Recipes versus frameworks

P ã e s * B r e a d s
Bill was a truck driver for thirty-seven years. He enjoyed his job, but he was grateful when he retired and suddenly had the time to do all the things he’d meant to get done but never had the time for.

Thus we find Bill at the bookshop, looking for books on making bread.

He found two possibilities. Each of them has its own path.

15 Easy Bread Recipes

“Excellent,” says Bill. “I want bread, I want it to be easy.”

He bought the book, took it home, and immediately started baking. He followed the colour instructions assiduously and within a few hours he’d created a loaf of excellent bread.

The bread was delicious. Bill was elated.

Bill, always a diligent soul, tried the recipes one by one until he settled on his four favourites. He confidently expected to keep baking one of the four every day.

For a month things went deliciously well.

Then one day the plumbing – always unreliable – delivered hot water instead of lukewarm when Bill was measuring, and he said, “Ah, what’ll it matter? I’m off to play soccer with the grandkids, I can’t be arsed playing around with the hot taps all day.” So he used hot water, and was perplexed and angry when the bread was a flat-out disaster (literally).

Then a few weeks later the bread didn’t rise as much as usual, and Bill had no idea why. He rechecked his ingredients, threw out the yeast and bought more, but it kept happening. He muttered around in the kitchen until his wife Claire got alarmed.

Also, he wished there had been a reciple for cheese loaf in the book. And he and Claire loved sourbread dinner rolls, but he didn’t know how to make them.

There are three possible endings to this path.

  1. Bill puts up with the myriad small problems and lack of cheese bread recipes. It’s never perfectly right, but he makes do.
  2. Bill gets frustrated and stops baking.
  3. Bill goes back to the bookshop and buys the other book he’d been considering.

How To Make Bread

“Excellent,” says Bill. “I love knowing how things work, and I want to make bread.”

He bought the book, took it home, and sat down to read for the rest of the day. He wrote some notes and told Claire about yeast. The next day, he used the four basic ingredients to make a standard loaf.

The bread was delicious. Bill was elated.

Bill, always a diligent soul, experimented each day with adding new ingredients, altering the proportions, tweaking the temperature and the time. Soon he had ten amazing recipes and he confidently expected to keep baking one of them every day.

Then one day the plumbing – always unreliable – delivered hot water instead of lukewarm when Bill was measuring, and he said, “Ah dammit. The grandkids are coming over to play soccer, but I have to fiddle with these fucking hot taps in order to get the water lukewarm so it won’t kill the yeast. Stupid plumbing.” But at least the loaf was as good as it always was.

Then a few weeks later the bread didn’t rise as much as usual, and Bill was perplexed for five minutes. He checked the expiration date on the yeast and the flour, wrinkled his brows… and then he realised there had been a cold snap that morning. He put the dough on the windowsill for an extra half hour and when he came back it had risen perfectly.

A few weeks later he started the Great Cheese Bread Experiment. It took thirty-two attempts and the realisation that you can grill the top of the loaf so the cheese melts perfectly to get it quite right, but it was definitely worth it. Then the Great Sourdough Dinner Roll Experiment began.

Bill became known as Baker Bill. Claire joked it was because he was crusty but warm.

The moral of the story

You can teach recipes, or you can teach frameworks.


Recipes are step-by-step instructions: first do this, then do that. (Blueprints, step-by-step guides, how-to courses, plans – these are all recipes.)

On the upside, they are great at delivering a quick win. You don’t deliberate, you just get it done.

On the downside, recipes are very inflexible and don’t tend to grow with your skills.

Recipes are often used for a while then abandoned as the downsides overwhelm the upsides.


Frameworks teach the principles underneath a process: you’ll need one of these, and it must do this in some manner. (Guidelines, How This Works, strategic resources – mostly, although some are just higher-level recipes – and metaphor-driven explorations are all frameworks.)

On the upside, they provide the foundations for mastery. You understand the process, so you can adapt and troubleshoot and improve.

On the downside, frameworks often take longer to deliver external results and require more commitment.

Frameworks endure. Once you know the foundations, your understanding grows more complex over time. You may end up with a much more nuanced framework.

This isn’t about beginner versus advanced.

In this online space, there’s a tendency to create recipes for the beginners. The beginners use the recipes, develop a bit of confidence and skill, then move on to the frameworks when the recipes become constrictive.

But that doesn’t need to be how it goes.

You can teach a step-by-step course on how to meditate (a recipe) or teach the conditions for successful meditation (a framework). Same result, but the second is much more flexible and applicable: if I have lower back problems and can’t get comfortable in lotus position, I can’t follow the recipe. But the framework tells me that I need to sit comfortably with my back lengthened, so I’ll grab some cushions and find a way.

