For some time, RitterMaps have received very different reactions from the professionals that have seen how I converge legal information into the power and flexibility of mind maps. Generally, those who are older or more experienced in their careers hesitate, or pause, or simply express a disfavor for visual tools. There is a strong preference for information to be presented in text format, perhaps in spreadsheets, but without the structure, context, color and visual architecture that RitterMaps enable. Of course, for those who are "born digital", there is a much more comfortable and positive response. Nearly 5 years ago, during my first training of Associates in a major law firm, one of the newer lawyers concluded the program by walking up and sharing reviewed that, "your maps are like gold!". That enthusiasm has continued, and nearly anyone who has been raised with a mouse beneath their fingertips has been comfortable with the visual information maps.
Last week, something happened that was truly noteworthy. The 25-year-old son of one of my good friends was visiting for dinner. My friend encouraged me to show his son, an aspiring lawyer, the RitterMaps and how we are developing these tools to support the performance of legal services, and the collaborative, team management of digital information. We’re – located to my office and, sitting side–by–side, I began to show him how the mind mapping function worked, and some of the features and capabilities of the RitterMaps. Then, it happened. While my own hand was gesturing in the air, the aspiring lawyer simply reached for and took control of the mouse. No permission was requested, nor expected. Instead, acting nearly on instinct, and eager to explore the further depth and complexity of the content, he took over.
Now, the dynamics changed entirely. My guest was asking questions, opening and closing topics, experimenting with restructuring and re-organizing the content, engaging and interacting with the RitterMaps naturally and without any training, instruction, or guidance on how to do things. Reflecting later that night on the moment, I remembered the scientist who is playing the keyboard for the visiting alien spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The scientist removed his hands from the keyboard and the spacecraft took over, playing the music on its own. I felt much the same as the scientist – awed and humbled.
The singular incident underscored that the challenges of trying to reorganize legal content in order to be more accessible to those responsible for managing the digital record is worth all of the effort, false starts, and resistance from the status quo. We run out of alphabet letters– and it’s difficult to keep track of whether anyone of us belongs in the X, Y, or other generations. But the current and future generations are simply being wired differently to interact with, explore, acquire and apply information. The inherent presence of the digital screen, and the near-infinite accessibility of information that can be transformed into knowledge, empowers individuals to point, click, explore, defy structure, and fearlessly persist in shaping the information into the knowledge structures they require to learn, work, and even play.
Traditional publication formats–most notably hardcover textbooks, three-ring notebooks, and the ubiquitous slide deck– simply no longer work as effective tools to organize, present, and deliver knowledge that enriches, informs and empowers each of us. In developing RitterMaps, unique in their integration of legal and technology content into unified presentations, I was trying to solve a simple problem: to equip both legal and IT professionals with a resource that enables them to work better, collaborate, and reduce the risks of not understanding each other’s business languages, cultures, and performance objectives. But it turns out that we may be doing something much more important and provocative.
By taking the first steps to present legal and technology content together, and using visual information mind maps as the publication structure, we are building tools that enable those "born digital" to explore faster, to learn better, and ultimately communicate with one another in a visual space that requires no training to navigate. Yesterday, an adjunct professor at Columbia University introduced me to their masters’ program on Information and Knowledge Strategy. It’s a very cool new program. In our conversation, she pointed out that RitterMaps have another purpose. They accelerate the capability of the learner to transform and share the information they have learned with others. A RitterMap, or any mind map, allows the learner to immediately take the instrument from which they have acquired the knowledge, and present that same content to someone else-other team members, supervisors, or perhaps even judges. It turns out this is one of the most important "knowledge strategies"– to design and implement the means to share knowledge above the din of endless digital information.
It is clear that our strategy must embrace giving the X, Y, and younger generations hands – on experience with RitterMaps. If they can touch, edit, modify and adapt the content, each user becomes an owner of both the information and the knowledge they are experiencing. This control enables the user to construct their own architecture and, in the final analysis, use the knowledge to their best advantage. And isn’t that essential if effective information governance in a digital world is to be achieved?
I will long remember the evening when I lost control of my mouse. It was one of the best experiences of this journey.