The unimagined orange and new frontiers in management consultancy

17.30, Friday 5 Jan 2024

I love a good triangle diagram.

Citrus fruits are a great example. It turns out there are three basic ancient eigenfruits: true mandarins, pomelos, citrons.

And all the other fruits are various combinations of that triplet. Such as

  • oranges: 50% true mandarin, 50% pomelo, zero citron.
  • lemons: 30% true mandarin, 20% pomelo, 50% citron.
  • grapefruit: kinda like oranges but with more pomelo.

So you can plot them all on a triangle.

Here’s the diagram! Hybridization in citrus cultivars.

When you look at it, don’t you just see the GAPS?

Doesn’t it just make you want to run outside and start hybridising limes to breed a heretofore unimagined citrus sensation?

There’s a similar diagram for soil.

Ever wondered about the difference between clay, sand, silt, loam, loamy sand, sandy loam, and so on?

There’s a triangle for you!

OR: chocolate desserts.

Chocolate, milk, and sugar - dark chocolate, chocolate milk, ice cream, and tiramisu on the same triangle.

It makes me want to explore the tasty unnamed spaces.

The technical term is a ternary plot.

e.g. from that Wikipedia page I found this one for the flammability of methane.

Geologists and chemists seem to love ternary plots especially.

To the point that they make joke ones. This ternary chart of geoscientists maps out geophysicists, geologists, sedimentologists, seismologists and so on, all on a triangle where the vertices are: lab rats; computer geeks; people who like camping.

Oh also here’s a ternary plot which is a Grand Unified Theory of Potato Chips.

I can’t tell whether the Region of Culinary Repulsion (mapped out between sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, and BBQ) should be seen as a warning or a challenge.

So here’s the bit I’ll paste into LinkedIn later in my relentless pursuit for citrus-derived thought leadership, then pitch to Harvard Business Review once I get traction:

Ternary plots are the 21st century tool we’ve been waiting for.

They’re different from the management consultant’s usual 2x2 – where you categorise by sorting into a small grid of A or not-A, combined with B or not-B.

For instance BCG’s Growth Share Matrix, from 1970, plots growth vs market share, and helps businesses prioritise. It was popular: At the height of its success, the growth share matrix was used by about half of all Fortune 500 companies.

Triangles share the 2x2’s legibility and ease of rapid whiteboard sketchability. The memetic power.

But 2x2s tend towards binaries and division.

Even Venn diagrams, another typical diagram, as combinatorial as they are, have underlying binary assumptions: something possesses a quality or it is outside the circle.

Whereas the triangle describes a landscape.

Who will invent the BCG Growth Share Matrix of triangles?

There are gradients and spectrums and magnitude.

Ternary plots seem to promote asking: well what if we could move slightly over there? Where are the tipping points, what’s the terrain? How would we explore this unmapped region?

Triangle diagrams open up vistas for the imagination, it seems to me. I’m looking out for excuses to invent some.

3M should make triangular Post-Its. In shades of orange of course.

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