THE MAGAZINE

You Can Frame Security’s Image

By Sherry Harowitz
The picture Going to Prayers by famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz shows two women seemingly headed to a church across a field. Another version, titled Scurrying Home, reveals that the women’s true destination, just beyond the church, was cropped out of the other photo. In framing the first scene as he did, Stieglitz controlled the message.
 
That framing was literal, but issues can be framed conceptually to great effect as well.
 
Duke University Professor Dan Ariely has been studying how doctors might use framing to get patients to follow directions. The same patients who fail to take pills according to their doctor’s orders will adhere to a schedule for their herbal supplements, say physicians. That raises the question, “What gets people to want to be compliant?” notes Ariely in a Harvard Review Ideacast.
 
The question has obvious implications for security professionals.
 
In the case of the medications, the professor hypothesizes that people perceive the herbals as natural and less likely to have harmful side-effects. Many medicines are no less natural, however. “It’s just a question of framing,” by communicating to patients that their medication is derived from plants, for example, Ariely says.
 
In the book Nudge, coauthors Professor Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein discuss how “the specific framing of the problem can have a powerful effect” with regard to getting people to comply with, say, tax laws.
 
One option is to frame the desired behavior in terms of what others are doing. In a test in Minnesota, people were divided into four groups, and each group received different information about paying their taxes. One group was told of the good services their tax dollars fund; another was offered help with forms; another was reminded of the legal ramifications of cheating. The last group was simply told that 90 percent of Minnesotans do not cheat on taxes, and that yielded the greatest compliance level among the test groups.
 
Thus, it’s not the carrot or the stick but the urge to conform that may determine whether rules are followed. Security professionals who find a way to frame compliance messages with that in mind may get better buy-in.
 
Compliance can also be boosted simply by asking people how they would act in a given situation. For example, asking people if they will vote makes them more likely to do so. Thus, a survey that asks staff if they would call security when someone tried to enter behind them without an access card could reduce tailgating.
 
Politicians know the power of framing a concept negatively to kill it—such as calling the estate tax a death tax. Security departments might benefit from positively framing new security measures before imposing them.
 
Simply put, in addition to thinking about return on investment, security professionals should think about return on perception: the value of framing security as a help, not a hindrance to the bottom line or yet another annoyance that adds friction to the daily grind.


♦ To see the two Alfred Stieglitz pictures Scurrying Home and Going to Prayers for yourself, follow these links to the George Eastman House Collection. (Though the pictures are both tagged Scurrying Home in the links at the George Eastman House, the title "Going to Prayers" for the cropped version is noted in Guide to Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keefe Archive.)

 

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