Mapping Power: An Introduction to Burja Mapping

Tasshin Fogleman shares his unique monastic perspective at Map Camp ATL 2019:

Once you have a strategy, you need to get your team on board. Who can help you implement your strategy? Who might be an obstacle, or enemy? Samo Burja’s Empire Theory provides a framework for mapping power. After this talk, you’ll be able to start mapping power in your organization and beyond.


In recent months, I’ve developed a new kind of strategic mapping: Burja Mapping (alternatively, power or empire mapping). Samo Burja is a sociologist and the founder of Bismarck Analysis, which analyzes institutions, from governments to companies. Amongst other things, he has developed Empire Theory, “a framework for understanding and practicing competitive strategy.” By combining Empire Theory with mapping, we can assess people and organizations in terms of power, and also evaluate possible strategic plays.


Burja Maps are a valuable complement to Wardley Maps and other strategic tools you may already be familiar with. After this talk, you’ll be able to start mapping power in your organization and beyond.


Real pleasure to be here and thank you all for having me. It’s such a wonderful group with a lot of different backgrounds and experience and needs. So it’s it’s an honor to be here to learn from you and to share with you my experience. I’ll be sharing about Burja mapping today. That’s “Bur-ya”, not “Bur-jah.” This is a form of mapping that I’ve developed over the last few months. There’s a few blog posts that I’ve written about it, and it’s based off of the work of someone named Samo Burja who wrote a paper called Great Founder Theory.


And this is a complement to Wardley Mapping. It’s not a replacement for Wardley Mapping, it’s something that you would do in addition to or in some cases instead of Wardley Mapping in a different context. But it’s not a replacement for it.


And my goal for this talk is that you’ll understand why another form of mapping might be needed, when you would use this form of mapping and what it looks like and in particular how to do it, that you’ll have the basics to give this a try for mapping power in a team that you care about, an organization that you care about, a context that you care about. That you can take the first steps towards actually using this tool. You might not be an expert in it. That’s OK. You can just give it a try after this talk.


But this is sort of the boring title of my talk. I have an unofficial subtitle which is A Monk Walks Into a DevOps Conference: Why Monasteries Need Strategy and You Do Too.


So this sort of a joke. Thanks for laughing, but the reason that I included it is that there might be a natural question that will arise seeing me onstage, which is, why is a monk interested in mapping and strategy? So just a little bit about my background. I’ve been meditating for seven or eight years. It’s been extremely valuable to me personally.


That’s something in general, everything about meditation and monasteries is something that I’d love to talk to you about after this talk. Or, you know, online or whatever. I’m just going to be including a little bit about that. That is relevant to why I started doing these maps and what’s been useful to me about them.


But as I said, I’d love to talk to you way, way, way more about this if it’s of interest to you. But as I said, I’ve been meditating for about seven or eight years. It’s been extremely useful to me. And at a certain point, I decided to join a monastery. And that was the way that I could deepen my meditation practice. We go on silent weeklong retreats every month. And I did that for about two and a half years. I was making slow but real progress in my meditation practice, really exciting. And I thought, I know I have a great idea. I’m going to use all of this wisdom, this direct perception of reality that I’ve gained. And I’m going to use all of this compassion, care for other beings and bring that into the world, start my own business and really help people.


So I left the monastery and did start my own business. I started creating products and services that I offered to the world. I started collaborating with other people, with other companies, helping them to do various things. That was really exciting. I got to learn a lot of new tools. A lot of new ideas, a lot of new skill sets.


And one of the things that I learned was Wardley Mapping. I’ve read Simon’s book. It’s extremely interesting. Really pushed a lot of intellectual… gave me new skills in that field of strategy.


And I started using Wardley Mapping left and right. I was mapping my products and services. I was mapping the products and services of companies that I was working with, their competitors. I was using it to just investigate different ideas that I had to see if they even made any sense. I was using Wardley Mapping very frequently and they’re extremely useful to me.


And then I thought, I have another great idea. I’ve gained all of these interesting skills and I hear that the monastery is starting a new place in San Francisco. They want me to help with that. Why don’t I join the monastery again and bring all of these incredible tools back to these monastics? There’s not they’re not gonna know what hit them. They’re not going to see it coming. They’re going to love Wardley Mapping. It’s going to be great!


