Why Only Change Frames?

Part 3 of 3 in the series Changing The Frame

Today I want to answer a question that, honestly, almost no one ever asks.

Why are we changing frames, instead of getting rid of them altogether?

Talking about change in the geek trades is a joy for me, but I’m even more interested in seeing change out in the world. Please think outside the monitor.

Black Lives Matter.

Why are we only changing frames, and not breaking them, destroying them, ridding ourselves of them?

First, lemme answer the question. Then, lemme tell you why I’m answering a question nobody asked.

We cannot eliminate frame-based action because basing our behavior more strongly on frames than on conscious thinking is a biological fact, not a personality style, and not a choice.

Take a look around you. The planet is swarming with life, a vast variety of living things. Though it’s a delicious debate to ponder on exactly which ones of those living things do or don’t have cognition, it’s rather clear, not very many of them have anything we’d call that without a lot of stretching of the idea.

(Venus flytraps have short-term memory and can count to five. Wild crows recognize human friends and enemies. Elephants — actual, not metaphorical — know mirrors are showing them what they look like. Many cephalopods push our boundary on thinking, as do dolphins and whales. I’ll fight anyone who says my dogs Wally & Molly aren’t thinking. It’s a great drinking topic, that discussion.)

But for all that, thinking is actually rare in nature.

Most of a human body, and most of that body’s behavior, developed evolutionarily long before our cognitive ability did. It is not based in thinking because thinking is a relatively new invention in our plasm line.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, even if we designed humans, instead of them having developed through evolution, we might choose not to over-emphasize thinking in our design.

Because thinking is expensive.

Human thinking is a huge capital investment to begin with, and a huge operational investment thereafter.

Most of our behavior is not based in our cognition for the straightforward reason that most of it can be, is, accomplished without our cognition.

We can no more eliminate frame-based behavior than we can eliminate breathing or urinating or bipedalism.

An example: Imagine trying to cross a busy street to get to the bar, but you’re only allowed to act when you have reasoned, from first principles, about every action you take.

I know a guy, we’ll call him "GeePaw", who routinely thinks himself right into paralysis.

In nature, occasionally, paralysis is a viable course of action. But it’s not common.

Frames let us act without thinking, and that is very often a highly desirable thing.

So there’s your answer: this is why we don’t speak of destroying frames, only jiggling them, rattling them, re-basing them, shifting them, shaking them, and changing them.

Moving on, though, why did I do that? Why did I answer a question that hardly anyone ever asks?


Did you ever want a team to do something different, and no matter how strong your case, how good your data, how sound your logic, how wonderful the experience of that change has been for you and others, they still just won’t do it?

And did you say, "these people just don’t think"?

Did you say, "these people are stupid"?

Did you even say "these idiots actually like how bad it is right now?"

If you did? Well.

1) Join the club.
2) That’s probably your frame shaping your behavior.

If I’m to help you by changing your behavior to be more frame-cognizant, to move more frame-fully when you midwife change, well there it is:

I’m going to have to jiggle, rattle, re-base, shift, shake, and change the frame that’s driving your behavior.

(Sorry it goes meta- so quick. It may be turtles all the way down, but if the subject is change, it’s also metas- all the way up. 🙂 )

And now you’ve heard my answer to the question you prolly didn’t ask, and you’ve heard why I answered it anyway.

To circle all the way back to Maslow:

If all you have is a thinkng-tool, all you will experience is thinking-problems and thinking-solutions.

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