Sensemaking 101: Using Maps to Create Shared Meaning in Your DAO
Alex Wagner
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"You Are Here" – The Sobol Blog
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April 22nd, 2022

Nearly 3,000 years ago, the first known cartographer sat down at his “desk” in ancient Babylon.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, he bent over a wet clay tablet with a chisel and hammer, and started to inscribe.

With meticulous detail, he created the cuneiform characters at the top of the document. Then, he started working on a map to diagram the complete mythological world of Babylon. He marked Babylon at the center, situated on the Euphrates river, which ran North-South. Numerous kingdoms, a canal, a swamp, and the sea (“region of bitter water”) are also marked on this map.

This unbaked clay tablet came to be known as the Babylonian Map of the World(or Imago Mundi). This object was created in 6th century BCE, and is the oldest existing map in the world.

This ol' thing? Just the oldest existing map of the world–no big deal :)
This ol' thing? Just the oldest existing map of the world–no big deal :)

We do not know exactly who created the tablet. Most likely he was a scribe(research shows most scribes in ancient Babylon were men). The tablet was likely a sacred object for the Akkadians who created it.

There is a high-level of craft present in the tablet–the symbols on the map are arranged in an aesthetically pleasing, symmetrical pattern. The Imago Mundi is a “cosmological map”, rather than a literal, geographically-accurate one.

Before Rome existed, all roads lead to Euphrates, (at least as far as the Imago Mundi was concerned).
Before Rome existed, all roads lead to Euphrates, (at least as far as the Imago Mundi was concerned).

From the map, we can see that ancient cartographer was more interested in showing the relationship between the symbols on the map, as opposed to providing an exact geographical map to scale, of Babylon and its surroundings.

While the Imago Mundi may seem crude, it actually contains a significant amount of information between its cuneiform-encoded myth, the map, and the symbols contained within the map.

Remarkably, the Imago Mundi gives a complete explanation of the Babylonian mythological world, which is why its significance is compared to the Rosetta Stone or the Code of Hammurabi, both created centuries later.

If you’re interested, this video is a fun examination of the Imago Mundi.

The Imago Mundi demonstrates a truth about maps, which is that, in its most basic form, a map is simply a type of chart that shows relationships between things.

We generally think of geographical maps when we think about maps, but maps can also depict relationships between people, places, things, and even ideas (mind maps and organizational charts being two examples).

Why Do We Make Maps?

People make maps to make sense of their environment. You could argue that mapmaking can be considered a kind of “sensemaking”.

It’s a topic that deserves a post of its own, but if you want a deeper dive on the “sensemaking = cartography” metaphor, this chapter on sensemaking from MIT’s Handbook for Teaching Leadership is great.

One snippet:

Maps can provide hope, confidence, and the means to move from anxiety to action. By mapping an unfamiliar situation, some of the fear of the unknown can be abated. By having all members of a team working from a common map of “what’s going on out there,” coordinated action is facilitated. In an age where people are often anxious about their circumstances, mapmaking becomes an essential element of sensemaking and leadership. In a world of action first, sensemaking provides a precursor to more effective action.

For instance, in the pre-Google era(some 25 years ago), people used a “road atlas” to help them navigate from point A to point B. Road trippers and family vacationers used the maps in the road atlas to make sense of their journey, to guide and orient them along the way.

Share if you think we need more road atlas memes.
Share if you think we need more road atlas memes.

If you’ve ever gotten lost while driving during the pre-GPS era, you’ll remember what a boon it was to have a beat-up old road atlas stashed in your trunk.

Beyond Org Charts

An organizational chart is another kind of map. While org charts don’t map the physical coordinates of locations, they do provide a valuable utility in providing a source-of-truth for the hierarchies in traditional organizations, between both people and departments.

Flat or “networked” organizations, such as Teal organizations, or DAOs, often have org charts too. To use Teal’s philosophy as a guide here, flat organizations eschew traditional “command-and-control” organizational structures for a more decentralized, “sense and respond” approach to organizational dynamics, and facilitating work.

DAOs take that a step further, by embodying the spirit of Teal’s philosophy of self-governance and decentralized work–that whole sense-and-respond thing–and putting it into a more “scaled up” practice.

By using tokenomics, on-chain voting, and utilizing the DAO culture of “work on what you’re passionate about”, DAOs, like Teal organizations, give contributors the freedom to work on the things that they care about the most, while also giving members more direct control over governance and finances for the DAOs they’re apart of.

Since many DAOs have a significant permissionless component to them, contributors face unique challenges that they do not face in traditional organizations:

  1. They must spend time orienting themselves to the DAO, to get acclimated and confidently make their first contribution to the DAO, generally in the form of labor.
  2. They must continually build their own mental map of the DAO. In order to collaborate with other teams, manage projects effectively, and to understand what the full capabilities of the DAO are, DAO contributors must remember a lot.
  3. They must hold team members and governance decision-makers accountable. A healthy DAO needs robust checks and balances, and a big part of that is making the power structures of the DAO visible, and allowing members various ways to participate.

Having an org map helps DAOs get new members up to speed faster, and helps DAO operators facilitate work within the DAO. This is even more true if the map is collaboratively maintained and edited, which as with any DAO project, it should be!

Obviously, you might expect to hear this argument from a company that builds a tool for creating a collaborative, context-rich org map for your DAO.

We’ll admit, at Sobol we’re devout believers in both the power of blockchain and the need for visually-driven tools to help DAOs operate more effectively.

In addition to having to coordinate hundreds or even thousands of remote contributors, DAOs are constantly in flux. Active DAOs grow linearly, often exponentially. This means that whatever map a DAO chooses to create, it must also be dynamic, robust, and context-rich.

Ideally, a DAO’s org map functions as a repository for the DAO, and contains a visually-navigable interface that contains all of the DAO’s relevant operational documentation. This might include project status updates, team agreements, current active roles in teams, active proposals, multi-sig addresses and so on.

Interested in Using Sobol for your DAO?

Dm us at @teamSobol, or drop into our Discord server 🔵

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