get the football into each others goals, according to rules.
  4. It is valued as entertainment, physical exercise, social exchange

Escape for instance the mechanism: instead of two there are three teams and three goals.

3 sided football

You can imagine that three-sided football will be a real game-changer, literally. As the BBC mentioned: a game of alliance and betrayal. The whole dynamic of the game is dramatically changed.

Once a new concept has”opened up” in your mind, we might “see” the world in a disruptive way, through the new concept and take analogies from it.

For instance: the conflict in Syria is basically a three-side game. That might open up new strategies and policies for military planning and diplomacy. Or prevent from blundering into military and diplomatic disasters by interpreting wrongly a three actors situation as a classical two actors cold war situation.

Or we can apply the same concept escape to another two-sided  game, f.i. three player chess

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We could also escape from the aspect of values, by excluding, adding, or changing values.

Escape from values: add spectacle to the game.

Ideas:  change the game from 2D into 3D, using acrobats.

Actually, the concept change is from 2 D to 3D. This new concept can then be applied to other 2D games and opens new possibilities, like 3D chess

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The same we could apply to escaping from function (goal, aim or objective of the concept). F.i. the function of a pension is that people who can’t work any longer are provided with a minimum of money to survive.

We could change the function: let’s suppose that the aim of “pension” is to keep the retiree as long as healthy. Now we can come up with mechanism that could realise this new function. For instance that the retiree does not receive a fix amount of money per year during the rest of his life time, but a linear increasing one. This would stimulate the retiree to stay active during the first years of his pension, by doing some paid work  during some hours in the week.

Many new business models are the result of changing one or more aspects of the concept description. See for example  how these fast-growing, innovative companies are redefining money lending, e-commerce, and more,

We invite you to describe how their innovative  business models differ from classic business models in terms of function, mechanism and value.

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Key Performance (mis) Indicators

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Key Performance Indicators are meant to keep an organisation on track. By measuring the performance over time, you are able to look at deviations and to take measures. As Wikipedia defines it: A  key performance indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement. An organization may use KPIs to evaluate its success, or to evaluate the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged. Sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward strategic goals, but often success is simply the repeated, periodic achievement of some level of operational goal (e.g. zero defects, 10/10 customer satisfaction, etc.).

The concept behind Key Performance Indicators is to build a feedback loop between input and output. Its working principle does not differ from a thermostat, which senses the temperature of a system so that the system’s temperature is maintained near a desired set-point.

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In order to get not market driven organisations more efficient the adage “The numbers tell the tale”has become fashion among governments, institutions and not-for-profit companies. There are several metrics or key performance indicators.

However, Key Performance Indicators can also lead to perverse incentives and unintended consequences as a result of employees working to the specific measurements at the expense of the actual quality or value of their work. In the social sciencesunintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. Perverse incentives are a type of unintended consequence. A perverse incentive is an incentive that has an unintended and undesirable result which is contrary to the interests of the incentive makers.

There are a lot of examples of bad designed Key Performance Indicators. We came across, but not exhaustive:

