What is the purpose of Wardley Mapping? Part 1/5

Why is Wardley Mapping useful? When we work alone, we can only do so much. But when we work together towards a common goal, great things become possible.

That’s what organization is all about — 1) gathering people together and 2) focusing their labor.

However, if we evaluate today’s organizations on these two functions, we’ll find that they struggle in both respects.

While people-gathering is worth careful study (I recommend Andrew Shafer’s provocative There Is No Talent Shortage as a worthwhile place to start… see my notes here), our concern today is the latter function — focusing labor.

A Sewing Needle, a Boxing Glove, and a Potato Cannon

Here’s a silly little story to illustrate focus.

Imagine we are friends, and I invite you to participate in an absurd bit of performance art. (In this story world, I am known do this on occasion.) The subject is something to do with futility or other such nonsense. Whatever.

For any number of reasons, you agree to it (you are a good friend), and we arrange to meet in an open field a few miles out of town.

When you arrive, I hand you a blank piece of A4 paper. “Your job in this performance,” I say, “is to make a hole in this paper.”

“Is that it?” you ask, almost disappointed.

“Well, almost,” I reply. “You must use one of these three items to do it.”

I gesture to a table nearby. On it are three items: First, a tiny sewing needle with a bit of thread attached to make it easy to grasp. Next, a single, somewhat aged boxing glove. Last, a strange plastic contraption that you soon find out is a loaded potato cannon (n.b. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania; a potato cannon is not the strangest nor the most explosive thing you’d catch us kids playing with).

Anyways, you’re supposed to pick one of these items for the task of putting a hole in the paper, so you start comparing them in your head.

Right away, you can tell the boxing glove is not going to work. Even if you punch hard with it, the force just gets spread out by the size of the glove. And you’re absolutely not going to be caught looking silly trying to punch a piece of paper.

The sewing needle is probably the easiest option. It wouldn’t take much effort at all to puncture the paper. But that’s almost too easy, and besides, there’s a potato cannon!

You’ve never launched potatoes with machinery before! Such a strange and exciting device. Who would blame you for enjoying such a novelty? And yes of course it ought to do the job, assuming you can figure out how to use it.

With the choice made, you and I spend about half an hour getting it working and ready to fire.

When the moment arrives, I stand to the side of the PVC monstrosity and hold the piece of A4 paper across its barrel. I’m careful to keep my fingers out of the way.





The potato punches through the paper and flies across the field until it reaches a tree, where it then obliterates itself against an unlucky cluster of thick branches. You seem pleased.

After giving you a moment to enjoy, I interrupt. “Now for the bad news.”

“What’s that?”

“We have to do this 99 more times. To complete the performance.”


We find another potato and prepare the cannon again. This time it only takes 15 minutes to fire and puncture the paper. Two down!

We do this a few more times, but at a certain point the novelty wears off and it stops being fun. The day is dragging on, and you’re starting to feel a bit tired.

So far, the potato cannon has certainly been the most interesting way to accomplish the task, but by no means was it the easiest or most sensible. The choice must have been part of the performance. Or something.

Regardless, to speed things up, you choose to use the sewing needle for the final 90 pieces of paper.

It takes about three minutes to perforate the remaining sheets of paper. The performance complete, I thank you for your contribution, and we part ways.

Focusing Force… Focusing Labor…

Well, there’s a missing ingredient. A physics equation. P = F / A.

That is, Pressure = Force / Area.

Pressure is the key to puncturing the paper. And you can get enough of it by using a big enough force and applying it to a small enough area.

Each item in the story had a different configuration of force vs area, resulting in different pressures.

Item Force / Area = Pressure
Sewing Needle Low / Very Small = ✅ Very High
Boxing Glove Medium / Very Large = ❌ Very Low
Potato Cannon Very High / Medium = ✅ Somewhat High


The boxing glove could have had a decent amount of force, but it would be spread across such a large surface area, diminishing the pressure significantly.

And once you see this, you’ll know why organizations are failing. It's right here.

Wardley Mapping is one tool that allows organizations to focus their collective effort on a much smaller area.

Ideally, we could solve every problem with maximum force applied across a large area- the potato cannon approach, if you will. If we don’t have the luxury of a potato cannon, however, we have to know where to apply the sewing needle. I'll go into more detail on that in my next blog post.

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