The Overton Window

Other than say the 2016 election—which was an outlier anyways—ever notice that politicians running for president rarely say anything that’s out of wack or controversial?

The Overton Window is a concept in which there’s a window of acceptable view on certain topics. You must talk within this window to maintain mainstream appeal. Talking about anything outside the Overton window puts you at risk of losing mainstream appeal and thus losing the race.

For example, if you were a politician running for the presidency in 1950s, the views you likely expressed said you were against gay marriage. Being for gay marriage is a view that’s outside the overton window, and might spell the end for your campaign if expressed publicly.

Fast forward to the present, and being for gay marriage is a widely accepted view.

The overton window can be applied to organizations as well. Another example is the Houston Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests. This situation fractured the NBAs relationship with China and Morey nearly lost his job.

When many other players were asked to comment many —like Houston Rockets star, James Harden— gave a safe answer, others—like Lebron James—ducked the question entirely.

For the NBA, the Hong Kong protests is a topic that’s outside the Overton window. Talking outside of this window is a risk. Like any risk there can be both negative or positive consequences. In the NBAs case it was a negative one.

April 8, 2020 · Mental Models · Politics

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