  • Police officers get a predetermined quota of fines to give out. The unintended effect of this KPI that the police organisation will be focused on easy to obtain files, f.i. traffic fines instead of fighting serious crime;
  • An organisation involved in handling objections has a KPI for the amount of rejected complaints. Imagine how employees will approach complaints. . .
  • It is generally accepted that the progress of students is evaluated by tests. However, student tests assess only a small part of needed knowledge, skills and attitude of students. Also, often the purpose of the test, timely warning of learning difficulties and study delays, dilutes to “a (missed) ticket to the next hurdle”;
  • An agency of child protection is responsible for placing abused or emotional neglected children in foster parents and child care institutions. It is very logic to design a KPI: like the number of placed children. If this performance is coupled to the financing of the agency, it can easily lead  to placing children out of their home, against sound indications that there is no need for or against parents objections;
  • It is complete reasonable to expect higher efficiency and experience of surgeons as a hospital performs at least 30 knee surgery or angioplasty a year. However, such a KPI can lead to more instead of less knee surgery and angioplasty, an example of a perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (an intended solution makes a problem worse);
  •  The selling of mortgages as an end in itself, even to people who could no pay the interest, led to the bank crisis in 2008. Another example of a negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy to motivate sellers to do better their best.
  • To increase the efficiency of university studies universities are judged on the number of successful students per year. It is now tempting to reduce the requirements for passing exams.
  • In order to increase the efficiency of General Practitioners many assurance companies allow for not more than ten minutes consults by patients. This KPI leads to far more referrals to medical specialists because GP’s have not much time to carefully investigate the medical complaints. This is an example of a counterproductive KPI: it is more of an “obstacle” than a help in the achieving of a productive project or an objective;
  • Crews of warships run annual series of nautical and operational exercises. Through a complex multi-factor analysis, a KPI is derived: Operational Employ-ability. Members of Parliaments asked questions when the KPI decreased to 10%, as a warship was actually deployed in a crisis;
  • Notorious are budgets: the setting of expenditure levels for each of an organization’s functions. It expresses strategic plans of business units, organizations, activities or events in measurable terms. However, such budget tends to be exhausted at the end of the year, because organizational units realise that they will be shortened in budget for next year, because last year they needed not the full budget. So, as an example, in many towns you can observe that every five to ten years the same streets and squares are completely overhauled without any need but in order to use the full budget.

Many Key Performance Indicators have unintended effects. They function as rules for behavior. Key performance Indicators are designed to notice need for adjustments of the course of an organisation. However, more often than not, they are invitations to cheat, by employees but equally by companies and institutions,  especially when financial consequences are attached to the KPI.

Whenever designing or encountering a Key Performance Indication, be warned!

 

unintended consequences

For more examples of perverse incentives, see here. For examples of unintended consequences see here.

To built up your Thinkibility skills, imagine your are the director of a hospice. You have set a thinking task: how to improve the occupancy (KPI) of the hospice. Then check your answers with How Dying Became A Multibillion-Dollar Industry.

 

 

Creative Data Collection

Data collection is the process of gathering and  measuring variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables you to answer stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The goal for all data collection is to capture quality evidence that then translates to rich data analysis and allows the building of a convincing and credible answers to questions that have been posed.

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However, many research and policy are based on already available information that do  not necessarily fit to the issue or question. For instance, the average income of residents in a district is estimated at the average market value of homes. Suppose there are some big villas in a district. However,  the houses are rented to migrant workers who sleep with twelve persons in a room. Actually, the district has poor inhabitants and impoverishment is lurking. A better measure of prosperity in a district could be the amount of call shops, Travelex foreign exchange bureaus or percentage windows with bed sheets as curtains or without curtains at all. 

Perhaps we could use data of the local supermarkets to assess the risk of impoverish of a district, not only by sales volume, but also the kind of products consumers buy. Income groups differ in the food they buy. Supermarkets may have more or less variety in products they offer, regarding the population.

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This could lead to a Reverse Open Data movement, where businesses make their data available for town halls to design social and economic policies. Open Data is a movement that  open data should enable third parties to leverage the potential of government data through the development of applications and services that address public and private demands. This information exchange could be made two-sided.

Perhaps we could measure the level of civilization of a nation by registering the percentage of cars that don’t stop for a pedestrian at a pedestrian crossing (a zebra crossing).

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Another example is the Big Mac Index, a creative alternative to determine exchange rates, the rate at which one currency will be exchanged for another. It is based on the concept that a Big Mac is highly standardized all over the world. The difference in selling price in country A compared with the selling price of a Big Mac in country B gives a better idea of the value of the two currencies relative to each other.

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Maybe we can say something about the tendency to conformity by counting people who wear clothes of a specific brand. Or determine the percentage women that is involved in street sweeping.

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It’s hard to get solid data on drug usage, because it’s traditionally gathered via questionnaires. Respondents can fudge the answers or forget details. Drug users also sometimes don’t know what they are really taking or whether other drugs are mixed in. However, the laboratory analysis of waste water has the potential to get more accurate results more quickly, as a recent study showed that cities’ sewer water exposes use of cocaine, cannabis, meth and ecstasy.

