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The Monroe Model: Become Style-Literate and Better Understand Our Strange World

The Monroe Model: Become Style-Literate and Better Understand Our Strange World

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The Monroe Model: Become Style-Literate and Better Understand Our Strange World

310 pagine
2 ore
Jun 20, 2015


The talent of Steve Jobs that Bill Gates most admired, and probably envied, was ‘his sense of style’. Style means business and accounts for some 50% of the sales of brands. However, most of the managers and strategists who make the decisions in corporations and governments have not been educated in the art and science of style. They know it is important, but they are not style literate. This leads to disasters like General Motor’s car brand Opel losing 75% of its share of the market in Europe during the fundamental style transition that took place in recent decades.
Therefore, in this book the origin of styles and their deeper meanings will be explored. Assisted by the Monroe model, we will analyze different styles in art, sex, humor, music, logos, religions, personalities, politics and cultures. Hierarchy and the styles of Nazi Germany will be discussed and we will have a look at style trends. All of this will help you become more style-literate and create your own beauty mark.
Jun 20, 2015

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The Monroe Model - Frank Haveman



Summary of the introduction:

Research with people who were born blind has demonstrated that the impact of style on business performance is huge.

However, most managers and strategists are style-illiterate and have not been taught how to read the meaning of styles. This leads to disasters like the car brand Opel losing some 75% of its share of the market because it missed an important style transition in society.

To assist us in the jungle of style that surrounds us, we need a theory and model based on social physics. Therefore, we will define style in this book as symmetries and asymmetries that explain the origin of the laws of nature and create ‘shapes, patterns and colors’.

In the first chapter this approach will be turned into a pragmatic tool and 7 style orientations that we can all understand instinctively.

Imagine you were born blind. You have walked in the dark your entire life. You have never seen a commercial, how another person really looks, the color of a product, or the shape of a logo. Somebody asks you: ‘What crosses your mind when you think about a person who drinks Coca-Cola?’ What would your answer be?

The answer would be: ‘Fat fast-food Americans’.

A control group of people with sight also mentioned a ‘young, cheerful and hip’ type of person, while this style imagery of Coca-Cola users was completely lacking among the 21 blind people in the research conducted by brand agency Stredge in 2013. More important, almost all of the non-blind participants stated they drink Coca-Cola every now and then, while less than 50% of the blind people said they did. Some of them even said it tasted bad.

If the two groups of participants are similar except for the aspect of blindness and the results of this study are the same when it is repeated, the results suggest that having a ‘young, cheerful and hip’ type of person in the back of our minds explains about 50% of the brand value of Coca-Cola which is equivalent to some 40 billion US$¹. Style seems to make a huge difference.


The word style comes from the Latin word stilus meaning: ‘a stake; a pointed instrument, used by the Romans for writing upon wax tablets.’ It resembles a pencil in size and shape, and derives from the Greek word στύλος meaning ‘pillar’. The word also referred to the shape of the letters or the choice of words.

We now have strong evidence that style not only refers to pillars and the choice of words, but also means business. Perhaps therefore the talent of Steve Jobs that Bill Gates most admired, and probably envied, was ‘his sense of style’. However, during my own education in sociology and marketing, the issue of style was never mentioned. The 2015 MBA curriculum at Harvard will also not help us to become style literate. It will teach Finance 1, Finance 2, Financial Reporting and Control, Leadership, etc., not where 50% of the actual value of brands comes from.

This explains, for example, how a car brand like Opel, which has lost 75% of its share of the market in the past couple of decades, could have missed a crucial style transition. The company could not grasp the style of the people associated with the brand. While the brand carefully watched over 100 Key Performance Indicators, and not a lot was wrong with its products, it did not fully understand what drives humans and the impact style imagery of users can have on the choice of consumers.

It is in brutal reality and daily practice that we learn about the importance of style in general from talented writers, artists, designers and strategists who happen to be fashion savvy. These highly style-literate and creative people, like Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive, are not without faults or failures, but they seem to be able to read the meaning of shapes and colors instinctively. They can sense the style transitions that are going on and they pay a lot of attention to these transitions.


March 2015 the website mentioned 137 different styles, amongst others Neo Pop Art, Tubism, Outsider art, and Post-Minimalism. Style is a jungle and many art historians have attempted to classify all species living in it. But the jungle is dynamic, styles are mixed and change over time. Of course, I do not pretend to solve this problem entirely. The only thing I can do is try to make it a more friendly jungle. Not by wanting to destruct it, but by being a guide.

To enable this, I will offer a theory and model and reduce the jungle to 7 major style clusters with many branches. This model is based on the science I was educated in: sociology. In the tradition of this science, my intention is to find a link between physics and human nature.

One of the first of such theories on style was developed and empirically tested by the Frenchman Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, who lived during the heydays of the Enlightenment, some 350 years ago. He explains it in his book The Spirit of the Laws (1748). In warm countries, so he observed, people are more ‘loose and frivolous’, while in cold countries they are more ‘strict and serious’. To stress the fact he is not merely exploring prejudice and stereotypes, he conducts experiments with the tongue of a sheep and studies it through a microscope. He discovers small pyramids and concludes: ‘very likely these pyramids are the principal organ of taste’. Next he freezes a part of the tongue and notices the pyramids disappear, thus confirming what he has been saying: ‘in cold countries they have very little sensibility for pleasure; in temperate countries, they have more; in warm countries, their sensibility is exquisite’.

