Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

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Sequence [frame]


Introduction to [Frames]

Organisational [Frames]

A sequence [frame] - let's call it an s-[frame] is a series of actions that come in a particular order.

Note they must be actions, not o-[frames] (organisational [frames]), unless the o-[frame] is an action. Is this possible? 

Let's say we're talking about a human being walking. This is an s-[frame] - a series of gestures. We could use the language of o-[frames] to dissect how parts of the body might be in relation to each other at each moment of t

he sequence.

However, that's not the point of the s-[frame]. An o-[frame] may very well contain an s-[frame] but an s-[frame] will only contain other, smaller s-[frames].

Examples of s-[frames]:

- your daily routine. For example, when I go to bed, I always take medications, then listen to an audiobook, and then take off my headphones, and then lie on my back, and then turn onto my right side, and then I fall asleep. To the extent that this sequence can meaningfully be identified as a consistent and coherent repeated pattern, it is an s-[frame].

- the results of physical laws. For example, what goes up, must come down, is an s-[frame].

- an algorithm is an s-[frame]. As soon as you get to an if... statement or other branching mechanism you'll need to use the language of o-[frames]. So, branching algorithms are o-[frames] containing s-[frames], with the relationship between the s-[frames] being organisational in nature. Calling a function does not necessarily require an o-[frame] to be used, but branching within that function that depends on variables that were passed to the function, does! (i.e. it's the difference between 'take X and double it, add 3, then divide by 2' which is an s-[frame] and 'take X, and double it, add 3, and if the result is over 20 divide by 2, otherwise leave it as is' - we need an o-[frame] for the latter because different algorithms are being stitched together in a particular way. However each particular instance of running the algorithm could still be expressed as an s-[frame] if you only wanted to refer to the actual sequence that occurs in that instance.

- group rituals, such as a church service, coronation, or voting.

- functional language scripts such as "hi how's it going" "great thanks and you?" - linguists report how such scripts have particular functions, e.g. establish and maintain rapport. To the extent that scripts have multiple possible pathways they'll need to be o-[frames], but particular clliche sequences are s-[frames].

Why not just call these sequences a 'process'?

There is no reason apart from our particular aim of alienating ourselves from the otherwise familiar object of study.

I am a teacher. I might use the term s-[frame] to describe my habit of lining students up outside my classroom, requesting silence, getting silence, then asking students to 'come in and sit down'. I might then recognise this is an arbitrary sequence and that it is a component of what I consider to be a 'lesson plan' that can be changed. I could instead require the students to bark like a dog. Or, I could not require them to line up at all. Once it's labelled as an s-[frame] it is in a mental container that emphasises arbitrary design decisions.

Back to Monopoly

I've defined Monopoly as an o-[frame]. Now I can describe the repeated sequences of actions that occur and are allowed to occur by the rules of the game as s-[frames] - such sequences as:

- each player has a turn.

- the player throws the dice and moves the token forward that many squares.

As soon as there is a choice of what to do next I need to package the s-[frames] in an o-[frame].

Avoiding o-[frames] by Ignoring Options

I just want to emphasise that s-[frames] can be defined with whatever level of detail that we want. This is just like o-[frames]... I don't have to drill o-[frames] down to a molecular level if I don't want to. I can keep things vague: a car has a chassis, axles, wheels, etc, organised in such and such a fashion - even though each of these components is itself an o-[frame] with subcomponents.

Similarly with s-[frames] we can keep them as broad as we want, depending on what level of analysis and insight we are aiming for.

Consider the s-[frame]: people are born, grow up, grow old, and die. Clearly each of these actions can be subdivided. We don't have to subdivide if we don't want to.

This can be used to avoid the annoyances of having to use an o-[frame] to deal with branching s-[frames].

For instance, let's say before I go to sleep I either listen to an audiobook, or I read a print book. If, in my analysis, this branching is important, I could package the two sequences into an o-[frame] - perhaps in order to gain insight into why I do the one or the other. But if this is not important I can just stick with an s-[frame].

