My First Friday Favorite Guru: Bob Horn

Robert E. Horn

Bob, is best known for:

  • Inventing Information Mapping (a.k.a.; Structured Writing)
  • Creating the grammar and syntax and semantics for Visual Language
  • Synthesizing Wicked problems and visually portraying them in Mess Maps and Information Murals.

More on each of those later.

Horn Bob.png

From Wikipedia

Robert E. Horn (born 1933) is an American political scientist who taught at Harvard, Columbia, and Sheffield (U.K.) universities, and has been a Senior Researcher at Stanford Human Science and Technology Research Institute for the past quarter century. He is known for the development of information mapping.

His latest contributions to the presentation of information have been in the field of visual language. Horn has extended the use of visual language and visual analytics to develop methods—involving large, detailed infographics and argument map murals—for exploring and resolving wicked problems.

Back in the Day

I believe that I met Bob at an NSPI (now ISPI) Conference sometime in the mid 1980s – and I believe it was my former business partner, the late Ray Svenson who introduced us. But I could be wrong.

Ray was really into Information Mapping – and all of our Project Plans, Proposals, Analysis Reports, Design Documents, Strategic Plans, etc., etc., at his consulting firm (R. A. Svenson & Associates later becoming SWI – Svenson & Wallace, Inc.) followed some adaptation of Bob’s Information Mapping approach – as Ray had learned it at AT&T back in the 1970s.

Today my Project Plans, Proposals, Analysis Reports, Design Documents, etc., follow those structures that I learned to write – from Ray’s original templates – back in 1982.

HPT Legacy Video

From May 2018. 44 minutes in length.

Information Mapping

From Wikipedia

Information mapping is a research-based method for writing clear and user focused information, based on the audience’s needs and the purpose of the information. The method is applied primarily to designing and developing business and technical communications. It is used as a content standard within organizations throughout the world.

Visual Language


In his most recent book, Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century, Robert Horn defines visual language as the tight integration of words, images, and shapes into a single communication unit.

Mess Maps


Trained as a political scientist, and now a futurist and strategist, Horn has worked extensively with task forces as a synthesizer to create scenarios, strategic plans, and the organizations that can execute them. He has worked with strategic planning on nuclear waste disposal (for the UK’s government agency); climate change and energy security issues (for the UK Foreign Office). He has innovated a new facilitated process that enables multidisciplinary task forces to better deal with social messes (aka wicked problems). He calls this work the “mapping of social messes and mega-messes.”

In many of these engagements, he has created a new form of mural that portrays the strategic context and future scenarios, the current decision-making issues, and the crucial interaction of the private and public sectors. For example, In 2010. he created a 4 x 14 foot mural for the World Business Council on Sustainable Development task force – Vision 2050 that describes the requirement for the next 40-years and contains 350 milestones needed for a sustainable world.  He recently finished three murals for a task force on a European Commission-sponsored project on resource efficiency by 2050.

Example 1: Mess Map


Example 2: Information Mural  (PDF – very wide)

uc-NUCLEAR WASTE-History&Future-2004

Bob Horn 2018-05-29 (Time 0_15_09;15)

Bob’s 2 Websites

1.  His most recent 20 years of visual language and information murals and argumentation mapping and social mess mapping:

2. His Stanford site where much of his early articles on information mapping reside.

Some Web PDFs:

3 More Videos

Leonardo da Vinci’s Lessons on Innovation and Visualization 

Several years ago (2009) Bob did a Leonardo da Vinci theatre piece. He describe eleven lessons we can gain from Leonardo’s career.  It is now up on the internet:
Robert Horn of Stanford University portrays Leonardo giving a lecture on how to do innovation (today) with illustrations from da Vinci’s enormous set of inventions. Think Big, Have Wild Ideas, Have (for sure) Many Ideas, Fail Early and Often and many more lessons. Leonardo’s lessons were presented at the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute dinner in November 2008.

Leonardo’s lessons that Bob presents and illustrates are:

  1. Have wild ideas
  2. Think big
  3. Fail early and often
  4. Have many ideas.
  5. Observation – study nature
  6. Visual representation
  7. Everything can be designed
  8. Empower innovation
  9. Rapid prototypes
  10. Multiple experts
  11. Keep focus
See the web page that goes with it:

Robert Horn at the Oslo Sustainability Summit 2011

Panel Debate: Policy and Business – What are Wise Strategies?
Chair: Atle Midttun Robert Horn: 40 Must-haves in a “Nobody-in-charge World”
11th video down on this page:

Breaking the Wall of Organisational Ignorance. How Visual Language Supports Decision Making about Wicked Problems and Social Messes


Interesting Read From the Late Jay Cross 

Cross, Jay (2007). “Bob Horn, informal learner extraordinaire”Informal learning: rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco: Pfeiffer/John Wiley & SonsISBN 0787981699OCLC 71426792.