And of course, as some of you may know, if you walk into a meeting and say, let me tell you about Wardley Maps, that might not go so well. But actually, the real problem that I had coming back to the monastery was that some of the tools I had learned were useful to me and some of them were not. Some of them I used frequently and some of them I did not. In particular, as I said when I was working for myself and with others in the business world, I was using Wardley Mapping very frequently. And then I noticed when I returned to the monastery that I wasn’t using them as frequently.


When I did use them they were still as useful as I had found them. But the frequency with which I was making them and finding them useful was just… I was finding them useful less often, in less cases. And so this raised a question for me. Why are Wardley Maps useful? When are they useful and when are they not useful and why? Why was it that in one context I was using them frequently and finding them useful? And then in another, not finding them as useful?


And I think I’ve sort of settled on two answers for this question. The first is that in the monastery, you know, in our culture, monasteries are not a common thing. But if you’ve been in one, what they do is very simple, very obvious, very straightforward. And I think it’s a good thing for the world to have monasteries. So generally the offerings, the services, the problems are in, for those of you that are interested in Cynefin, in the Simple domain. They’re just pretty straightforward. What needs to happen is obvious. The Value Chain is straightforward. So Wardley Maps are just not going to be as useful in that contexts. Of course, when things get Complicated, they’re going to be useful again.


But the other thing that I found is that generally, since what needed to be done was obvious, straightforward, simple, the tricky part was getting people to do the thing. Getting everyone onboard with having the thing actually happen, whatever needed to be done. Getting people within our organization to do that thing, whether, you know, now we have two locations, so there needs to be coordination across the organization and also increasingly working with other actors, other players, other people from other groups and organizations. Getting them coordinated with having this simple, obvious, straightforward thing actually happen, that we could actually execute. So people are important.


And of course, Wardley Maps talks about users and needs. But I found that there was a dimension of that that wasn’t being addressed by Wardley Maps. For me, it wasn’t for lack of interest in using Wardley Maps that I wasn’t finding them as useful. It wasn’t for lack of skill, although I can certainly learn more about them. It was just this context where the Value Chain was simple and the problem had to do with people getting people coordinated.


So the shift that I needed to make was from just asking “what,” which Wardley Maps can help identify what we’re even doing here. To asking “what” plus “who.” OK. Adding in “who.” Orienting towards the people. OK. And again, that’s a plus. So I’m mostly going to be talking about “who” in this talk. But that’s not to say that Wardley Mapping are no longer useful. You still need to ask “what,” of course. But this talk will be about asking “who” in addition to “what.”


So to ask the question “who” we’re gonna need a new model — a new model that can help us orient towards this question in a useful way, in the same way that Wardley Maps help us to do that with the question “what.” So by having a new model, which I’ll be talking about, naturally new decisions will arise. We’re going to naturally find that we are oriented towards the world in a different way with these new models and that new decisions will naturally arise from that, from those new decisions, new actions are going to come about. And then new outcomes will arise because we take those actions. And for those of you that are familiar with the OODA Loop, this is basically the OODA Loop with the Orientation model at the top and Observation at the end.


Basically, if we make an addition or an injection to our Orient stage where we’re adding a new model, then things will be different. This is what many of you have probably seen with Wardley Maps, where when you have this new way of seeing the world, things look different and then you make new decisions, take new actions, have new outcomes. That model is still useful, but we’re going to need a new model that answers the question “who.”


And I think that this is sort of foreshadowed in the early history of Wardley Mapping, which Simon alluded to a little bit yesterday in his talk, where he was at Fotango. He was making this product for photos, and he didn’t have a tool for strategy. He developed mapping, and that helped him orient towards the landscape in a new way. He saw that there was a certain capacity or capability within his organization that he could meet that would meet a market need that he saw. That really he sort of foresaw things like Lambda and so on. I mean, I’m not in the tech industry, but it seems like Zimki, which he ended up developing, was sort of a predecessor of Lambda and similar tools.


That said, even though he had this excellent tool for understanding the landscape and making a strategy based on that, something bad happened where he built the tool and it was working and people were starting to use it, they were generating revenue, and then he got a phone call or had a meeting with the board and they said, nope, you can’t do that anymore. You have to cancel your open sourcing of this tool. You have to shut down revenue, which doesn’t really make sense to me. But as I said, I’m not in industry, and they sort of killed the project, essentially.


