Breaking the Frame: Nothing is Too Bold to Be Unacceptable Now

For some reason, this phrase keeps popping into my head lately: Breaking the frame.

What I mean by this is that something — possibly a building or a show or an approach to marketing — escapes the container in which it’s normally held. For example, when Hotmail first launched (in 1995, I think it was), it was a frame-breaker. It was email, but on the web. It doesn’t sound all that impressive, but at the time, it was. It spread like that plague in Stephen King’s The Stand, circling the world tens of millions of times in just a few weeks, ripping apart people’s understanding of what email was.

A building like this certainly breaks the frame of what you expect a building to do and to be. An architect named Daniel Libeskind designed it, and you might very well hate it, but you’re not likely to forget it.

I love it when we manage to break the frame in our business. This event was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever seen or am likely to see. It was a show called Alma, and it came to Los Angeles years ago. It was about Alma Mahler, who married Gustav Mahler and Walter Gropius, and it was set in the spectacular but neglected Los Angeles Theatre. You didn’t just sit in the audience of this majestic theater and watch the show happen on a stage. You wandered wherever you wanted to, and throughout the venue you’d catch bits and pieces of the story happening in real time.

At one point, a character said to me, “Come on the bus tour! Follow me!” We actually went outside, where a yellow school bus was waiting. We boarded, and a tour guide told us we were going on a tour of the imagination. We closed our eyes and were told to imagine a specific scene. The tour guide counted down from five, and when he reached one, the bus engine started. The bus pulled out of the alley, and we were driving around Los Angeles.

After a few blocks, the bus came to a sudden stop. We were told to get off the bus and run inside. A whole group of us ran through a dirty alley amidst the sound of an air raid siren. And then we realized we were actually running into the back of the theater.

Why do I tell this story?

To point out that we’re in a worldwide time of frame-breaking. Almost nothing is too bold to be unacceptable now. Very few of the old norms will withstand the next few years in business, entertainment and in many other areas of our lives. This is not necessarily a bad or a good thing, but it’s real. That little voice in your head telling you that things are changing rapidly is the one you need to be listening to.


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