Chopping Down the Tree of Knowledge

So, during the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the visual mapping of ideas.

Scott McCloud suggested that I have a look at the animation being done by Cognitive Media. You’ve probably see their work. I especially enjoy their lectures, often associated with TED-Ed, and their RSA work.

Back to mapping. I’ve been struggling with the tree of knowledge–and its modern equivalent, the mind maps now found in so many places on the internet and in classrooms. This means of structuring information provides the basis for the often-awkward corporate organization chart, now as often undermined by concepts of matrix reporting (you report to me, but we both also report to a lot of other people, kinda, sorta). I’m experimenting with several mind mapping programs, and one (Curio) is especially promising. That’s coming in a later post.

A few years ago, I worked with some folks from Wharton on a new approach to organizational design in which everybody is responsible to everybody else. I liked the idea because (a) I thought it represented what happens in a modern organization with greater precision, and (b) it represented the kind of productive, modern place I wanted to work. The design was a simple circle with about 100 points–and every point was connected to every other point. The concept: simple. The illustration: ridiculously complicated and difficult to understand.

So back to Cognitive Media. They’ve produced a nifty cartoon that helped me to understand the inadequacies of the tree-based design, the plusses and minuses of the network design, and the need for a universal design.

Watch it:

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