Mapping Strategies and Innovation Processes

A detailed drawing of mapping strategies for innovation

One of the tools we use the most frequently — returning to for over 20+ years, is a ubiquitous tool in the sciences & design fields: topological mapping.

The history of this tool is long, and diverse. Sewell Wright in 1932 proposed a type of fitness landscape where “the entire field of possible gene combinations could be graded with respect to adaptive value”. With increased fitness being mapped on the vertical axis (height = increased fitness/effort/work). Von Uexkull proposed in the 20’s an animal-emergent landscape model that has influenced the use of these models in environmental psychology/Enactive Cognition.

What is particularly useful about these examples in regards to innovation processes is that one can track (1) the current state of the emergent system (the landscape), (2) how one might move or explore this landscape, & (3) how the landscape can itself be dynamic (changes in the relation dominant constituent processes change the landscape).

Which is to say it allows one to track both emergent semi-stable possibilities & spaces to explore — and if changes happen to the underlying assemblage how the new landscape of emergent constrained potentials will look. Given that we & our actions are happening/co-emerging on/at/of both “levels” it becomes effective as a tools in combination with experimental strategies that work across both of these (e.g. change aspects of the assemblage & the landscape changes, stabilize aspects of the assemblage & the landscape can be explored/developed).

This dynamic is between (1) sensing + exploring by experimental probing + mapping & (2) in tandem working at the level of the underlying assemblage to change the emergent constraints/boundary conditions/degrees of freedom.

For us, it is an ideal experimental tool to work with the reality of non-linear situations: the landscape maps the emergent field of constrained possibilities rather than purporting to discover isolated causes (systems maps). In such conditions of system causation (where the emergent whole has contemporaneously co-emergent parts) one finds oneself (via the constraining of the possible) in a landscape of more & less likely spaces of possibility.

In such inherantly topological conditions it is useful to picture this space of possibility as a dynamic landscape of valleys & hills. The hills (or valleys) can be used to represent the “fitness peaks” or “basins of attraction” that actual outcomes & possibilities coalesce around because of the dynamic emergent constraining processes.

There are a couple of key realizations for us in terms of using topological mapping: the landscape is not fixed, it is dynamic — change the relational assemblage of constituent processes and the landscape changes. Here we could extend Varela’s metaphor of “making the path in walking” to making the landscape you inhabit in experimental action — so much more to say…(see the Links in comments)

Innovation is Hard

You know you need to innovate,
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The Innovation Design Approach is leadership's blueprint for organizational innovation. Detailing the why and how to innovate across inter-disciplinary teams using approaches, tools, and practices.