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  • Writer's pictureKrzysztof 'Chris' Daniel

When stuck, think verbs, not nouns

If you stare at an almost empty map and have difficulties identifying relevant components, the chances are that you are affected by the tyranny of nouns.

We all experience it, and thinking about actions instead of verbs can help a lot.

Tyranny of nouns

Simon defined components as a form of capital.

This is an excellent definition, but it drags the focus to static components that do not always generate value alone. Most of the time, they do it only when people operate them.

Activity = Human Effort + Supporting Components

As a result of the component definition, maps are very often stripped of this 'human effort' part. Just look at the official tea shop example below:

An Official Cup of Tea Example - No Verbs
Image 1: An Official Cup of Tea Example - No Verbs

The human effort aspect has to be derived from other components.

For example, we know that hot water is made using cold water and a powered kettle; therefore, we can guess that somebody will put the kettle on when needed. We base that assumption on the fact that there is no automated solution mentioned anywhere.

Unfortunately, augmenting maps with our knowledge is not a good thing. It leaves room for individual interpretations and makes challenging assumptions more difficult.

This is the Tyranny of Nouns - focusing on things while missing how they are operated.

Why verbs do matter

Let's look at the same map, but with explicit actions identified:

tea shop example - with verbs
Image 2: tea shop example - with verbs

It still far from being perfect (like all models are), but the explicit recognition of actions reveals a whole set of opportunities.

You can either work hard to be faster (make more cups of tea within the same time unit) or replace actions with a different combination of actions and components (f.e. - let the customers self-serve).

How can you get stuck with nouns?

You can get stuck easily if you conflate actions (verbs) with the results of those actions (nouns) and then fail to identify what you need to do to get those results.

Imagine that I want to learn how to write high-quality, viral posts about mapping. The noun version of the map would probably start to look like in the image below:

Let's assume for a second that I know how to write (😅), and I want to acquire virality and high quality. So, I will get stuck because I cannot acquire those things as separate components.

The point is that I can acquire nouns through buying, but actions (and processes in general) require deliberate training. For example, you can buy a car, a cup of tea or a gold bar, but can you acquire 'run a marathon'?

Acting requires deliberate training.

If you skip actions in your maps, you will have difficulties with building your value chain. How can you build a value chain for virality when thinking about it as a separate thing?

You can't.

This is a surprisingly common pattern. Security, Safety, Quality, Digital Transformation, Cloud and many more are nouns that we use to describe actions that bring specific results. From a mapping perspective, they are a dead-end approach that works only if you are expert enough to figure out what is missing.

Now, let's look at the same time from a different perspective - let's assume that 'writing' really means 'to write' things that are viral and of high quality. At this point, I am not even sure if high quality and virality deserve a place on the map 🤷, as they are implied to be there.

With that in mind, I can focus on the most important question - how do I set up my writing process in such a way that it consistently generates the content I desire? What components do I have to put in place? How do I need to operate them?

This is a spot-on question for ne, and if you have an answer, post it as a map in the comments 😉.

Getting unstuck

So, when you find yourself staring at a map that does inspire you to act, check whether you have not conflated components with desired results of your actions.

Think verbs not nouns.

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