And he says, “Somehow, in my zeal to create a future focused on user needs and a meaningful direction,” which is something that Wardley Mapping gives us, “I had forgotten to gain the political capital I needed to pull it off.” He was really oriented towards his own team internally, but in particular he forgot, hey, the board is important. They’re the ones that are giving me the power to do this thing. They’re the ones that are giving me the resources to do this thing. And he wasn’t clueing them in.


So this is the clue that I saw in Simon’s book. Hey, political capital is actually really important. And if you just use the model of Wardley Maps, you might miss that. Simon missed that. Of course, he went on to do great things at Canonical and elsewhere. He’s learned that lesson. But he had to learn that the hard way. So hopefully this model will help you avoid learning that particular lesson the hard way. So that brings us to Samo Burja. As I said, right now I’m in San Francisco helping to start a new monastery, and part of that involves networking and fundraising and meeting lots of people. And Samo lives in the Bay. And I met him and I thought just from hearing him talk very briefly, this is someone that has some ideas that I need.


He is a very interesting, eloquent and astute thinker. I saw that immediately. And thankfully, he’s published some of his ideas online as a paper, which is called Great Founder Theory. It’s available for free. You might consider reading it after this talk. So he’s published this paper and it shares some of the ideas that he uses at his company, which is called Bismarck Analysis. Essentially, people hire them to do what they call political risk analysis of a certain landscape. And this may or may not involve politics in the sense that you might understand it, you know, parties and so on governance policies, but it very broadly involves politics in the sociological sense of power relationships, power dynamics. And those affect every industry, every setting.


So if someone hires him to and his company to do these sort of sociological analysis of a landscape and they have… I’ve seen some of their output and it’s very impressive the things that they can do with these models. So thankfully, the basics of this are available online. Really interesting read. It’s very approachable. It’s a really simple read, but elegant. He was a physicist in a previous life, and I think that really shows through in the way that he presents his sociological models.


So I read his ideas and thought they were great. And in particular, that they gave us a really good way of solving this problem that I was seeing of asking the question, “who.”


So the paper’s called Great Founder Theory, but within it it presents something called Empire Theory. And this is a framework for understanding and using competitive strategy. And in particular, it gives us a way to answer the question “who” by describing hierarchical power relationships in a very precise and elegant and powerful way.


So I’ll be talking a bit about Empire Theory in this talk. But before we get to that, I want to share with you one quote from great founding theory about power in particular. I’m imagining that some people might have some sort of a triggered reaction to the words power and similar words. And in fact, some of the words that I’ll be using in this talk and my experience is that power is something that you can’t avoid, that you just have to either deal with it or it will deal with you.


And this is something that Samo talks about in his paper. He says, “Power can be used to accomplish a very broad range of goals. As such, many kinds of actors will aim to acquire power in pursuit of their goals. The more effective they are and the better their understanding of reality is, the likelier they are to seek power.”


So power is just part of social reality. Where there are people, there will be power. And if you ignore that, that will be to your peril. If you notice that and make use of it, then you will be able to achieve your goals. And this quote really stood out to me because it reminded me of a very fundamental concept in our training at the monastery, which I could talk much more about this feedback loop than I’ll be able to today. But essentially these are three skills that we try to train in people in at the monastery, wisdom, love and power. And they’re actually technical definitions for each of these things, which I’d love to talk to you about.


But essentially, one thing that I saw in this quote was an understanding that when you are able to directly perceive reality, in particular social reality that’s related to the wisdom function, you will naturally want to seek power, that there is there’s a flow between wisdom and power. And to the extent that you have that wisdom and you have love, it’s in your benefit and the world’s benefit to seek power. And the problems that we’re seeing today in our society could be described as an asymmetry where those who have power tend to not have wisdom and love and those who have wisdom and love tend to not have power. And that’s a tragedy that I’m trying to fix with my life, that we’re trying to fix with our tradition, but I’m trying to fix with this talk.


So I’m imagining that a lot of you are wise and loving people who might otherwise be tempted to avoid power, to avoid seeking power, to avoid taking power. And I think that you will get hurt if you do that and that your goals will be better served if you do seek out power. Again, that’s this is all something that I’d love to talk to you more about, but in short, don’t avoid power.


So rather than giving you lots of quotes from Samo’s paper, which you can, can and probably should just read after this talk, I’m going to actually take you through step by step what it takes to make a Burja Map and then trickle in the theory as we go.


