Frameworks and Lenses

We recently had a discussion at Columbia’s Information and Knowledge Strategy program about consolidating, or at least coordinating, the various analytic frameworks that many of the faculty use in their work and teaching.

The consensus seemed to revolve around the idea that there is an optimal number of frameworks — that while too few leaves you with gaps in your perceptions, too many leaves you confused about which is “better”.

What is a framework?

A framework is a perceptual filter through which we see the world — in this case, the world of organizational behavior.  It’s a narrative overlay that integrates and orders disparate and dynamic elements of reality.  At best, it makes tangible that which is inherently intangible (“organizations” and “knowledge”, for example.)

A framework is like a lens that enables us to see what would otherwise be invisible.  Without such a lens, the world is a fuzzy undifferentiated mass — it’s nearly impossible to see clearly what is going on.  With a good framework, it’s possible to discern patterns — “shapes,” if you will — to diagnose what is awry, and even to predict what is likely to happen under certain conditions.

What about that lens analogy?

As a serious amateur photographer, I know the value of lenses.  When you’re starting with photography, you concern yourself most with the features of cameras themselves — how many megapixels does it display, does it have GPS and WiFi, and so on.

After you log substantial hours behind the glass, you realize that what really matters is the lenses.  A beginner will buy a lens almost as an afterthought.  An expert will notice subtle differences among similar lenses, and may even be able to tell which lens — but probably not which camera —  captured which image.  (In case you didn’t know, serious photogs don’t snap photos, they “capture images.”)

Canon 50mm lensAs you develop as a photographer, you often find that your needs and tastes change — even for what in some respects are interchangeable lenses.  A 50mm lens, for example, is a popular lens — it “sees” similarly to the human eye, and is so prevalent that it’s called a “normal” lens. It serves a range of needs, and is usually among the lenses you acquire first.  Most manufacturers make them, and some make several flavors.  Canon (my favorite vendor) currently makes four different 50mm lenses, each of which has its own characteristics and capabilities — and prices ranging from $125 to more than $1500.  As with so many things, you get what you pay for (at least to some extent.)

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