Why Maps Are Effective Tools
I made a claim on Twitter recently that Jeff Hawkins’ new book: “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence”, explains why a map is an effective tool for the human brain.
The key insight of the Thousand Brains theory is that the primary purpose of the neocortex is to process reference frames.
Each column in the neocortex—whether it represents visual input, tactile input, auditory input, language, or high-level thought—must have neurons that represent reference frames and locations.
Up to that point, most neuroscientists, including me, thought that the neocortex primarily processed sensory input. What I realized that day is that we need to think of the neocortex as primarily processing reference frames. Most of the circuitry is there to create reference frames and track locations. Sensory input is of course essential. As I will explain in coming chapters, the brain builds models of the world by associating sensory input with locations in reference frames.Hawkins, Jeff. A Thousand Brains (p. 50). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
Recall that a reference frame is like the grid of a map.Hawkins, (p. 59).
This has implications for what thinking actually is. All knowledge is stored in reference frames and thinking is a form of moving.
The hypothesis I explore in this chapter is that the brain arranges all knowledge using reference frames, and that thinking is a form of moving. Thinking occurs when we activate successive locations in reference frames.Hawkins, (p. 71)
If everything we know is stored in reference frames, then to recall stored knowledge we have to activate the appropriate locations in the appropriate reference frames. Thinking occurs when the neurons invoke location after location in a reference frame, bringing to mind what was stored in each location. The succession of thoughts that we experience when thinking is analogous to the (…) succession of things we see when we walk about a town.Hawkins, (p. 73)
The process of thinking is described as movement on a map!
Simon Wardley articulates exactly what is needed for an abstract map. He captures the map’s essence.
Maps are visual and context specific. The position of components has meaning based on the anchor. There is movement.1
To be an expert in any domain requires having a good reference frame, a good map.Hawkins, (p. 87)
I believe that the reason why Wardley Maps are effective is that they are a reference frame for business. They are effective because they are in a form which allows our brains to think most naturally. They also happen to be a useful reference frame.
Beyond Wardley Maps
The reason for my excited tweet was a realization that Simon Wardley’s criteria of what makes something a map can be translated into a criteria of what makes something a good tool for our human brain.
We have a clear set of constraints for creating really useful tools for the mind!
What Do You Think?
Did you already know how to make useful mind tools, what was your approach? Let me know in the comments.
1 Simon Wardley. Chapter 2: Finding a path. https://medium.com/wardleymaps/finding-a-path-cdb1249078c0. Accessed on 5 Mar 2021.
“Doctrine are the basic universal principles that are applicable to all industries regardless of the landscape and its context.”https://medium.com/wardleymaps/doctrine-8bb0015688e5
There is a lot of doctrine. It consists of 44 principles, many of which are entire topics onto themselves. Many writings on doctrine exist. Simon provided these under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. There are many ways to learn doctrine.
I wanted to experiment with the structure of doctrine. I hoped that I could structure it to make it easier to learn and adopt. I want to be able to assess my level of doctrine adoption. And, if I am adopting doctrine, I want to know what I should adopt next. With these goals in mind, I set out to create a doctrine format that breaks up doctrine into small pieces. I call this microdoctrine.
Microdoctrine takes inspiration from a pattern language. It organizes around the principles outlined by Simon. It breaks up those principles into specific practices for individual learning. For example:
Phase: Stop Self Harm
Principle: Focus On User Needs
Practice: Examine Transactions
Any value we create is through meeting the needs of others. A mantra of “not sucking as much as the competitors” is not acceptable. We must be the best we can be.
Consider these first:
Know Your Users
Look at the transactions that an organisation makes with the outside world. Examine the customer journey when interacting with those transactions.
Look at the transactions that an organisation makes with the outside world. This will tend to give you an idea of what it provides and what is important. Next, examine the customer journey when interacting with those transactions. Question this journey and talk with customers. You will often find pointless steps or unmet needs or unnecessary needs.