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It is interesting to roam in a town and create some mini theories that explain what is observed, compared with another town. For instance:

  • There are substantially more gulls and open torn garbage bags ;
  • Advertising is everywhere and very blatant;
  • There is a lot of green space and many squares;
  • All doors and window frames are painted in the same color;
  • There are many pizzerias.

What does it mean? Or what does it explain? Can you quantify the phenomena and turn them into meaningful data?

 

Thinking Patterns in Science

Some time ago Robert Sheldrake  suggested ten dogmas of modern science. In a TEDx presentation he argued that science,  by using a rigorous method, has become a belief system that has become the default in the scientific community and this system is based on reductionism and  mechanical philosophy. This idea caused an uproar in the scientific community and – ironically – also the watchers of the YouTube channel “Ideas Worth Spreading”.

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As followers of Thinkibility already know, the more controversal a topic is, the more interesting. Sheldrake had apparently broken a pattern of thinking or challenged a common pattern and this was followed, as it always does,  by anger and attack. Below are the ten assumptions Sheldrake suggested in his talk.

  1. Nature acts like a machine, relations between phenomena are mechanical
  2. Nature does not have consciousness
  3. The laws of nature do not change
  4. The total mass and energy is constant
  5. Nature does not have a purpose
  6. Inherited biological properties are material
  7. Memories are stored inside the brain
  8. The mind is inside the brain
  9. Thinking do not have physical effects
  10. Only mechanistic drugs work

You may or may not agree these assumptions, but that is not the point to be taken here, in our point of view. We belief that putting these assumption in a True either/or Untrue box is a  premature approach. Of course, we could use these assumptions as preliminary hypotheses to work with, yet it is wise to acknowledge your assumptions and not regarding them as dogmas. Instead of that we could better, or even must, regard them as possibilities and triggers to question: “What if?”.

Also, as Kant argued, it is not sufficient that hypothesis are positive confirmed by experiments. Kant recommended that we should  indicate under which conditions a hypothesis would be wrong. A hypothesis is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false. Could we?

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Challenging the dominant thinking patterns in science could led to a paradigm shift as Thomas Kuhn described in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A paradigm shift is a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to the idea of normal or generally accepted science.

Beside our considerations above, it would be an excellent exercise in Thinkibility to think up a compelling science fiction story by challenging the standard beliefs of science.

What if ?

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We have written about standard patterns and possible escapes from them in the following blogposts:

World’s Most Interesting Reversals (1) – Thinkibility Boost

In a Reversal the usual supposed cause-effect relation between objects or subjects are turned upside down. For example, it is supposed that the establishment of a permanent observation post increases the safety of recreational sailing. A Reversal could set up that the establishment of a permanent observational post rightly effective decreases the safety of sailors. The Reversal set up could lead to the idea that permanent observation gives sailors a misplaced feeling of safety, and also that observation can only timely detect sailors in difficulties, but doesn’t prevent accidents, nor solve them if happened.

  • Reversals are applied to create opportunities to escape from patterns.
  • Carefully designed Reversals are excellent thinking strategies in attempting alternative explanations for phenomenon in medical science, sociology and psychology.

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One uncommon, unique and different arrow goes in the opposite direction of the rest of the group, symbolizing unusual nature, being a rebel or innovating with creative thinking.

As a somewhat weird hobby we collected some Reversals. Some will be known to you, some will astonish or even upset you. Many “collectors items” we gratefully derived from This Explains Everything -155 thinkers about the most elegant insights all time.

  • The idea that team building can be stimulated by organizing a party with a lot of talk, fun, good food and drinks is totally wrong

Team spirit will evoke by successfully attaining goals in “weathering tests”. That teams after their trials exuberantly would party is wrongly interpreted as a condition for team spirit. Team  members will  become supportive only after overcoming an obstacle.

  • We have a certain impression that important decisions in one’s life are taken consciously.

