How Framestretching adds clarity


This morning on Twitter @Bedtimemath posted the image above with the caption that read: “A natural distribution spotted in the wild! The wear on a weight machine reveals where people place its pin.

Though we experience life using multiple senses-sound, taste, touch,scent and sight, how much do we actually use to understand our place and actions?  Consider this two dimensional picture, the visual more than likely drives the meaning we make. Did the words add any more meaning to what you understood in looking at the picture?

Last Friday, the strategy discussion I lead monthly talked about visual thinking and I realized how readily my business training reduces most if not all of the perceptions available through my five senses down to only one or two.

At work, we use words or numbers and rarely put both together as well as this tweet and accompanying image.  This visual asks you to interpret the worn out paint or coating and recognize a normal distribution , which is a statistical explanation that adds another dimension to our understanding.

Could you plot a graph with the information you obnormal-sampleserve?  How about wear vs. weight?  That’s only two dimensions, with weight values on the x or horizontal access, and wear shown on the Y or vertical access.  It might look like the two dimensional graph on the right.

Does this representation tell you anything more than  the original image? I assigned numeric values to the different amount of chipped coating. Do you connect the current location of the weight on the machine as  170 across and  estimate as I did 20 up?

Both image and graph show, but don’t tell as much as we assume.

Where’s the context? Do you know the amount of time it took for the paint to chip or relative distance between observations, or usage of the machine itself?  We know nothing about the users of the machine, or its location and yet we do don’t we? The rust itself takes time to form and we can infer that more users choose at least 50 pounds, and the most users 90 pounds.

More than meets the eye

Next time you view a two dimensional graph–ask yourself what’s missing?  Try to voice and articulate the context that you’ve assumed. Yes even if you do it alone, as hearing your thoughts activates different processing.  When you do it in the company of others you will be surprised at the differences in your understanding.

I happened to see that DataScope analytics, a Chicago Based Data science firm had posted a request under data science on Reddit.  They asked “What data skills do you wish non-data people you worked with (e.g. managers, PMs, marketing, HR, etc.) have?  The responses on Reddit were quite fascinating.

Personally, I couldn’t help but notice how the replies typified the  constant challenge and struggle that any information or data presents to everyone.  What does the data mean, what is it’s significance?

The same themes arose in the conversation among business people exploring the challenges of visualizing data, in which we quicly recognized that few people see the appearance of data and instinctively look to explore it, versus others whose interest in data are for the sole purposes of confirming what they know.

The questions and process with which anyone approaches data obviously informs how it gets used and thus represented too.  Too often we use only one or two dimensions as suggested by the graph of the interpretation of the photograph.  I created the variable wear based on my interpretation of frequency approximated by the degree of chipped paint.

In contrast, the two dimensions suggest more than they reveal about how the world works.  Economists, for example, plot  supply and demand curves that look like a large X.  Supply being the first line that descends vertically, and demand the second line that Ascends.  The vertical access is Price and the horizontal access quantity.

What else is  assumed in this representation?  Geography? Time?  what about probability and or frequency?  Accuracy or specific observations as in the photograph are not the point of the representation.  It’s merely to create a general understanding of the relationship between price and quantity from two different perspectives.

The economists are exploring  and not predicting behavior, they are merely seeking ot make sense of the world not necessarily profit from it.

Further explorations that southt to clarify the assumptions led to the evolution of the  behavioral economists and  their additional perspective enahances general  understanding  of people’s beyond the one dimensional buyer or seller role and expanded the representation.  The inclusion of additional dimensions of probability also introduce additional complexity in exchange for greater understanding.

My own training as an analyst has led me to begin with exploration, and interrogate rather than merely to extend or convert  the representations. There’s always ore than meets the eye when it comes to understanding what we see.




The right message, or influence

Joe Fig, Jackson Pollock (2008) Copyright of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery.

“There is an alchemy of delivering the right message to the right person”, Maurice Levy (CEO of Publicis) suggested in his recent Bloomberg interview about Business Innovation.