- I brush my teeth

- normally someone feeds the cats

- I read or listen to a book

- I go to sleep

I've treated the two options as the one action with only one container. I've also modified feeding the cats with 'normally'. So I can fudge my s-[frame] as much as I want, if I have concluded that the loss of strict fidelity will not harm my overall aim.

S-[Frames] and Stories

Much story telling, and conversation is taken up by recounting series of actions. However, language very rarely stops with recounts. It doesn't take long for other frames such as e-[frames] (explanatory [frames]) to pop up. Anyway, it's interesting to at least notice how much communication is taken up transmitting information about what happened and in what order.

Organisational [frame]

See introduction to [frames].

and sequence [frames]

Here is a definition and exploration of organisational frames. 

An organisational [frame] refers simply to a set of elements that organised according to set number of relationships. Those elements can themselves be [frames], even nested organisational [frames].

All physical objects are, by this definition, organisational [frames]. Here are some physical examples:

- electrons, protons, neutrons are organisational [frames] made by organising up quarks and down quarks. Let's call these o-frames for brevity.

- atoms are o-frames, made up of electrons, protons, neutrons in particular organisations. e.g. more electrons = a different atom.

Even before we go any further, how interesting that substances we experience as very different to each other, are actually made of the same elements that are simply organised in a different way.

- molecules are o-frames, with atoms as elements, e.g. H2O is 2 hydrogen atoms with 1 oxygen atom. The two hydrogen atoms sit lop-sided on the oxygen atom, and this lop-sided organisation leads to some of water's properties such the way it curls up onto the rim of a cup. 

etc etc etc, let's go to a more relevant scale:

- a table is an o-frame. It consists of a flat surface with supporting structures that connect it to the ground and make it stable.

UH OH - problem! A table may have 4 legs, or 1 big leg that spreads out, or 3 legs, or 8 legs...

Furthermore, if you and I sat on the grass and put our picnic food and drink on a large rock we could easily call that a table! Almost anything could be called a 'table'.

Yes, and we could look at that thing, whatever it was, and identify what components went into it and how they were organised.

O-frames can contain non-physical elements, such as beliefs, expectations, and even other [frames] such as sequence [frames] or narrative [frames].

So we could dig around into the concept of a table and identify what mental or contextual circumstances allow an object to be considered a table.

What we will discover is a very broad spectrum of contexts and meanings for the word. We have found ourselves up against the subject / object split.

And that's absolutely fine. This very ambiguity, and the elasticity of concepts, is exactly what we can now wrestle with, argue about, and examine in diverse contexts.

Remember the whole point of [frames] vocabulary is to alienate ourselves from something familiar in order to gain greater insight into what makes it what it is.

A Bigger Example

Consider 'Monopoly' as an o-frame. This turns out to be easier and less elastic than a simple noun like 'table'. (Although still much more elastic than we might think at first glance). 

What elements are required to make up a game of Monopoly? How must they be organised in relation to each other? If I ran around hitting people on the head with a Monopoly board then we would not, by convention, say "Oh look, Steve is playing Monopoly."

We do need physical components.

Each of those physical components are themselves o-frames, as per our initial description.

If we want to we can drill down what physical materials the Monopoly board is made of - inks, cardboard, etc, and then what those materials are made of etc. But we don't have to - you can take as much detail as you want to with o-frames. It's functional to simply say: we need a board.

However the ink on the board does need to follow a certain pattern for it to count as a conventional Monopoly board. The ink itself is an o-frame and a very relevant one at that.

So the o-frame Monopoly also contains other o-frames such as the ink on the board, which is organised in a particular way. There is quite some elasticity here as there are many versions of Monopoly with different titles and graphics etc. I suppose we could even get rid of some squares and add others - and still call it Monopoly. However I don't want to be too distracted by exciting insights about elasticity right here...