However, biologic research shows that important decisions are taken unconsciously, but that nevertheless our brains invent acceptable explanations regarding the token decisions (Terrence J. Sejnowski). Also, people don’t behave in a way because they are so-and-so, but make conclusions about what they are by observing their own behavior (Timothy D. Wilson). Traditionally, psychological problems come from the inner part of the clients. However, self-perception theory perspective suggests that people derive their inner feelings or abilities from their external behaviors. We don’t do who we are, but we are what we do.

  • In what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “lucretan underestimation” current risk assesment methodologies are based on the worst event ever happened (the worst recession, the cruelest war, the worst unemployment rates), not on what could happen.

He argues that nature looks forward by anticipating to what perhaps would happen, by reserving extra capacity and building up strength. Redundancy is therefore not a defensive approach. See also the three earlier blog post about building robustness in systems here.

  • Placebo’s – sugar pills with no effective medical working – are thought to have no influence on the body at all.

Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect. Eric J. Topol suggests to use “placebo medication” as a therapy.

Two people are often less effective than one single person. The merely presence of some other beings prevent a single person are often than not to take adequate action in a situation.

Another examples of the inadequacy of “More Is Better” : “More ideas are better”. Actually, many inferior ideas will not even one really innovative idea. “More hands are better”: Many organisations try to solve problems by adding more resources (time, budget, workers, overseers), while fundamental redesign of the work processes could solve the problem. Often problems are solved by reducing the people involved.”Bigger is Better” or “Economies of Scale“: Many mergers, intended to improve efficiency and to reduce running costs, actually become counter productive.

  • Normally it is assumed that romantic harmony between couples is the standard with the aim of copulating is the joint reproduction of offspring.

Huge conflicts between spouses are regarded as signs of dysfunction. However, David Buss posits a radical reformulation in a theory about sexual conflict: Sexual conflict or sexual antagonism occurs when the two sexes have conflicting optimal fitness strategies concerning reproduction, particularly over the mode and frequency of mating, potentially leading to an evolutionary arms race between males and females.

  • “Dirt is not dirt, but only matter in the wrong place.” is another example of an Reversal which ensures that we will continue to question conventions.
  • Some models of human behavior in the social sciences and many economics models assume that people are on average rational, and can in large enough quantities be approximated to act according to their preferences.

The concept of bounded rationality by Herbert Simon reverses this assumption to account for the fact that perfectly rational decisions are often not feasible in practice because of the finite computational resources available for making them. Humans are not rational actors but satisficing: the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision.

  • The idea that “there is a someone in my head” or ” some part of my head is responsible for …” is debated by David Eagleman.

In “Incognito. The Secret Lives of the Brain” he suggests that the brain contains divers and overlapping ways to handle the world. There are a lot of “someones” in our head, a representative democracy that functions due to competition between the brain parts of which we are not conscious at all. As such, the brain is subject to neural conflicts.

  • Throughout centuries,  it has been assumed that a perceived object doesn’t change under influence of an observer.

However, quantum physics, psychology and sociology has shown that this is not true. To expand this concept it is suggested that biology is the science about behavior of biologists, physics the science about behavior of physicists. This is a Reversal of empiricism, a theory of knowledge which states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. Another Reversal of empiricism is the statement that perception without a theory is not possible. Theories like ideas, hypothesis, perspectives, perceptions, assumptions, etc. do have an important and fundamental role to acquire and enhance knowledge. Any observation takes place against the background of a theory, consciously or not. So called “Evidence-based Policy” is then more it’s Reversal: “Policy based Evidence”.

  • Most software applications are designed to assist us with thinking tasks.

But in reverse, in the “Computional Brain” computer models constrained by neurobiological data can help reveal how – networks of neurons subserve perception and behavior – how their physical interactions can yield global results in perception and behavior, and how their physical properties are used to code information and compute solutions.

A last Reversion, to reflect on: To get a good idea the standard approach is to search for better ideas. A reversed approach is to get rid of a bad idea. Doing so helps to suppress simple, obvious but not effective attempts whereby a better solution can arise.

figure_ground_reversal_by_mystiedo-d5yo2zzIn a following blog post we will continue with some World’s Most Interesting Reversals. In the meantime, you are invited to subscribe to our blog.