The Influence of a Category

“There are no seems in a rainbow and yet we see them anyway. This illusion is based in biology and refined by language and culture.” – Peter Morville – Intertwingled

Perhaps it is a little obtuse standing on its own.

This is a reference to the arbitrary nature of categories and how their influence on our mental models and paradigms.

We create categories through our language and from our culture. Then we see the world through those categories. However, these categories are not real. We chose them. We learned them.

If we could easily create a difference set of categories for colour, and if we could get these accepted internally, then we will see these new colours when we look at a rainbow.

In a conversation listen to the language around you and try to understand where these categorisations come from. Do they help or hinder? Have they had to evolve?

When talking with a client or stakeholder try to use their own categories to build rapport and understanding.

But never forget their power or influence and think about when they may need to change if you want to transform the status quo.

Why am I committing to write this blog?

Because I need to clarify my own thinking and perspective.
Because sharing these thoughts, opinions and ideas with others, to be clarified, understood and challenged moves us, and me, forward.
Because we should be brave and prepared to take a different view. We should explore and find out what others believe and how they think.
I believe:
  • We should always seek to understand.
  • We should constantly question everything.
  • We should challenge our assumptions and admit our biases.
  • We should try to empathize at every turn.
  • We should be fearless of failure.
And finally because everyone and everything is connected – and not many people truly get that.

Systems Thinking

I started reading a book by Peter Senge this week called the Fifth Discipline. I feel like its opened my eyes to an areas of research and thinking I have been looking for. It’s basically about Systems Thinking. In a way it’s about the ‘big picture’.

Before starting this book I think I always believed that the big picture was about vision. I have felt I was suited to this type of thinking. But reading about systems thinking I realise its more nuanced than that. It’s about the influence parts have on each other, to create a whole, that is more than the sum of those individual parts.

It’s opened my mind.

I recall a train of thought or blog post a while back arguing that reductionist thinking was no effective. Breaking things into smaller pieces to understand and correct and then put back together does not work. I recall objecting to this view. I like to chunk things up and talk about them that way.

But as I start to understand what systems thinking is I realise that the view above is correct. I also realise why chunking things up into parts causes me problems. I often feel overwhelmed by all the parts.

I am starting to believe that the reason for that is that I am a natural systems thinker. I can’t view each piece without worrying about its relationship with the parts upstream and downstream. This means I can never break it down and just focus like I was thinking I should.

But as I learn more i realise I am not supposed to. I am supposed to worry about the relationships between parts. I am supposed to think about how one thing influences another. This is what I do. This is what helps me identify issues in workshops. I am working between the gaps. That is my role as an architect.

What I need is the vocabulary to talk about this. I am keen to learn more. Mix this with psychology and it should be a powerful combination.

Why don't you see what I see?