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An Interview with the Inventor of Frameworks

Eddie “Redeye” McFadden is one of the unsung heroes of the HBS community. McFadden joined the staff of HBS in 1972 as a leaf-blower, which in those days was a manual process. In 1973, McFadden received his first promotion-to strategy professor-and over the ensuing 30 years, he has continued to climb the HBS ladder: from strategy professor to mailroom attendant to chili chef. In 1983, McFadden joined the history books by inventing the “framework,” and since 1985, he has served HBS as the Dean of Frameworks.

Dean Kim Clark says of McFadden, “It is difficult to overstate the contribution of Redeye McFadden to the HBS community. Redeye is personally responsible for over 80% of the frameworks still in use at HBS. His great gift has put a lasting mark on this institution.”

Carl Kester adds, “New faculty members don’t even remember what it’s like to create a framework on their own. That’s how long Redeye has been at it.”

That Guy recently caught up with McFadden in his on-campus corner office, directly above Michael Porter. On his desk were five open thesauri and a cryptic Venn diagram that he would not discuss. Our discussion is transcribed below.

TG: Redeye, tell us about your “eureka” moment-the invention of the framework.

RM: It’s an interesting story. In 1983, I overheard a conversation between two LEAD professors. They were discussing a new model for “organizational alignment.” It had a bunch of parts: structure, strategy, systems, values, skills, style, and staff. They were complaining that no one could remember it.

So I butted in and said, “Not ‘values.’ ‘SHARED values.’ Change it to ‘shared values’ and you can call it the Seven S’s!” They were blown away.

TG: Wow! And if memory serves, that was when the framework was invented.

RM: Not just the framework, That Guy. The framework is only a tool. The importance of the discovery was what came with it: rational thought. Before frameworks, it was impossible to think through issues systematically.

TG: It really makes you appreciate how much easier we have it today than our grandparents did.

RM: Let’s not be over-dramatic, That Guy. Our forefathers could still THINK. They just couldn’t think LOGICALLY. And, by the way, don’t think the battle is over. There are still parts of the world that are tragically short of frameworks. There are entire regions filled with people who can’t make sense of themselves or the world around them. It’s heartbreaking. That’s why in 1998 I started the Frameworks Without Borders organization.

TG: Fascinating, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back: You invented the Seven S’s and it caught on. After that, how did frameworking go from a hobby to a career?

RM: Well, after the Seven S’s, things happened quickly. Other faculty members started approaching me for help with their work. In early 1984, I got my big break. A marketing professor came to me with an idea for a framework called C3PO, after the gold robot in Star Wars. The fundamental concepts were: Cost, Promotion, Place, Product, and Other. I immediately saw a problem.

TG: Yes.

RM: The obvious problem is that “cost” is too vague. Is it the production cost or the cost to the consumer? But I couldn’t think of a fix. I was stumped. I tried working with R2D2, OB1, RED5, but nothing fit. I thought my career was over.

Sometimes serendipity is the best weapon for a frameworker. Six months later, I had a dream involving Loni Anderson and a UPC scanner. And that’s when it hit me! “Cost” became “Price,” and the 4 Ps were born. My reputation was made with that one. In fact, by 1985, there was only one person left on campus doing frameworks besides me.

TG: The infamous Whitey Monroe.

RM: Exactly. He had risen to fame with the POCD framework, which people seemed to like. Personally, I never thought much of it. No pizzazz, you know? Well, anyway, in 1985, Whitey was developing a framework for executive compensation. There was a lot of buzz about it.

Everyone thought it was going to be his big break. Didn’t quite work out that way, though. The parts to the framework were: stock, cash, underlings, memberships, benefits, annuities, gifts.

TG: Ouch.

RM: It went to press and the rest was history. Whitey was fired and I took over exclusively in 1985.

TG: How do you go about the process of making frameworks? Is it something that comes naturally to you?

RM: No, not at all, I believe anyone can do it. In fact, I’ve created a framework for making frameworks. It’s called the Finger. That stands for Focus, Identify, Name, Group, Evaluate, Revise. I’ve also simplified the Finger into a 2×2 matrix. I give people the Finger all the time, because it helps them answer two key questions: (1) Does my framework fit in a 2×2 matrix? (2) Do the concepts in my framework all start with the same letter of the alphabet? Depending on the answer to those questions, the Finger tells you how to proceed.

TG: Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. So, Redeye, what are you working on these days?

RM: Funny you should ask. I’m actually working on an interesting consulting project. I’ve been asked to come up with a framework for human intimacy. Coitus is still quite a confusing process for many people.

TG: A framework for intimacy! Redeye McFadden, you are a delight! How is it progressing?

RM: Well, I’ve already got three concepts: feeling, understanding, communicating. But I feel like it’s incomplete. Something’s nagging at me. I think I’m on the brink of something big.

TG: Redeye McFadden, if anyone can complete a complicated and valuable framework, it’s you, sir. One final question: How did you get the nickname “Redeye?” Is it from all the late nights spent working through frameworks?

RM: No, I was born without tear ducts.

TG: Redeye, thanks for sharing your experience with our readers.

RM: Thank you, That.

[Editor’s Note: As Always, this is a piece of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or dean are purely coincidental

October 27, 2003
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