Saturday, September 5, 2009

Time for a Visual Mapping Body of Knowledge?

Below is an almost verbatim of my interview with the very unique and professional Chuck Frey during February 2009. I recently revisited the interview to assess the validity of my statements, and I updated a few sentences to align with what I have been recently discussing with Chuck Frey, Philippe Boukobza and other professional visual mapping colleagues. To view the original interview, go here:

Wallace Tait is a professional visual mapping consultant based in the Canadian Province of Ontario. He is the co-author of the e-book Visual Mapping: “A Systematic Framework for Business Improvement” and founder of the Visualmapper consultancy. He is an expert on the effective creation, management and presentation of graphically mapped information systems. Wallace recently approached me to discuss the idea of creating a Visual Mapping Body of Knowledge (VMBOK), to provide a commonly-accepted collection of principles and best practices relating directly to Mind, Visual and Knowledge mapping tools, methods and mindset.

I recently interviewed Wallace about the challenges facing information managers today, and how a VMBOK can help to meet them:

Frey: What are the challenges facing visual mapping today?

Tait: Before I address this question, I’d like to clarify the definition of visual mapping, because that will frame our discussion. Visual mapping includes but is not limited to mind mapping, concept mapping, flow charting, argument mapping and many newer approaches to information management. It may be a single or multiple graphical formats used to create, manage and exchange information.

John England of MindSystems has stated, “Mind mapping is not the center of the universe as some would have us believe… The center of the universe is ‘data’ which becomes ‘information’ which then can become knowledge.”

I fully agree with John’s statement and would further state that knowledge is only significant by the relevancy of contextual information. The overwhelming challenge facing visual mapping products today is the contextual management of relevant information that builds knowledge.

For further information relating to contextual information management, I suggest you visit There you’ll find Context Organizer, a standalone information management product that’s also an add-in for Mind Manager. This excellent product will open up a whole new understanding of contextual information management to you.

There are other challenges of course, but I have merely focused in on the contextual issue, and I know we’ll see some very interesting developments regarding the integration of contextual engines to future information management products.

The challenge is no longer all about mind mapping; it’s much more about information management and knowledge governance. A few of the mainstream mapping products such as Personal Brain, TopicScape and Mindsystems Amode have moved in the direction of knowledge mapping, breaking away from the constraints of forced non-linear formats and breaking into the real need for visual mappers to be database capable. Visual mappers however need more than a mind map view. Visual mapping products have certainly come a long way in developing a user environment where information can be expressed in multiple graphical formats.

So, there are clear demarcation lines between the seemingly independent Mind, Visual and Knowledge mapping arenas. It must be said though, in view of process and systems thinking; these three arenas are indeed interdependent.

Integrating linear and non-linear formats enables these two opposites to be a part of a whole-brained approach to information management. I have found that data, information and knowledge can embody both linear and non-linear characteristics. Those who have grasped the fundamentals of information management within a visual mapping environment acknowledge the need to converge the linear and non-linear perspectives.

Frey: You’re a big fan of author Dan Pink’s emphasis on “whole brained” thinking. Why is that important today?

Tait: Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, gave me many “a-ha” moments, as well as moments where I felt like slapping myself on the forehead and saying to myself, “You dummy, didn’t you realize this, too?”

The book explains how we’ve been dumbed down by corporate decisions to outsource left-brained activities. Pink’s premise is that we are becoming either left- or right-oriented in regard to information and knowledge, and that we need to become whole-brained thinkers again to be more successful in the future. He really has an informed angle on the lack of whole-brained thinking within academia and business.
I believe whole-brained thinking is on its way to being realized, in part through the growth of visual mapping.

Frey: You’ve identified a problem with recent college graduates and the ways in which they’re taught to think. What’s missing, and how does that put them at a disadvantage in today’s business world?

Tait: Industry and corporate business must see the bigger picture regarding graduates released into the world of industry and business.