Montesquieu is one of the founders of sociology. In a way he claimed that climate is a style and argued that systems and laws should be adapted to it. Later writers ridiculed him for this, and further attempts to marry the laws of thermodynamics with human affairs have been called ‘the sign of a half-baked speculator in the social sciences’. However, it is now known that climate could have a direct effect on the speed of molecular evolution in mammals. In 2009 the BBC reported that:

Researchers have found that, among pairs of mammals of the same species, the DNA of those living in warmer climates changes at a faster rate (1.5 times faster, FH). The results could help explain why the warm tropics are so species-rich².

We are biochemical bombs that behave different in different climates. Montesquieu already knew that physics explains chemistry, chemistry explains biology, and biology explains our behavior. Physics offers us by far the deepest, most proven and most powerful insights into nature, and the issue is not if this is true. The challenge is to link this to human nature and the concept of style. Therefore, in the tradition of sociology – or ‘social physics’ as it is called nowadays – in this book I will try to combine these perspectives.


The total relationship between physics, human nature and style is incredibly subtle, complex, and, of course, not completely understood. We will have to cherry pick and focus on a few big basic insights of physics and human nature.

The laws of physics can be reduced to invariance or forms of sameness and symmetry. In addition to sameness and symmetry, we will discuss asymmetry and difference, because neither human nature nor physics is perfectly symmetric. The combination is called 2,5 Universe Theory.

Thus, I will define style in this book as symmetries and asymmetries that create shapes, patterns and colors. I am going to use a theory and model based on this definition and some mathematics. I have incorporated mathematics because I wanted to use a theory and create a tool that can be falsified with a form of universal logic. The book is not an opinion but a translation of math and some abstract principles borrowed from physics to style. This seems complex but do not be afraid the book will be too difficult and abstract. All of the math is in the addendum and you do not need to understand or even read it. My primary expertise is strategy and human nature, and we will analyze styles in art, religions, humor and sex – to name but a few topics that will be addressed. Although it might take some time to sink in, I am fairly sure the Monroe model will be translated into a map of styles and a pragmatic tool almost everyone can understand instinctively.

As mentioned the book will touch upon many issues and fields of expertise. It should be seen, however, as a sketchbook merely scratching the surface. I want to demonstrate the model could be of use in different ways without pretending to be an expert in most of the fields I will address. Reading the book will also not take a lot of time. With an average reading-speed of 250 words per minute, reading the entire book will take about 3 hours, depending on how long you stop wondering what the many pictures really mean.


To become more style-literate, we must be fully aware of the fact that we are highly simplistic, sometimes brutal, processors of shapes, patterns and colors. In an interview rock star Keith Richards provides a good example: American Rhythm & Blues did not stand a chance in Britain, because one: they were old; two: they were black, and three: they were ugly.

Richards is not a coarse racist. He merely points out that we are rather basic style machines. Moreover, we assign a large range of meanings to styles. This of course also applies to the cultural elite, though they sometimes feign more important issues make them tick, and tell us ‘it is all about the content, not the form’, while sending their children to schools with a certain style. If anything, the style of the elite is hypocrite. In reality, within a split second our sensory system will assess another person’s gender, race, age, and symmetry, based on visual style stimuli. About one third of our brain activity is constantly processing visual information. Further, this process seems to work in a rather direct and basic way, as it were making a true imprint of the outside world in our brain.

Using a brain scanner American neuroscientist Stephen Michael Kosslyn showed that when we look at a square or a circle, certain neurons in our brain literally create a path in the shape of a square or a circle. Later on, the information and meaning sinks in in a more complex way, but in the first glance it is a matter of ‘copy-paste’, often followed by an extreme overgeneralization of the first impression. Sometimes, a first impression can have such a big impact that it is virtually impossible to forget. This is not necessarily ‘bad’. Nature merely seeks the most efficient (lazy) path to survival and apparently in this respect our brain’s copy-paste strategy has been and still can be of value. Anyway, one cannot turn this style machine off. One cannot pretend to be style neutral. One cannot prevent us from reaching conclusions based on style and once you have an eye for it, you will notice style is decisive. What we say might turn out to be totally irrelevant.

As the people in the study who were born blind demonstrated, style imagery does not follow from the ability to process information with our eyes only. We may be basic processors of style cues, but at the same time we are the most sophisticated style machine in history. It seems all of our senses are involved in processing shapes, colors and patterns. People who were born blind have developed a concept of ‘fatness’, or the shape of some Coca-Cola users, based on information gathered via other senses. Thus, even if our eyes may be style blind, our nose, mouth, hands, skin, and ears may not be.


Finally here, style is often described as an outside and superficial characteristic of a person, its clothing or the outer appearance of a body, that tells us nothing about the identity or kind of soul that might hide inside. For example, the style of clothing might look like an aggressive pirate but on the inside there is a gentle soul. To deal with this possibility, some people prefer to believe it is all about the inside, the ‘content, not the form’, and style is seen as a hobby of

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