The Art of Frameworks

The Art of Frameworks

Recently I attended a lecture on ‘Photography: Awakening the philosopher within’ by renowned photographer Pierre Poulain. It attracted an audien

ce from two walks of life. Those who love photography, and those who have a thing for philosophy. The counter-intuitiveness of finding a link between philosophy and photography piqued my interest.  It also helped that I am attending sessions on personal explorations at the New Acropolis.

Pierre wonderfully elucidated the link between philosophy and photography as the ability to hold focus and shut off noise. And more importantly, differentiating between the prime and the noise. It was a wonderful lecture, replete with examples and real life incidents.
What struck me through the lecture (plus the sessions on explorations) is this seeming disconnect between someone who studies a subject and someone who practices the subject. As a practitioner, I often find it hard to get my arms around a thought or a theme. I look for some type of framework to organize all the random thoughts that swirl around, seemingly interconnected.
 The academic world on the other hand is constantly trying to create structure and feed practitioner wisdom into those frameworks. They start off with a hypothesis and obtain data to either validate or invalidate their hypothesis. In  the business world, consulting organizations come up with frameworks to approach things in some set order.
And it works! Frameworks make people comfortable. Be it Mckinsey’s 7S for enterprise strategies or the Business Model Canvas promoted by the lean culture. Suddenly there is order to the chaos. There is a starting point. In a sense even P&L statements and Asset Liability sheets are also accounting frameworks.
Interestingly, frameworks have existed since the dawn of civilization. As I go through the teachings of the ancients, I realized how the wise from each of these civilizations have created frameworks as a way to promote their teachings. Plato founded the four ideals as Good, Beauty, Justice and the Truth. Confucius founded order in society and established the basis of hierarchy. Hinduism propounded the concept of Gunas. Sattva, brings in harmony, Rajas is the quality of passion and energy. Tamas is the quality of chaos or dull energy.
But in practice, these models do not always work as per script. It’s almost impossible to categorize things into solid compartments. There is always some form of overlap. In the Business Model canvas for example, we can have situations where the customer and the key resources end up being the same. In the case of networking channels, the value of the network increases as more and more people sign-up. Interestingly, these same people are the customers as well.
Cars keep losing value on the balance sheet as they age. But if they hit the ‘classic car’ category, their value suddenly appreciates. What was once a liability; a commodity with depreciating value suddenly becomes an asset that picks value over time.
Frameworks exist only to help. One must not lose the larger purpose within the framework. Pierre was posed a question from the audience about all the technical advances in photography and camera. How does one get control over these while not losing sight of the ‘art’ component of photography?  Pierre’s response was straight and disarming. He said, “you must learn the technique, and afterwards forget it’. He meant, internalize the technique, but not let it come in the way of the soul of photography. In other words, let the frameworks not control you.
Kids are taught to follow the tala (rhythms) when they sing. In fact all students of music have to demonstrate their talas  with their hands as they sing. I have observed the great Carnatic singer MS Subbalakshmi give recitals. She never did that. She didn’t need to. She was always in rhythm.  She had internalized the rules of music so well that she was in absolute control. And so, whenever she held court, we never heard rule sets, just pure art.
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