Another mechanism, if you adopted Wardley Mapping, is to map out the user’s landscape. By mapping out their landscape, you can often clarify what the user needs. You can also find entire new opportunities for business.
STOP READING, TAKE ACTION
Consider next:Align Value Generation With User Needs or Consider Stage of Evolution
“Consider these first” and “Consider next” links express sequencing. This is to answer what principle to adopt next. This also intends to provide immediate benefit. At the same time, it intends to build up ability to adopt future practices.
I completed the first nine doctrine principles in microdoctrine format. These make up Phase I: Stop Self Harm. They are all listed on the Wardley Mapping community site. The starting place is Phase I : Development : Know Your Users.
I can imagine us, doctrine practitioners, organizing around the microdoctrine structure. Each of us could contribute our specific expertise. For example, Phase I : Communication : Challenge Assumptions practices all deal with Spend Control. An expert on Cynefin could contribute a Phase I : Communication : Challenge Assumptions : Ritual Dissent practice for us to consider. My hope is that microdoctrine provides minimal scaffolding for us to organize around.
What do you think? Is this structure useful for learning or assessing doctrine? Are the existing patterns valid? Do you want to add patterns you know about?
TL;DR Phase Line Mapping is like Wardley Mapping, but at a smaller scale, the scale of projects or initiatives. Instead of the evolution axis, we have a phase line completion axis.
Phase Line Mapping attempts to bring topographical intelligence to project management, similarly as to how Wardley Mapping brought topographical intelligence to business strategy. Taking the classic tea shop Wardley Map, let’s assume we decided to replace the custom kettles we’re building with a supply of commodity kettles.
Phase Line Mapping
A phase line is a synchronization mechanism that is similar to a milestone but different from a due date. It depicts changes in the phase of an operation without using dates, therefore, making it possible to coordinate without coupling to the calendar.
Phase Line Mapping retains the value chain scaffolding as the y-axis, in order to keep the project anchored to the outcome it is supposed to provide, while substituting phase line completion axis for the evolution axis:
We conduct vendor selection by trying out a few vendors (SuperKettles, HotKettle, and battery powered KettleGo):
We determined that HotKettle has the right stuff and select them as our vendor. We go through the purchasing process. Notice that we continue to use our custom kettles throughout:
We are hitting some snags with purchasing, but we’re almost there:
Purchasing complete, awaiting delivery:
New HotKettle kettles delivered:
We started our replacement in-place process and are now using HotKettles as well as custom kettles:
Our adoption of HotKettles is complete:
And at Wardley Mapping scale, we completed our transition to commodity:
Phase Line Mapping retains the required elements of a basic map. It is visual, context specific, position has meaning, it is anchored in user needs, movement is present (across phase lines, instead of evolution), and it has components.
Phase Line Mapping has at least two of the three elements of an advanced map. It demonstrates flow between components and can represent different types of things. I am uncertain about what the project level climate looks like or if a stable climate exists. That remains to be seen.
I have made multiple attempts to share Wardley Mapping. Wardley Maps were intuitive and obvious to me (once I saw them), due to my life experience with topographical maps. However, my experience is not a shared context, and I found it difficult to communicate the value to someone who didn’t immediately “get it”.
The thinking with Phase Line Mapping is that many organizations are executing many projects and programs and are communicating progress in multiple custom ways. Phase Line Mapping is yet another (custom) way to demonstrate project progress across milestones. However, the hope here is to demonstrate mapping that is coherent with Wardley Mapping (same elements, things still move to the right), but where the feedback cycle is much quicker than your typical Wardley Map time scale. It can take years for things to move on a Wardley Map. By introducing a phase line axis, we can generate more feedback loops quicker while training people in Wardley Map intuitions.
My hope is that by being able to demonstrate Phase Line Mapping more broadly in projects, perhaps then, it will be easier to introduce a Wardley Map by saying: it’s like Phase Line Mapping, but at a larger scale, the scale of business. Instead of the phase line completion axis, we have an evolution axis.