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February 17, 2006

Lenses that anchor us

flag100.jpgLike many other South Africans, I am very passionate about our national flag, and it irritates me when I see it displayed incorrectly ie. the red part should always be on top when flown horizontally.

flag100v.jpgAnd using the flagpole as a reference point (anchor?), the red part should be on the right when flown vertically.

Wrong. This misplacement of the flag arose when I noticed the SA Tourism logo and welcome icon a while back, and it bugged me that someone who should know better got the flag placement wrong. I mean, how could they!

So I phoned them, and spoke to a nice guy there called Mabeka, and he assured me that the logo was definitely correct. Hmmm. Let me check my facts again. Visiting the SA Govt info site, the guidelines indeed call for the red to be on the left hand side, when vertical. But that made no sense to me, and wanted to know WHY. I emailed the relevant department, and got this impressively speedy reply:

Dear Simon...The logic is as follows:

The Flag is alike a written document. When you read a document you start from top to bottom, from left to right. According to our Flag, Red is at the top and blue at the bottom. So when the flag is displayed vertically, red should be the first one to be reread, hence it is displayed on the left hand side.

I hope this explanation will be satisfactory.

Themba Mabaso
Director: Bureau of Heraldry

Ah! Ok, now it makes sense. But for me, the real lesson was when our thinking is attached to a certain way of making sense of things, we can very easily regard something as incorrect if it doesn't fit the lens we're applying. This isn't news, mental models and frames of reference are continuously being challenged.

The flag issue though was particularly interesting for me in that I literally had a thinking anchor (the flag pole perspective) that precluded me from seeing the placement in any other way ie. through a document lens.

Most of challenge of creative thinking is being aware of the lenses we're applying to a situation, and to introduce different lenses to view a situation. I wrote about this in the context of movie making some time ago here and here.

Posted by sdehaast at February 17, 2006 02:24 PM Posted to food for thought


Cool - we have a Bureau of Heraldry! I've *love* to work for them! (especially if you're a Terry Pratchett fan...)

I also thought the vertical flag was supposed to be displayed with the red on the right (facing it) but guess not. However, that does NOT excuse South Africans in Australia displaying the flag upside down at the cricket. *sigh* They can't even use the "down-under" excuse.

Posted by: Roger Saner at February 21, 2006 04:03 PM

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