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Origin of the term Information Radiator
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Origin of the term Information Radiator

by Alistair CockburnAugust 17, 2017

In 2000 I tumbled onto the idea that information flows through organizations in the same way as convection currents of air (see the Harnessing Convection Currents of Information OOPSLA 2001 ppt pdf talk).

I used to diagnose organizations and simply stand there and imagine all the people — the containers of information —- moving around, dispersing their information as they go.

I saw that a design decision needed inputs from many specialties (these are the meetings people hated to attend), but that the specialists sat if different places. Where they were colocated in cross-functional teams (Holistic Diversity pattern), the “air” (information) mixed freely and quickly, whereas where they were separated, it took a long time for the information to mix. The following image shows the convoluted path from Pat to Kim in a standard organization

Kim talks to Pat convection currents png

In 2000 or 2001, Martin Fowler joined ThoughtWorks in Chicago, and invited Ward Cunningham and me to come do some sniffing around. As we stood there in the hall, I looked at this fabulous set of flip charts acting as the “story cards” for the current XP project (and I can’t even tell you how fabulous it is to have the story cards on flip charts and the tasks as post-its, try it if you don’t believe me!).

Flip charts as story cards 2001 courtesy of Thoughtworks

I turned to Martin and Ward and said, “Look at those flip charts : they are radiating information right into the hallway! They are information radiators!”

Ward said (words to the effect of), “I know you’re really good at metaphors, Alistair, but this is stretching it too far. Information radiators will never catch on.”

Haha, right?!

In 2010 Atlassian has a completion for the “Ultimate Wallboard / Information Radiator”, see https://www.atlassian.com/blog/archives/ultimate_wallboard_winner

and here’s little favorite I used when I had to post all my projects on my dining room wall, and didn’t want to make it look too clunky:

Information radiator of Alistairs projects.jpg

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Alistair Cockburn

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