I'm James Wallman — author, entrepreneur, futurist. Welcome to The Future Is Here. We provide sensible, robust, useful strategic advice to people like you.

Why the Overton window matters — so much

If you want to understand what will and won't catch on, you have to understand the soil that seed is being planted into.

(The best way to do this is by using the updated version of the PEST framework that we use: it's called DAS STEEPLE and you can find out more here.)

If you want to change attitudes and behaviours, you have to understand the circumstances you're operating in.

Again, DAS STEEPLE is a great toolkit. 

One thing it'll tell you is the Overton window.

It's also called the "window of discourse", and perhaps might be better described as the "spectrum of acceptability". It describes the range of ideas the public will accept.

A political idea is viable if it falls within the window, that is, within the realms of public opinion will accept. 

The name comes its originator: Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003), a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The greatest insight, I think, is that you can't get there from here — if there is too much of a stretch.

Overton's described degrees of acceptance of an idea as:

  1. Unthinkable
  2. Radical
  3. Acceptable
  4. Sensible
  5. Popular
  6. Policy

The big learning here is that if you want to make something happen, you have to cycle through those ideals, and push your idea ever further from 1 , and closer to 6.

Talking of cycling, here's a good example of the Overton window in terms of our roads:

Some questions:

  • Can you move fast through the spectrum? 
  • Or, can you only move an idea one step at a time? 
  • Should you only try to move an idea one step at a time?
  • And what are the best methods to do so?


Love in Paris — because you can't change minds with facts

Temps in popular culture