Attractor Mapping

Attracting order in the organizational chaos


Attractor mapping is a method that we’ve been developing at CENSE for the past two years. It is a method that brings together a variety of different concepts in the service of  assessing where energy is spent within an organization and network. This complexity-oriented method seeks to draw our attention to where emergent phenomenon is likely to be produced and to guide strategy and decision-making around these activities.

Attractor mapping operates much like a heat map, distinguishing areas of activity based on its intensity, which is usually measured by energy. Some examples of heat maps are below and indicate where concentrations of activity are located like cellphone coverage or carbon use. In both of these examples the activity is grafted on to specific areas on a map of physical locations, however it can easily be done with maps made of relationships (like social network maps), emotions or thoughts (like mind maps), or organizational roles (organization charts). Even other systems tools like system dynamic models and causal loop diagrams can be used as the foundation for building an attractor map.

In practice, an attractor map can be made using any map of activity of interest relevant to the issue at hand where complexity plays some role. Complexity simply refers to a set of multiple, overlapping, dynamic influences that are bound by context and time and produce differential effects based on these conditions. It means a simple system that is highly predictive, repetitive and controllable is not the best place for an attractor map. However, even something like a World Cup football game where there are many players operating simultaneously on a pitch can be a focus for an attractor.

Attractor maps are anticipatory in that they help organizations learn where things are happening now so they can pay attention and help anticipate or guide where things are going in the future. This method can be a foresight supporting tool as well as an asset for organizational sensemaking.

In the example of a World Cup match, it can be used to help assess where a play is likely to develop and what a team is paying attention to such as a player, a strategy (defence) or where a particular weakness is in the other team (e.g., less activity on one side or at one position).

If you want to learn more about attractor mapping, details will be presented in future posts. In the meantime, consider how paying attention to where the energy is being spent in your organization is clustered.


Cellphone coverage map
Cellphone coverage map


NYC Clean Heat Map 1
NYC Clean Heat Map (1)


NYC Clean Heat Map 2
NYC Clean Heat Map (2)


Photo credit: Light Chaos by Kevin Dooley used under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr. Check out Kevin’s photostream.

How is Your Cellphone Coverage? by Meg Stewart , Mapping NYC Clean Heat Map (both) by Carbon Visuals all used under Creative Commons License via Flickr.

Thanks to all for making and supporting Creative Commons.


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