Contrast Jackson Pollack’s Alchemy to anything you discover online. As the image above shows, Pollack’s aggressive style and posture shown above matches the work, and if like me, you had a visceral reaction to seeing it in person was that the message he had in mind? By contrast, the image shown online loses that quality, not because the photographic rendering was less than precise but because the online medium transformed our perceptions, placing it at a distance.

In person, our clothes reflect our personal style as often as the default expression on our face.  Think attitude and what if anything you do that distinguishes you when people meet you.  Is it a small gesture that you actively put forward, or the less overt  passive way you carry yourself that make people forget and fail to remember your name?

When you want to impress others, how much do you know about the person you wish to impress and does it affect your preparations? Similarly, does the setting dictate and direct the choice of clothes, accessories, hygiene etc?  The same questions, by the way,  apply to your representation online.

Professionally, it’s difficult to not have some online presence. A client, and well schooled friend whose PhD in sociology remains unaffiliated with an organization. He created an informal editing business for himself. He charges small sums to people who seek him out by reputation and word of mouth. In other words, his only clients are referrals from people with whom he worked before. Nothing wrong with organic growth, but he asked for my help to figure out how to scale what he did. His low level visibility online left me dumbfounded.

That’s what prompted this post.

I realize my strategy for online presence has not been well thought out too. I always considered PR to be a specialty and not something I needed to do for my business. Like my friend, I thought being me, would be enough, which is pure silliness or ego.

My investigations turned up plenty of marketing strategies that made my head spin. AT the end of the day, I wanted to understand how reputation gets built and grows, which happens to be the purview of marketing but not theirs exclusively. m

Actions have always been the singular make or break of a reputation.   If you don’t do as people expect, then that’s how you will be known–unpredictable, unreliable, or maybe unexpected.  I enjoy being unexpected, that’s what my efforts in framestretching has always been about.

The challenge, comes back to what Maurice Levy says, not every person seeks the unexpected. When you are hungry, or thirsty a great idea or a leaky water bottle that unexpectedly strands you is far from welcome.


If there’s any trick to effectively communicating, it’s about understanding your audience, and establishing an even representation of yourself. Naturally, people learn to expect that things or people don’t change, what we see is what we believe is all there is, even if that representation appears unconventional. Professional demeanor proves recognizable when our profession dictates our actions consistently, even if the profession may be less conventional.

The trick isn’t in how to be consistent, it’s in choosing what defines you. Once defined, committing to its use over time will slowly affect how others perceive you.  The actions you take are not embodied in words, or the design of your logo–though they definitely impress many of us on some level.

John Maeda, former Dean of Rhode Island School of Design, spends his time understanding differences between commerce, design and art, as well as the perceptions that make us differentiate so many things.

In his work, he has helped people recognize that regardless of the content, perceptions often cloud the meaning of what we see, dictate how we will feel and decide what we sense.

John Osborne, an artist did a take on Maeda by reshaping the written words in his book into a tree, and at the same time expressed making his own meaning and then reshaping it.  Word of mouth is in fact the internal translation of what we know and then share with others about people. It’s how story became a conventional mode of transmission.

As a little girl told me over the holidays, she recalled the questions I had asked her about Goldilocks a year earlier. The questions had made her stretch her frame of reference and think about possibilities that really stuck, which was my point and purpose. Her Dad, just grinned, after all he knows my reputation as a framestretcher and it thrilled him to see his 8-year-old thinking critically, considering the parts .

So what representation do you want others to share, what stories can you help them tell better?

my big Data Donut

Two days in a row I managed to catch very different talks about big data, but came away with one big duh and several new insights.  In short, my prior training and experience using analytics to drive strategic decision-making placed me comfortably up the curve.  In return for my limited investment of time and attention, I gained a few new ideas, collected some cogent descriptors to share with clients and reawakened  elements in my strategic thinking process.

Big DATA , just a conjunction 

We all know Big because we know small. Everything classifies as one, when we decide it’s not the other. Big is also a euphemism for many.  Statistically, the bigger the sample, the greater it’s  significance. Bigness insures enough cases to draw general conclusions about a population.  Most of the time we don’t care about the population but we do care that a sample represents the population we care about.  An “Everyman” should be average and appear at the top of the bell curve, or normal distribution, right? Will being average, change the odds of being big or small? hold that thought.