My point: you can teach anything as a recipe or as a framework. CPR is a very complicated set of medical interventions delivered as a recipe. Lego is a framework, which is why it endures far longer than most other toys.

Recipes are so much more common.

Especially in the aspirational market.

It’s easy to sell a “Ten Steps To Exciting Outcome”. Possibly it’s easier than “Learn How You Can Achieve Exciting Outcome”.

So why do I sell frameworks instead of recipes?

Because frameworks are transformational, and I am all about transformation. People can buy DIY Magnificence and use it on their first day of a new business, three years in, or a HUNDRED and three years in, and it will be of service to them. That makes me feel fantastic.

Oh, and because frameworks don’t change much. If you create recipe resources you have to expect they’ll need regular updating – I give it three weeks before there’s a “Google+ Blueprint”, and I am writing this while Google+ is still in beta. Will it last? If it doesn’t that recipe becomes useless. (But a framework on how to create great connections is never going out of style.)

You get to choose.

You get to choose whether to create information resources as a framework or as a recipe.

You get to choose whether you BUY information resources as a framework or as a recipe.

And that is a glorious opportunity for us all.

Which do you make? Which do you use? Is there another combatant in the “recipes versus frameworks” battle I haven’t included? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Renata Diem

23 thoughts on “Recipes versus frameworks

  1. My sister and I were *just* talking about this principle yesterday. When my grandmother started teaching me to cook when I was eight, she taught me the framework. As a result, I am a fantastic cook who can make anything out of nothing, recipe or no recipe. Thanks for writing this up. You’ve help me clarify the far-reaching implications of this principle.

    1. What a lovely co-incidence!

      My grandmother was a wonderful cook, but she only shared recipes. Thus, I freak out when I cannot follow the directions precisely, because I have NO IDEA whether substituting self-raising for plain flour will destroy my brownies.

  2. I spend a lot of thought on these distinctions, too.  I like the mysticism involved in frameworks vs. the practical, topside of the coin – but I struggle sometimes to…be able to *describe* the process then since it tends not to exist until the person or circumstance being explored is in front of me…

    my articulation of ‘frameworks’ has been to ‘cultivate an instinct for who you are and extend that into a wisdom for how you are in the world.’   it doesn’t generalize well as far as sharing information goes…the guiding has a much stronger ‘watch me, feel me, feel you and watch you’ learning-to-dance sort of feel to it than white board and projector, step-by-step instructions…

    which is exactly how I learned to cook.  sitting in the kitchens at my friend’s houses *feeling* the way their mothers moved around in the space, memorizing the textures and scents and sounds – I once had to cook in the pitch dark using my sense memory to know when the onions would be translucent and the greens needed more water….i’d never thought of it as the same part of me that does counselling – but i do now!


  3. “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever.” I think that tidbit neatly summarizes the huge difference between recipes and frameworks.

    Frameworks vs. recipes is some good food for a thought and of course, Catherine, you always provide delicious eatings!

  4. The thing is I find really hard is describing the framework in a way that sounds as compelling (and purchase worthy!) as the quick fix recipe. I’m reminded of that post you wrote ages ago about the differences between describing products and services. I must try and find that a read it again because it feels very relevant.

    1. I’m wondering if they are two different markets and if so whether we need to do different things to appeal to them.  Catherine?

      1. Oooh that’s an interesting thought. Thank you 🙂 I say ‘thank you’ because I have little interest in marketing to the quick fix crowd. I want to help people create lasting change and that’s going to take more than a couple of bread recipes, however cleverly written they may be.

        1. I left this out – with about 1,326 other interesting points – but I think that the aspirational and transformational markets that Bridget Pilloud talks about fit in here.

          Most aspirational marketers sell recipes.

          1. Most might but that doesn’t mean I should or have to does it? What if I don’t want people to fall apart just cos their mix got sticky one day? That being the case, they need a framework surely?

          2. That’s the point: you get to choose what you deliver.

            You can deliver a resource that starts with a recipe – hooray, a quick win! – but as part of a larger framework.

            Neither Bridget nor I are aspirational marketers. We do juuuust fine with frameworks.

          3. So let me get this straight in my tired little head … the over arching ‘thing’ would be the framework? And those individual little steps from ‘before’ and ‘after’ are each little recipes that, when used all together, make up a framework?

  5. This, to me, is teaching the ‘why’ vs the ‘what’. If I can teach you why 12 x 12 = 144, you will always know how to get the answer if you can’t remember it off the top of your head. This is the best kind of foundation you can give someone for learning something new because, as you say, it’s less restrictive and allows their knowledge to grow more easily.

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