...because we still have the other elements - the tokens representing the players, the dice, the cards, the cash, and so on - physical components

...and the rules

...and mental concepts such as currency, clockwise direction, gaol

...and the players themselves

...and what else?

What else goes into Monopoly? And how does it need to be organised within the system? For instance, the tokens go around the side of the board, the chance cards don't. These elements are organised in particular relationships. 

Therefore, Monopoly is an o-[frame], even though it contains other o-[frames].

Monopoly is an artificial creation. There wasn't always Monopoly. Then there was. And something about Monopoly has hit a sweet spot over the last century. It is much more popular than many other board games, and better known.


What is it about the [frames] that go into the Monopoly o-[frame] and what is it about the way those [frames] are organised in relation to each other, that made it so popular?

How could you change the [frames] or re-organise them? What would the result be?

The concept of an o-[frame] therefore opens up pathways for innovation and re-imagining, since it prompts us to identify the elements and relationships in the thing we are considering.

[Frames] - Introduction

See also:

I've developed a vocabulary around what I call [frames]  as an exercise in considering an object, thought, experience, system, etc as an arbitrary, constructed thing that can be reconstructed in a new way. It is a way of provoking an alienated state, where you can see the otherwise familiar in a new light, which opens up possibilities for reinventing.

[Frames] may remind you of memes, and they may overlap in some situations.

The square brackets are part of the whole conceit, forcing a slight mental provocation

A [frame]  is simply a component of... anything you wish to consider. 

At the time of writing I have 4 types of [frames] in mind. They very deliberately transcend boundaries of physical / mental, objective reality and subjective reality.

These 4 types are:

Organisational [frame]

Sequence [frame]

Narrative [frame]

Explanatory [frame]

In other posts I will define each of these.

I will also give some examples of how to use them.


Contrast to the familiar, and home. There is not necessarily a correlation with low energy states and high energy states. I can be in a familiar, homely situation and still experience flow. I'm in my element. I know my stuff. All my energy is going into manipulation of known quantities, and the application of mastered skills.

The alienation process may feel the opposite: frustration, disconnection, bewilderment, disorientation.

The problem with the familiar, and therefore the need to alienate, is that it relies on filters and unquestioned assumptions. There is little room for unknowledge, except for a habitual, throw-away scanning of the environment or field, just in case. This sort of casual scanning is unlikely to identify faultlines or contradictions, because our narratives and ideologies have already rationalised these away in the first place. We wouldn't have been able to attain a state of familiarity and mastery without the paradigm being inherently consistent and compelling.

Alienation is more than the odd rhetorical question, or occasional doubt. 

Alienation is cognitive dissonance in extremis - yes, to the point of death. It is death because our constructions of our very selves are part of the framework that is being put to the side. All reliable notions, even bedrock assumptions, are more than vulnerable, they are ignored..

However, I am not describing a modern scientific spiral whereby cherished dogmas and dominate theories are continually questioned, opposed, tested, in a marketplace of paradigms, as a mechanism to improve our explanatory powers, Popper-style. I am not opposing that spiral, but personally I have a broader framework for alienation.

I could call it narrative-switching. It is the habit of shifting between paradigms, fusing with each one, then defusing, and so on. On a situational basis this involves recounting conversations or critical incidents from different perspectives, sometimes deliberately distorting the narrative but then searching keenly for evidence to support the distortion. One finds it is possible to make a convincing argument for whole range of perspectives.

The heart of this sort of process is something that seems to me profoundly good, and spiritual: I put myself in the other's shoes. You can cue the discourse of 'otherness' right now - press play, and just match it up with my language of alienation. It's like looking in a mirror, reacting strongly to an image that shows what we've suppressed in ourselves, then seeing past that to an alternative and legitimate home.

I am not saying all homes are equally functional or healthy, only that they are equally understandable - by very definition, because someone else arrived there and saw it fit to live there. 