Have you ever been in this situation? You’ve just hired new graduates, and you then have to spend a small fortune to train them to understand your business operating system? Graduates present themselves to industry and corporate business, thinking they are fully able to grasp business systems, as if one size fits all, and they’re so wrong in many cases. Graduates are not necessarily falling short; academia just hasn’t prepared them to fully grasp the reality of integrated linear/non-linear information management.

In effect, we have to help the new graduates to unlearn much of what they have learned.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but I have found that a majority of graduates are ill-equipped to handle non-linear systems, or even understand the implications of integrating linear and non-linear regarding business processes and systems.

Frey: What are some examples of non-linear systems?

Tait: Two examples are software development (SD) and quality management systems (QMS). SD programmers are those who understand the integration of linear and non-linear. While a software product is being developed; data, codes and algorithms are commonly expressed in graphical formats that look and act like mind maps and concept maps. The end product in most cases is expressed as a linear software product in relation to the user interface, but all or most of the actions taken to execute the functions of the software, are performed below the surface as non-linear associations and actions.

QMS is similar to the SD example. Business systems function with the use of processes (what’s) and procedures (how’s). Process maps, value stream maps and flow charts are very linear, but it is clear to business management that a QMS is made up of independent and interdependent links, associations and process that are non-linear in their operation, expression and nature.

Frey: How will developing a Visual Mapping Body of Knowledge (VMBOK) help to solve this problem?

Tait: The development of a VMBOK would help to initially define the mindset of visual mapping. It can be a place where businesspeople can find relevant academic information and knowledge about the expanding arena of visual mapping.

Academia, in general, does a great job of teaching the regulated curriculum's. The issues are that the teaching facilities such as colleges and universities are constrained by established linear practices relating to information, knowledge, process and system.

I believe there is a great gap (read chasm) between what academia produces and what industry and corporations require. I firmly believe that corporations should be proactively involved and supportive of the academic systems that produce the next generation of information managers. Working closely with each other is the key to creating curriculum's that speak to the issues and needs of today’s businesses.

Organizations such as Motorola, IBM, GE, Toyota and others recognize the importance of integrating linear and non-linear processes into their management systems. Add in contextual relevancy and you have a sound foundation of definitions, processes, systems and practices that produce next-generation thought leaders.

Frey: How can the Body of Knowledge help people who are already in the workplace and are struggling with today’s business challenges?

Tait: I believe the tools and techniques of visual mapping can benefit any user exponentially. The challenge is to provide a knowledge base of best practices that will help users to realize bottom-line results – which is what matters to businesses, now more than ever. I firmly believe that the database of information contained within a visual mapping BOK will help individuals and companies to realize tangible results with it and therefore will help to drive greater acceptance of it in business applications.

Frey: What are the benefits of having a body of knowledge in place? How can that lead to certification, for example?

Tait: The information and practices submitted to a BOK may be vetted by recognized thought leaders and other contributors such as, professional consultants who work within the information management fields. This helps to ensure that it contains high-quality information and best practices that are agreed upon by experts in that field. That’s where its value comes from.

Those who are interested in obtaining a recognized and standardized certification to the VMBOK would benefit by way of membership to a Visual Mapping Institute (VMI).

We have PhD’s, MBA’s, and other professional bodies that offer industry and corporate graduates the academic recognition they require to move forward with validated professional certification. There’s no reason why a BOK existing within a VMI shouldn’t work with academia and corporate to certify graduates who are required to be integrated thinkers and information managers with the skills to handle process and system more effectively.

The role of a VMI would be similar to the roles of organizations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the American Society of Quality (ASQ). These institutions interact with colleges and universities in offering a knowledge base contained within their respective BOKs. The information contained within a BOK is in and of itself a training and knowledge database, offering a potential self-directed teaching and learning process for graduates.

Frey: Ultimately, how will a BOK help to drive change at the academic level?

