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Containers and paths: Objects for thinking with

How a simple two-object model (containers and paths) can clarify thinking

The idea that was most impactful for me in my discussion with information designer Oliver Caviglioli was the the idea that, when it comes to clearly ordering and communicating ideas, two key things to consider are containers and paths.

I’ll explain it in general terms in this blog, but this idea can be applied to all manner of information design challenges, such as writing projects, ordering resources, and even curriculum planning.

When we sort ideas into containers, we group them. For example, within a book, we sort ideas into chapters. Each of these chapters contains ideas that are related. By putting them together, we can more clearly draw connections between them, highlight similarities and differences, and ultimately communicate more clearly.

Putting ideas into containers is the first step to organising your ideas. In fact, it’s kind of like organising physical objects. If you’re trying to sort a cluttered wardrobe, the first thing you might do is put different items in different piles or boxes (containers).

Putting ideas into containers is an incredibly valuable step in the process of meaning making.

Once we’ve managed to put related ideas into containers, we can sequence them along paths.

Paths are necessary because, although our knowledge is organised in networks, we communicate primarily sequentially. Books are presented one word after another. Speech proceeds one word after another. When information is presented in sequence, we can only present one idea at a time.

A path can simply be thought of as putting one container after another.

By using this simple two-step process - sort ideas into containers, sequence containers along paths - we can order and come to grips with a large amount of information in a short amount of time, and build it into a coherent narrative.

This is exactly the process that I used for both my books, but particularly with Tools for Teachers, in which I tried to distil, sort, and order the ideas from over 5 years of podcast recordings!

Next week, I’ll give you a practical example (with photos) of exactly how I did this!

Ps: You may have noticed that the idea of ‘containers’ is related to the idea of ‘hierarchies’. They’re kind of inverted versions of each other. I’ve tried to illustrate this below!

Announcements and Opportunities

I’ve been super pleased and excited by the amount of interest so far in the Certificate in Coaching Leadership that I’ll be running next year!

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