I've steered toward the personal so far, but I originally had in mind the broader sweeps of debate and opinion. In the education sphere, identify the discourses on: gamification, bring your own device, standardised testing, teacher performance pay, etc. 

Each of these discourses is a tangle of insanity, containing a veritable repertoire of anchor points, each containing suppressed self-contradictions, hidden complexities, over-emphases, and even outright denials. No wonder debates arise: there is so much ammunition on both sides. Watching the QANDA program on the ABC in Australia, or The Drum, or frankly the media in general, I can feel a complicated evolving ideas-landscape. 

Ironically, the discipline of alienation is not a clearcut path to wisdom or achievement. Many wonderful achievements in history have come from leaders who show no doubt whatsoever in their convictions and paradigm. They waste no energy undermining their own positions. 

In retrospect some of these individuals are dramatically exonerated and celebrated. Others are universally damned for the large-scale damage they have caused.

There is nothing so dangerous as an idea whose time has come. Nothing so powerful, nothing so dangerous.

Releasing a new idea is like releasing a beast, or bringing rabbits to Australia.

Well, I don't want to have my fingers on a trigger of such a large gun. So I shall continue the practice of alienation. I will continue to develop a repertoire of lenses, paradigms, narratives, coherent explanations, and practise switching between them, especially when under duress or stressed. I accept the high cost to productivity that this entails. My doubt is an investment in future growth. 

This sort of process is well understood via the brain-as-muscle metaphor. Thinking processes are like dance moves or piano or guitar riffs: the more we practise, the easier it becomes. The language I've adopted for the process is:

- fusion... where I am in the system

- defusion... where I position my centre of self in a system-less space

- mindfulness... I can now observe all aspects of my experience: thoughts, emotions, sensations

It is a very interesting 'I' that does the observing. What a surprise to me, after 30 years, to come across a centre of self that had been operating invisibly for so long.

It is a one-trick pony. The only thing it can do is observe.

As I type this in 2012, the pace of ideas-exchange is only intensifying. I am a node in a super-network that is itself the strata for something moving faster than all of us. I mythologise the network traffic like an ancient Greek god: the NOISE, I call it. The NOISE. 

Like that Guinness guy, I like to watch. Observe the NOISE as if it were a cake, then slice it 10 different ways - 10 different messy ways.

This sounds to my ears a seductive process, but I use the word alienation because it also comes at a cost.


Our minds are built for it. We perceive it everywhere. We use it to orientate ourselves.

There is much celebration of narrative, especially in the post-modern post-analytic world. It is the undoing of the industrialisation of the mind.

The mind-as-a-factory has neat compartments, and well-ordered abstractions connected in systems. This is the stuff of academic study. We divide disciplines into carefully-defined key-terms and fight rigorously to improve them, and to describe relations. We try to do in sociology, psychology, or economics what we can do in mathematics or physics. This is alienating and impersonal.

Hence the new attention to narrative. There is talk in school of packaging analytic content in narrative containers. I love his idea, that I first heard from Jason Ohler.

However narrative is also a heady drug. It is expedient, lazy, magical. It is short-hand, pure short-hand.

For instance we reduce the world to heroes and villains. To have neither is just too complicated. So easy, it then becomes, to ascribe corrupt motives to those who hurt us, or who strongly disagree with us, or have undermined us, or made us look silly, or oppose our noble aims.

Or the notion of progress, that starts at the beginning and ends with 'happily ever after', which of course never comes. The endless sub-stories built around day to day goals or the sweeping arcs of long term ambitions.

Heaven forbid that progress be a construction.

We can hardly live without narrative. Yet, it is made up of fictions, self-deceits and convenient distortions.

Well may we tell each other stories. I crave them as much as anyone.

Well may we tell ourselves stories. Narrate our lives to ourselves.

It's the way we are! It's also insanity.


<under construction>

UPDATE Sept 24 - check out this article about unpublished medical study data. This is a significant issue more generally for Science: the tendency for 'failed' studies to remain unpublished. The unknowledge concept would remedy this.