Tait: Such a BOK would be invaluable to academia and corporations when they see the bigger picture of integrated thinking, and decide to collaborate and contribute to the BOK and VMI. The drive for responsible change is equally divided between academia and business. Both groups need to work together to fully realize the benefits of whole-brained thinking that Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, envisions.

Frey: How does the process work to create such a body of knowledge? What elements are needed?

Tait: A Visual mapping Body of Knowledge (VMBOK), modelled on the Project Management (PM) BOK and American Society of Quality (ASQ) BOK may be ideal models for the framework of a VMBOK.

I have recently viewed an excellent Wiki developed by Roy Grubb, who has vision to see that a BOK is indeed useful and needed to standardise for future use. IMO, I don’t see a Wiki (free for all approach) being the answer to the creation and further development of a VMBOK, Roy’s excellent work however, shows us that it’s already being done in the Wiki sense.

For best results, I believe that the proposed Visual Mapping Body of Knowledge (VMBOK) should mirror the previously mentioned models of the PMBOK and ASQBOK.
The information submission process to a VMBOK hasn’t been clearly defined and agreed upon by my colleagues and peers. I do, however, see this process as being confirmed by consensus, and I recommend that we benchmark the two institutions I mentioned earlier to standardize the submission process.

Frey: Why do we need to do this now?

Tait: If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. I firmly believe a VMBOK and VMI is a winner for academia, industry and corporate business. There’s absolutely no loss in creating opportunities for visual thinkers to be formally recognized as whole-brained thinkers. They will become the thought leaders and motivators of the future.

I believe it’s critical that we get moving on this BOK now. Many of my professional colleagues such as Philippe Boukobza, Chuck Frey, Olin Reams, Brian Friedlander and many others are ready to get working on this initiative, so let’s get started!

How do you believe you can contribute? Let me know.


Philippe Boukobza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi Wallace,

David Pratten here. I am writing because the PMBOK(r) Guide was the inspiration for me to become a Visual Mapping practitioner!

The scope and complexity of the PMBOK(r) Guide drove me to create a new learning tool that I invite you to review ...

I have created a PMI licensed, Visual PMBOK(r) Guide - Fourth Edition. The site uses visual mapping, information design and adult learning principles to give students an on-ramp and companion to the PMBOK(r) Guide.


Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D said...

Hi Wallace:

yes- the time has come to develop the VMBOK and as you point out there are lots of advantages for doing so. In this economy we need to have a new set of skills to drive innovation and certify that people in various industries have the skill sets in the area of visual mapping.

Brian S Friedlander

Wallace Tait said...

Just want to make something clear:
This is all merely a suggestion at this time and there have been no formal discussions with anyone at this time. It's certainly not about me or any other personality; ego must be the one thing that is placed aside.

I believe the VMBOK, if it ever comes to anything, should be a wiki type of setup. My gifts lie in other areas and therefore I'll leave that to those who eventually get round to it.

Roy Grub has IMO, the most professional and extensive wiki relating to Mind mapping, so it seems we already have on in place relating to Mind mapping. Thus I believe Roy would probably be the ideal manager of such an initiative.

At this point absolutely no one has stepped up to the plate formally and said "yes" I'll be involved, so it is at this time, in reality an intangible pipe dream.
If you have read my interview and have interpreted it as a business model grab on the potential to have yet another certification process; well I believe you may have gotten the wrong end of the stick here.

Let me be clear; a Body of Knowledge should always be open and free to view and study. I do however believe it would be prudent to have an accepted protocol for relevant information and knowledge submission and acceptance into the proposed BOK.

If at all certification is required or even demanded by information management that have grasped the importance of graphical thinking at the Mind, Visual and Knowledge mapping levels; well it’s clear this would be a formal and business model oriented approach to supporting the further management of a certification body.

So the question is posed again; if at all you are interested in becoming a part of this initiative, connect with me here. I for one would indeed be happy to be involved with such an initiative.

I personally look forward to seeing where this goes; I firmly believe we have to take this from fringe to mainstream and be done with the so called esoteric misunderstandings associated with graphical mapping.