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Use books to practice Wardley Mapping

In practising to create and use Wardley Maps, “what should I map?” is a common nagging question we encounter. Books or articles furnish us with material we can use to deal with it.

We get to practice mapping (the “how”) without worrying about the “what” to map.

This was a talk I gave at last year’s BarCamp. Slides are on Speakerdeck and the video on YouTube.

Why use books to practice

Map what’s in a book or an article. I’m using “book” to mean all that we mentally consume that interests us. That could be books, articles, wikipedia, tweets, podcasts, zoom conversations, and so on.

So why practice in this way? I see three reasons.

  • books provide material to map
  • books give us a context we can share and therefore map with others.
  • books are an excellent guard against accidentally breaking NDAs.

Must I practice? Nope. It’s your life. You can do whatever you want. But I think your mapping improves faster the more you practice. Think of it like a game. Besides, there’s no pressure to make the maps polished.

Books provide material to map

The most important reason is that we don’t have to worry about that nagging feeling, asking ourselves, “what should I map?” or “I don’t have anything to map.” Books provide the material, “the matter,” and we give it “expression” – we express the matter as a map.

When we’re learning to express “some thing”, we should remove the additional cumbersome job of finding that “some thing” so that we can concentrate on “expressing” it.

Alexander Bain realised this when teaching English Composition. He tells us,

The composition of Themes involves the burden of finding matter as well as language; . . . For an English exercise, the matter should in some way or other be supplied, and the pupil disciplined in giving it expression. . . . Another exercise is the conversion of Poetry into Prose. Much value is also attached to Abridging and Summarizing; and this might be coupled with the opposite practice of filing up and expanding brief sketches.

Preface to “English Composition and Rhetoric

Applying that to practice mapping, books or articles give us good material. What’s the equivalent of “Poetry” and “Prose” in Wardley mapping? One way to look at it is this: “Poetry” corresponds to the drawn map while “Prose” corresponds to the stories or narratives or explanations we tell that are based on those maps. These stories/explanations, being more acceptable, find themselves in public documents and reports.

Adapting Alexander Bain quote to Wardley Mapping would look like this:

The creation of Wardley Maps involves the burden of finding matter as well as language;… For a mapping exercise, the matter should in some way or other be supplied, and the pupil disciplined in giving it expressions. . . Another exercise is the conversion of Wardley Maps into Stories (explanations/narratives) and of converting Stories (explanations/narratives) into Wardley Maps. Much value is attached to Abriding and Summarizing a complex map into a submap; and this might be coupled with the opposite practice of filling up and expanding single components into their own maps.

What do the examples look like? One example of moving between Maps and Stories is MXNet on AWS. At MapCamp 2017, Adrian Cockcroft walked us through this Wardley Map.

I found these AWS MXNet announcements (made in 2017) that correspond to the components in the map with the numbers, (7) (5) (3) (1) respectively:

Other examples are the series I’m writing about Gerstner and IBM based on his book, Who Says Elephants can’t dance.

Books give us a shared context

Secondly, books give us a context we can share. We can use that as a basis of mapping together.

When I map with others from another industry, we spend time learning the basic terms and concepts of each industry so that we’re able follow the map we’re creating.

Reading a book (article/video/etc) that explains an industry is like a quick starter before the main course.

Books as a safeguard against NDAs

I like to map what I do. Publishing it is another story. I’ve written many a post about Wardley Maps within our company’s firewall. What I liked about it the most was to write uninhibited. I know that those who read it, even if not working in my department, will have the same company context as I do. They can orient themselves around the terms we use, how we work, what I mean.

Writing in such an unrestrained way externally does not work as well for me. Like you, I’d like to honour what’s confidential. How then shall I write about this interesting topic ‘X’ when it can be perceived that I’m revealing something I shouldn’t, that I’m breaking the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)?

Books to the rescue! There’s a book for each topic. When I find those that are close to what I do, to what I find interesting, I’ll map it out. Sometimes, I’ll write about them. But I’ll not map every book nor each section of a book.

Is there a map for that?

Funny you should ask. Yes, there is a map for that – see step 4 and 3 from Cognitive Hierarchy are applicable.

I prefer books because, as a medium, they are a more evolved, even though the ideas they contain span across the evolution X-axis.

Others doing it

Others do it too.

I love the videos that Marcus Guest creates. Those prefixed “Second Opinion on . . .” walk through a Wardley Map based on articles from the Financial Times.

Another fascinating example was Ben Mosior‘s mapping of people’s twitter profiles

Let’s not forget the Mapping Monday series from Cory Foy which he based on April Dunford‘s book, Obviously Awesome.


What to map, the “matter”, is in what we consume. We get to practice mapping (the how) without any more worries about searching for the what to map.

Happy mapping!

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

Links to Wardley Maps for my Map Camp 2021 talk

Swyx “Swipes file” strategy akin to Stratechery’s “ladder-up”