I was introduced to this concept via the book 'The Black Swan' by Nicholas Taleb.

The insight for me is that lack of knowledge can have a shape, and that shape becomes useful information. So, in a way, unknowledge is knowledge.

An example of unknowledge is the books I haven't read yet, or perhaps even heard of. A subset of these unknown books is the books that I will end up reading.

I know from the past that I am quite regularly introduced to a game-changing idea from a book I read. I mean an idea that I then take on board as salient. It changes the way I view life, or relationships. or something important, forever. 

It stands to reason then, that there are books that I have not read yet, but I will, and they will change the way I perceive the world, or my inner world, or whatever it is, in a profound and lasting way.

It also stands to reason that there are books that I have not read yet, nor will ever read, that would change me if I read them. I will never know what those books are, obviously.

These unknowledge-sets - books that would change me, books that I will read that will change me, books that I will never read that would change me, have a shape. By pondering them my experience with books I have read is cast into relief. I can relate to previously-won insights with a new perspective. 

Other unknowledge sets that intrigue me:

  • people I will never meet
  • people I have met who would have truly blessed me if I had bothered listening to them
  • wisdom I have heard but wasn't paying attention to
  • items that people have robbed from me but I didn't notice
  • the date of my death
  • what I could achieve if I tried harder, been more disciplined, loving, etc
  • the disasters or dark places I could have already ended up in had I not been so determined, loving, etc
  • people I have hurt but they never told me
  • people who currently resent me but I am none the wiser to it.
  • people whose thoughts I am influencing
  • people who I genuinely helped via a kind word or some nice gesture, although they never told me

I typed these rapidly over 2 minutes. I could find 100s. I can know some of the containers, even if I don't know whether they contain anything, or what they contain. I can know varying degrees of information about unknowledge-sets.

Simply identifying the containers, I find wonderfully instructive.


It seems like we all move from trance to trance. Each one a different trance, and the trance shifting.

When I am at work or on the computer, or watching TV or driving my car, my attention is caught up with a whole series of importants. This is only possible by ignoring a whole series of unimportants

The trance affects what information or stimulus can get through to me, and once it has navigated through, what I make of it.

So I have a wonderful sense of other people's blind spots, but can I communicate it through to them? And how aware am I of my own blind spots.

Sometimes I am exposed to an idea and reject it immediately, out of hand. Months later I embrace it, claiming it as my own.

I am surrounded by heroes and villains, victories and disasters, fears and hopes, run froms and run tos.

I am obsessed with next week but ignore next month. Or, obsess about next month but ignore the present. Or, am stuck in the past, oblivious to what's happening in front of my eyes. 

The guy in the other car did that deliberately. Hope the lights don't change. Looks like my dog. Change the radio station. 

I love running mental experiments to try to bend my way out of the trance. It never really works, but at least it makes me more aware of the nature of the trance. Focus on the very, very small. Focus on the very, very large. Think in terms of eons, and then envision the eons that go into every second. Notice the trances of others - they have a texture.

We're all zombies. Different zombies at different times.

Imagine if, one day, I were to wake up, like fresh rain on the face, and look around with fresh eyes, beyond all filtering and organising principles and agenda and pattern-matching and prediction and diagnosis and language. What would I see? And how profound would my zombie trance then appear to me.

It would be like considering a pet cat. My cat functions very successfully on cat-terms. He makes sense of the world around him. He moves from here to there, from impulse to impulse, in moments of excitement and lethargy. Mostly lethargy. He is definitely conscious.

And so am I, hungry for food, eating food, keen to be esteemed, winning esteem, hoping to be loved, delighted to be loved. 

Who are those people I pass on the street? The other zombies? How can their lives possibly be so rich on such very different terms to my own. Those strangers may not even know anyone I know. Our lives brush for mere awkward seconds in an elevator. They are so thoroughly asleep - utterly oblivious to what is so clearly important: I have an exam this afternoon, and my toe is sore.