And this is sort of a co evolution from seeing best practices in the education of Wardley Mapping in particular Ben’s canvas, where he very kindly takes you through each step of what you actually do to make a Wardley Map, which if you’d already made Wardley Maps might not be necessary, but if you’re brand new, is extremely helpful. He basically did that for me personally when I was learning Wardley Maps, and I’m really grateful that he did that and that he shared that mental model with others. So I’ll be trying to do the same thing for you here where we go step by step through what you actually do to make one of these Burja Maps.


So the first thing that you want to do is you want to ask “who.” In particular you want to decide what team or organization or, in Samo’s parlance, “Empire” you’re gonna be working with. So I’m going to take you through a hypothetical example that may or may not be related to your particular job, but just so that it’s sort of plausible, relatable. So we’re gonna pick an I.T. team. What I imagine an I.T. team is like, anyway. You can tell me when I make this map that it’s totally wrong, because that’s what maps do.


So, the I.T. team, of course, is within a larger organization. This is a very important part of empires that they could be considered fractal or recursive or nested, that there are empires within empires, within empires. And you pick a scope that you want to work with. And this may or may not be related to your org chart. You get to decide what the scope is.


So we’re going to be working with the I.T. team and the next step is to specify what Samo calls the domain of competition. Anytime that there are people that they’re actors, they are going to be competing over scarce resources, even in an environment where people are collaborating together. There will be some form of competition for scarce resources. So this could be anything. It could be oil. It could be a particular resource like oil. It could be a technology. It could be status. Lots of forms of status. It could be a particular portion of a budget, you know, money. You want to specify what what box of money people are competing for. But that’s a big one.


In this case, let’s say that people are competing for decision making power over a product that the I.T. team is working on. Okay. That seems plausible. I know that decision making power is often the thing that’s the scarce resource in empires that I’m involved in. So now that we’ve specified the domain of competition, we’re going to better be able to understand the landscape. Samo’s very clear in his paper, if you fail to specify what people are competing for, then you’re not going to understand the landscape.


So the next step is to specify who is actually in this empire. Now, since empires are nested, there might be other empires within the empire. So you would want to specify that. But to make this simple, I’m going to make actual people because that’s the simplest possible case. And so we’re going to specify who each of these people are. There’s a CEO, there’s a manager, there’s an engineer, there’s an H.R. lead, and an external vendor. And you’ll notice the H.R. person and the vendor are not in I.T. team. OK. Only these two people and the CEO are in the I.T. team, but the CEO makes some decisions let’s say about the I.T. team. So they’re sort of like an acting member. But the H.R. person is in the company, but not technically in I.T. And the vendor is outside of the company entirely. However, they are exerting power and having power in that scope. So you need to specify them.


This is sort of the error that we saw Simon demonstrate so that we don’t have to make this error where he probably was taking into account political social capital within Fotango, but then was forgetting about the importance of the board, that they exerted political power over him, that, in fact, they were the ones providing the resources. So we don’t want to make that particular mistake, and so we’ve added H.R. and the vendor to this map.


So next, we want to break these people into different power classes. Empire Theory says that there are four power classes, High, Mid, Low and Out. Out are those two people that are outside of a particular scope but still relevant to it. And then the High, Mid and Low are degrees within the scope. Now, each of those power classes have certain characteristics in and of themselves. And then they also have relationships when you have interactions between the power classes. And this can get really interesting really quickly. But I’m not going to get into that too much today. It’s pretty straightforward. High, Mid, Low and Out where people are relevant to the scope, but not in it.


So here we’ve said that the CEO is High. The manager is Mid. The engineer is Low. That H.R. and the vendor are both Out, although they’re in different empires that you can also map. You could map the H.R. empire. You can map the vendor’s empire. But in this particular map, they’re Out.


The next step is something called vitality. Each player is going to be either Dead or Alive. And this isn’t literally alive or dead. And it’s also not a pejorative term, which I’ll explain in a second. But essentially each person is either going to be following a script, doing the same old, same old, just kind of doing what they’re told, doing what they understand the context to be. They’re not acting in new or novel ways. Or they’re actors that aren’t following scripts, that are capable of coordinating in new ways and doing new things. So some people will be doing the same old, same old. Some people will be doing new things. And that may or may not be related to their power class.


