Open Thinkering


On the mental cost of inventing new categories.

Lemons and apples

Now that I get Seth Godin‘s short, frequent, musings sent directly to my Pocket account (via this IFTTT recipe) I’m back to reading most of what he writes.

Recently, he wrote a post called I want to put you in a category that resonated with me in terms of the Open Badges evangelism I’ve been doing recently:

When I meet you or your company or your product or your restaurant or your website, I desperately need to put it into an existing category, because the mental cost of inventing a new category for every new thing I see is too high.” (my emphasis)

In fact, given that I’ve spent most of my adult life evangelising one thing or another, it really struck home.

Godin’s insight that got me thinking about my current work is his assertion that we should make it easy for people to categorise us and the work we do. What! But what I’ve got something brand new and never-been-seen-before? Then you need to be more careful. Why? The real danger is to be miscategorised:

“What is this thing? What are you like? Are you friend or foe, flake or leader, good deal or ripoff, easy or hard, important or not? Are you destined for the trusted category or the other one?”

No matter who we’re dealing with, whether internally within our organisations or externally to the rest of the world, I think it’s important to be aware of people’s existing categories and work with them, rather than against them. 🙂

Image CC BY ecokarenlee

2 thoughts on “On the mental cost of inventing new categories.

  1. I think this is massively important to what you are doing. We have discussed before the possible misinterpretations of the concept of ‘badges’ which I see being made by a number of people in their implementation of the surface level concepts in school with what seems to be little grasp of the ethos being open bades, let alone the technicalities. I think what you are doing at Mozilla is brilliant, but the elevator pitch for parents, learners, schools and ‘the public’ needs to be right to grain the traction it needs.

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