Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Meet the Motive Map

One of my intentions for Sage Garden Ecovillas is to contribute to the global body of knowledge in the area of regenerative business practices. So while we prepare beds for spring planting, I'm also tending a garden of ideas. And one of the ideas ripening in 2016 is something I'm calling a motive map.

(The name "motive map" is derived from the term "mind map" coined by pop psychology writer Tony Buzan, although motive maps are intentionally NOT restricted to hierarchical form, as mind maps usually are. The format of the outline below is adapted from the format of software design patterns described by Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, and John Vlissides in Design Patterns, which in turn was based on Christopher Alexander's concept of architectural design patterns first described in Notes on the Synthesis of Form.)

Ok, so what is a motive map? Here's a brief overview.


A motive map is a picture that shows the relationships among actions and the purposes that motivate them. In the context of an enterprise, the actions may be business programs, and the purposes may be business values and objectives. Why would an enterprise make the effort to create a motive map? The benefits include:
  • Define the identity and purpose of the enterprise
  • Inspire and motive its members and partners
  • Identify disconnects such as efforts that don't serve a compelling purpose, or opportunities to address purposes that are underimplemented
  • Provide a principled framework for priority setting
  • Preserve the effectiveness of an enterprise by suggesting how to shift focus when circumstances change


Here is a motive map of programs and practices at Sage Garden Ecovillas.  Values are shown in brown, Objectives in green, and programs and practices in white.


The motive map can be applied to any set of sustained actions when you want to preserve a "deep" record of 1) the purposes of the actions (the "whys"), and 2) the connections between the purposes and the objectives, goals, plans, tasks, or other implementation details (the "whats") derived from them. The motive map is expected to be most useful when decision makers want the ability to adapt to changing circumstances or new information. Without a deep record like a motive map, the original purposes can be lost when circumstances change, or it may be difficult to see when the implementations become outdated, because the assumptions and limitations that made sense when the "whats" were formulated may become outdated. Conventional statements such as a vision or mission statement or a charter also record the purpose of an enterprise, but a motive map goes further. By explicitly recording the links between "whys" and "whats," the motive map facilitates re-evaluation and adaptation.


Here's a basic outline of the steps to create and use a motive map:
  • Create the first draft motive map
    • Define the scope of the motive map (e.g. business programs for XYZ Company)
    • Brainstorm: list as many items (e.g. programs) as you can think of, and for each new item ask what are the purposes of that item, and add each purpose as another item
    • If the purposes (e.g. values, objectives, long-term goals) are given, write them down, too. If not, brainstorm purposes as well.
    • Compile a list of all the items and links among them
    • Draw a diagram: include a node for each item, and for each link, draw an arrow from the "why" to the "what," i.e. from the purpose to the implementation
  • Revise
    • Examine any items that are disconnected. Should they be removed from the map? Or are more items needed to connect them into the map?
    • Examine each of the links. Is the "why" (the tail of the arrow) a sound motive for the "what" (the head of the arrow)? Is the "what" an effective implementation of the "why"? If not, adjust the items and links as needed.
  • Periodically revisit
    • Schedule time to revisit the motive map. Are all the items still relevant? Are any items missing? Is each link still effective (in other words, does the "what" implement the "why")? If not, how should the implementation(s) be adjusted to be more effective?


  • The intended reader of the motive map might not understand it, and might require a more conventional statement of purpose, like a traditional vision statement or mission statement or charter. For instance, if the group writing the motive map is a small team within a larger company, the company's management may require the team's purpose to be expressed in a standard format. Or if you're writing a business plan with the intent of soliciting investors or applying for a loan, your readers may expect your business purposes to be expressed in a more conventional format.
  • For readability, each node of the motive map should be condensed to two words, or three at most. Therefore, the map may need to be accompanied by a legend defining each node in more detail.
  • To be most useful, the motive map should never be finished. It should always be open to revision. This may be uncomfortable for some members or partners who are used to the rigidity of a more traditional purpose statement.
  • A motive map is not a complete business plan. To be most effective, it should be accompanied by other planning artifacts, such as measurable, time-phased goals, schedules, and budgets. The motive map is not a substitute for these other artifacts.
  • To be effective, the motives captured in the motive map have to be honest.


Do you have any critical comments or suggestions about what you see here? Is this similar to an approach you have read about or used in your business or personal life? Do you have any related experiences you want to share? Any questions or requests? If so, join the conversation by commenting below.

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