Sometimes High players are Live. Sometimes they’re not. And the reason that this isn’t a pejorative term is sometimes it’s actually very useful to be Dead. And this is, of course, context dependent like everything else. The example that I like to use is the post office, where I am a Low, Dead player, OK? Usually I want to send a letter to say my uncle. I write out the letter. It’s very straightforward what I do. I go and purchase a stamp and an envelope, put the address on, put it in the mail, and then it gets to my uncle. And that works for me. OK. There is a whole power structure that I don’t even need to know about. I just put in my resources, buying the stamp, and it works for me. I don’t need a change to be made. I don’t need something to be new. I’m just following the script. And that works perfectly fine for me in that context.


However, in a context where you want to make changes, where you want to see things being differently, in particular for you Wardley Mappers, if you notice inertia and you’re trying to shift things along the map, then it can be useful to either be a Live player yourself or ally with Live players.


So in this case, we’ve said that the CEO and the H.R. person are Dead. The vendor and the manager sort of in the middle and the engineer is a Live player. Maybe they’re introducing some new engineering practice or something like that. Plausible scenario. You all are here learning about new practices. You might be a Live player yourself. And Ben sort of talked about this a little bit yesterday, where he said mapping is for individuals. And I think we can translate that into these terms where if you’re a Live player in a particular context, that’s where you’re going to see that maps are useful for you.


The next step is Alignment. This is a third axis that I’ve represented with colors. Some people have preferred to use alignment on the bottom axis. That’s another option. This is just how I do it. It’s in the late custom early product stages. So you should make these maps differently. This is just what works for me. But essentially for each player you want to say are they on my team or not? Someone could be an ally, someone that’s acting in favorable ways towards you. They could be neutral where they’re not on your team or against you, or they could be an enemy where they are working against you. And they might not literally be trying to kill you. They might just disagree with the policies you’re trying to implement or something like that. Okay. So an enemy here, ally here could mean any number of things, but it’s essentially are they behaving in favorable ways towards you and your goals or not?


And “you” depends on the scope. You might be “you” individually or it might be your organization or your team. It’s you. “You” is whoever you want to be. So I’ve mapped myself in teams that I’m in. I’ve mapped my organization. I’ve mapped sub teams within my organization. And so “you” can be context dependent. You might even map some other team and have a “you” be someone that you’re not even affiliated with. But in any case, you’ll want to see what the alignment is, who is on your enemy list and who’s on your ally list. And so our allies here are green, neutral people are yellow, enemies are red.


So where does this leave us? The first thing to say is that to interpret these you’ll probably want other modes of orientation. So you’re still going to want to look at your financial statements. In particular, you’re still going to want to look at your Wardley Maps if you have those available. You’re going to want to juxtapose all of the tools that you have to orient towards the world when you’re making these decisions. And because it’s context dependent, I don’t know what is going to come out of this for you.


But for me, just to give you a plausible scenario, if I were looking at this map, I’d say, OK, this engineer is on my team. He’s working with me, but he’s a Low player, so I want to give him lots of information, have fast information flow with him, make sure that he’s getting me fast information flow. Now I need to watch out for the CEO or H.R. I’m not going to give them too much information or avoid giving them information. And I need to be on offense and defense with the manager and vendor. And that’s going to be very context dependent. But often that just means knowing what their goals are and how to interface with them in a way that’s useful to them.


So, essentially that third axis really is where the interpretation comes into play of how you want to interact with your allies, how you interact with your enemies. Information flow seems to be a very key variable, at least for me in the maps that I’ve been making.


So to summarize, what we’ve learned is that you need to ask “who” in addition to “what.” For me, Empire Theory has been a really useful way to ask this question. In particular, the concepts of domain of competition, power class, and vitality… alignment is something that I sort of added on, but it’s a natural consequence of looking at these things in a strategic environment. And of course, all of this is just one attempt at using these ideas to answer this question. As I said earlier, it’s in the late custom early product stages. So you’re probably going to do it differently. Other people are going to do it differently. And I’d be curious to learn how you end up using these.


So, what’s the next step? First thing is to give this a try. Pick a team that you care about and make one of these maps. Just give it a try. You have learned the basic steps. You can do it and see what you learn there. If you get stuck or you’re just curious to learn more, you can read Samo’s paper, Great Founder Theory. And then so far I’ve written five blog posts that you can read about these topics that go into much more depth than I was able to today. And of course, share what you learned with others. I’d love to hear what you have to learn from these exercises. And also tell your team what you learn, coordinate with your allies. Share whatever you learn from mapping power environments that you care about. So that’s all I’ve got for today. Thank you very much.

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