There are two fundamentally different ways that you can frame reality, or the world. The world is either a place of things or it is a forum for action. The first framing, that the world is a place of things, I call the Science Lens. The second framing, that the world is a forum for action, I call the Story Lens.
The Science Lens describes the physical world. It is obsessively objective. Its fundamental elements are atoms and space and everything builds from there.* Right now my fingers are hitting keys which are making letters appear on a screen. The light from the screen is striking the rods and cones of my retina where it is converted to an electric signal that is relayed to the brain via the optic nerve. Blah, blah, blah. Sam Harris would be the spokesperson for the Science Lens movement, if such a thing were to exist.
The Story Lens, by contrast — or by complement — doesn’t describe the physical world. It describes the world of being. The Story Lens is subjective. Its fundamental components are desires and actions. Or, more technically, states and operators. These are the atoms and space of the Story Lens. Everything builds from them. Whereas the Science Lens concerns itself with nouns, the Story Lens rightly sees that the action is in the verbs.
Below is what I label The Story Projection to frame the fundamental components of the Story Lens. At its essence, a story is about transformation. A person — or people, or place(s), or thing(s) — begins in an initial state. There is always something undesirable about one’s present state. We’re always aiming up. It is this dissatisfaction that motivates the agent (perhaps the hero of the story) to pursue transformation. Stated differently, the unmet desire can be thought of as the problem that needs to be solved. The future, goal state, is the target. It is the solution state. The ideal that the story is aiming for. A series of operators (behaviors, or actions, in the case of people) are what cause this transformation. As they say in Hollywood: Lights… Camera… errr… Operator!
The terms initial state, operator, and goal state are technical and abstract. This gives them the advantage of being universally applicable, but makes them scream out for further explanation and concrete examples. So I’ll follow with handful of these.
Expressed grammatically, we start out with a Noun. We then execute a series of Verbs. The end result is a Transformed Noun:
Let’s apply this to Harry Potter. At the beginning, he is famous despite the fact that he hasn’t done anything. He lives under a staircase with muggles. But following a sequence of transformative magical adventures, he becomes the acclaimed wizard he was destined to be:
Harry Potter represents a more general story structure, codified at least as early as Ancient Greece. More recently popularized by Joseph Campbell:
The Hero’s Journey is about rising from a fallen state to a higher state, like the proverbial phoenix that rises from the ashes. This journey can span everything from a moment, to a day, to a lifetime, to a generation, and so forth.
A child who becomes an adult. A technician who develops expertise and receives accreditation. A martial artist who reaches the next belt. A professor who achieves tenure. These are all manifestations of the same meta-journey or passage.
Finally, since I’m posting this on LinkedIn, I’d be remiss to exclude business examples. Generally stated, all business goal-setting and implementation is about acting out stories:
In Silicon Valley, OKRs are all the rage. The Objective is the Goal State and the Key Results are the metrics that reflect successful execution, or sequences of actions/operators:
The Story Projection is a very powerful complement to the OKR process. It provides a visualization that intuitively displays causality. Further, as I’ll explore in my next piece, the power of the frame really comes to life when it is chunked up or down to higher or lower levels of analysis. It shows the broader and narrower contexts to which the story in question belongs. For something like an OKR, it connects organizational goals up, down, and across hierarchies to demonstrate alignment of vision (or lack thereof…)
That’s it for now. See you in a week or so.
* For example, you might start with quarks, build up to atoms, then molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, families, communities, cities, states, countries, planets, solar systems, universes, multiverses.