Bob Horn 2018-05-29 (Time 0_19_41;18)

Bob’s 2 Books

Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century


Mapping Hypertext: The Analysis, Organization, and Display of Knowledge for the Next Generation of On-Line Text and Graphics 


Some of Bob’s Articles, Speeches and Papers

  • Analysis and Design of Information for Complex Social Messes-Case Study – UK Energy and Climate Change
    MediaX Stanford University, 2007 Part 1 (PowerPoint) Part 2 (PowerPoint)
  • Interactive Mural of the History of the Ideas of Cybernetics and General Systems, 2006 (PDF)
  • Connecting the Smudges-How Analytic Info-Murals May be of Help in Dealing with Social Messes. International Conference on Intelligence Analysis, 2005 (PDF)
  • Interactive Visual Scenario for the the PanDefense 1.0 Conference (Avian Flu Mural) 2005 (PDF)
  • What We Do Not Know: Using Information Murals to Portray Scientific Ignorance, 2005 (PDF)
  • Thinking More Effectively And Strategically About the Long Term Management of Radioactive Waste-A Visual Analytics Approach, 2004 (PDF)
  • To Think Bigger Thoughts Why The Human Cognome Project Requires Visual Language Tools, Talk given at the Converging Technologies for Human Performance (Nano, Bio, Info, Cogno) Conference, 2003. (Powerpoint)
  • Knowledge Mapping for Complex Social Messes
    A presentation to the “Foundations in the Knowledge Economy”
    at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, July 16, 2001 (PDF)
  • Visual Language and Converging Technologies in the Next 10-15 Years (and Beyond)
    A paper prepared for the National Science Foundation Conference on Converging Technologies (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno) for Improving Human Performance Dec. 3-4, 2001 (PDF)
  • Beginning to Conceptualize the Human Cognome Project A paper prepared for the National Science Foundation Conference on Converging Technologies (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno) Draft 4/30/02 (PDF)
  • Conceptual map of a vision of the future of visual language research. (PDF)
  • Think Link, Invent, Implement, and Collaborate! Think Open! Think Change! Think Big!
    Keynote Speech Honoring Douglas Engelbart on Doug Engelbart Day
    in the state of Oregon, at Oregon State University, January 24, 2002 (PDF)
  • Some of Philosophy’s Next Jobs
    This talk was delivered at the First European Conference on Computers and Philosophy
    at the University of Glasgow, March 28, 2003. (Powerpoint)
  • What Kinds of Writing Have a Future?
    Speech prepared in connection with receiving Lifetime Achievement Award
    by the Association of Computing Machinery SIGDOC, October 22, 2001 (PDF)
  • The Representation of Meaning: Visual Information Design as a Practical and Fine Art 
    (A speech prepared for the InfoArcadia Exhibit, the Stroom Center for the Visual Arts, The Hague, The Netherlands, April 3, 2000) (html)

Current Projects
New Maps for Public Policy Project

The Argumentation Mapping Project

Horn, R. E., (2002) Infrastructure for Navigation of Interdisciplinary Debates; Critical Decisions for Representing Argumentation . A draft chapter prepared for the forthcoming book Visualizing Argumentation; Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making (html) (PDF)

Horn, R. E., (2000) Teaching Philosophy with Argumentation Maps Newsletter of the American Philosophical Association, November 2000 (html) (PDF)

Horn, R. E., (1999) Using Argumentation Analysis to Examine History and Status of a Major Debate in Artificial Intelligence and Philosophy. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation. SIC SAT. June 16-19, 1998. Amsterdam–The Netherlands. (PDF) (PDF Figure 1 .) (PDF Figure 2.)

Examples of Recent Argumentation Maps from Our Project

Contact Bob Via Email


Untitled Project (Time 0_00_04;20)

Note Re: My First Friday Favorite Guru Series 

Is now being done more occasionally – after years being done each month starting back in 2012 until my hiatus which began at the end of 2015.

See the first 42 in the series – here.

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One comment on “My First Friday Favorite Guru: Bob Horn

  1. Pingback: Video of Bob Horn – HPT Treasures – for Evidence Based Performance Improvement

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