If you by chance find yourself in a situation where you want to add a new word to the dictionary, you don’t have to think very hard about where to place it. The dictionary serves as a useful tool that reminds us of the principles behind taxonomies. The words in a dictionary are sorted by alphabetical order. That’s why it’s so easy to find the word you’re looking for, or discover a new one next to the one you already know.
Here’s a little something to make you go hmm regarding the alphabet. Why are the letters of the alphabet arranged the way they are? The answer for $1,000,000 is….no reason at all. The alphabet is an arbitrary taxonomy, without a lot of wisdom built in.
The best way to understand how taxonomies work is to think of those based on content or usage.
Almost everything we encounter is sorted into some kind of taxonomy. Take music, for example: we understand intuitively that jazz is closer to blues, not pop, even though both may have overlapping elements.
The taxonomy of music helps you explore different genres and discover what resonates with you, because you understand what styles and sounds might be similar or complementary to your preferences.
Prince had more in common with Michael Jackson (both pop music stars) than he did with Bob Dylan (both hailing from Minneapolis). And, Twitter has more in common with Instagram (both social media platforms) than it does with Wells Fargo (both headquartered in San Francisco, CA).
The task at hand, if you want to explain a field, if you want to understand it, and especially if you want to change it, is to start with the taxonomy of how it’s explained and understood.
Once you unravel this taxonomy, you hold the key to reshaping it into something even more powerful and impactful.
Alas, people are lazy and we often fall into to the trap of convenience, haphazardly stringing together unrelated fragments or adhering to an arbitrary order of presentation. Take, for instance, the way we teach history. We separate the study of historical events from understanding what a student may have in common with that historical event. So students struggle to mentally categorize events. This disjointed approach persists merely due to historical inertia and a desire to maintain the status quo.
What if we reimagine the educational landscape. What if we defy convention and reconstruct the taxonomy of knowledge to mirror its inherent interconnectedness. What if we shift paradigms to empowering individuals to navigate the depths of knowledge with clarity and purpose.
Thinking this way it’s easy to see how educators can use taxonomies to help students understand how the world works.
Entrepreneurs, and freelancers also need taxonomies so they can find the gaps, and figure out how to fill them.
If you can’t build a taxonomy for your area of expertise, then you’re not an expert in it. I’m a marketer so here’s a link to a marketing taxonomy you may find useful.