We recognize data when we see it too. In excel, Big spreadsheets contain many rows and or many columns of stuff that we call data.

Changes in technology bring more data, we record and keep records of events that previously were not possible to record. More data gets created when instruments simplify its recording over ever smaller intervals.  For example, satellite data records and transmits continuously atmospheric particle movements,  Nike’s Fuel metrics measured by its band can provide streaming location data of people’s changing heart rate.

Put the Big together with Data along with the ease of access and you find yourself understanding Big Data coincident with the cultural shift  Big Data’s wider access produces.

If you build it they will come

In Big Data’s case, technology shifts made lots of data more accessible which increased people’s application in their decision-making.  At this hour, I can hear the helicopters hovering over the major highway junctions nearby to monitor traffic and issue the reports broadcast over radio and TV.  Everyone wants to avoid sitting in traffic, and their consumption of this information and decisions of when and which route they drive naturally impacts the pattern.  The widespread availability of GPS and map services rely on alternative information sources to generate traffic congestion maps , and influence consumer travel decisions as well.  Don’t you rely on one or more of these information sources? Why? few of us know the details behind the projection.  Instead,  we feel better with more information available, after all,  traffic information helps us avoid the inevitable–the likelihood of being stuck and delayed in rush hour.

Bottom line, consumption makes Big Data valuable. Its availability  raises questions, but we often skip the critical ones.  We ponder its use, before questioning its reliability as in what do I do with it? How can and should it impact my decisions?  


Humans’ daily actions rely on the process of cause and effect.  I turn on the faucet to make water come out.  I say “please,” you say “thank you.”  How many miles must I run to burn off the Fat calories I consumed eating a donut for breakfast?   Hmm, can I measure my fat burn rate? If I work for the donut producer, I may focus on the sales effects that result from posting this information.

These sets of  reactionary questions miss the opportunity set that Subway anticipated and took to the bank.  I don’t know the story behind Subway’s marketing strategy , haven’t looked into the chain’s profitability, but they clearly seized advantage of a trend fueling both  awareness and their revenue. They twisted the cause effect to create a successful Cause marketing campaign.

Worry about Bad not Big Data

In the second talk, Casey Winters, the head of digital marketing for a growing web-based start-up called Grub Hub spoke about the poor decisions being made using vanity metrics.  Traffic isn’t a new metric for retailers or commuters.  In business, Cost per Acquisition, Lifetime Value and Conversion rates represent a few key performance metrics that when properly calculated, effectively drive strategic investment decisions.

The challenge today isn’t their availability as much as their reliability.  More sources  of information reflect the ease with which some data can be measured.  For example, Google Analytics offers the basic traffic stats freely to any website who embeds their code.  Advertising agencies spent a decade redefining themselves to be digitally capable, and help their clients use these new tools to distribute their marketing dollars to physical and virtual locations.  The result, more data and Data Scientists emerging as guides through the complexity associated with Big Data.

STOP making Data into donuts

More data spread around doesn’t make anyone smarter, especially when not all available measurements of existing data prove trustworthy. Standards help a lot, but they may not  sufficiently help separate the noise from the signal. Don’t just use the data that’s available but be sure you understand its creation.  Take the case of the glazed donut comparisons shown above between Krispy Kreme’s Famous calculated calories to Dunkin’s Glazed donut figures.  The fact that they appear together in one chart doesn’t mean their calculations used the same computation process.  The information on its face lead to one conclusion, which may or may not support your own experience of these donuts.  Haven’t you already  put that experience to use and attributed  the observed differences’ cause to something other than the method of calculation?   In short, you used cause and effect favoring intuition over critical thinking.

When it comes to talking about strategy,  we often forget to ask the questions before we pull the data.  ROI may justify one investment choice over another and then again it may merely be used to confirm the value of your investment decisions after the fact.  Data should move you from insight to reality.  Remember a dot in one dimension is a line in another, the value of the era of big data increases our opportunity to capture more dimensions.  The challenge is using data to gain more perspective and beware of our biases.