Mapping the Unknown – The Ten Steps to Map Any Industry

Mapping the Unknown  The Ten Steps to Map Any Industry

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

I just had lunch with Shenwei, one of my ex-students who had just taken a job in a mid-sized consulting firm. After a bit of transmissible up I offered he was looking a bit lost. “I just got handed a project to help our firm enter a new industry – semiconductors. They want me to map out the space so we can icon out where we can add value.

When I asked what they once knew well-nigh it, they tossed me a tall stack of industry and stock reviewer reports, visitor names, web sites, blogs. I started reading through a tuft of it and I’m drowning in data but don’t know where to start. I finger like I don’t know a thing.”

I told Shenwei I was happy for him considering he had just been handed an superstitious learning opportunity – how to rapidly understand and then map any new market. He gave me a “easy for you to say” look, but surpassing he could object I handed him a pen and a napkin and asked him to write lanugo the names of companies and concepts he read well-nigh that have anything to do with the semiconductor merchantry – in 30 seconds. He quickly came up with a list with 9 names/terms. (See Mapping – First Pass)

“Great, now we have a start. Now requite me a few words that describe what they do, or mean, or what you don’t know well-nigh them.”

Don’t let the enormity of unknowns frighten you. Start with what you do know.

After a few minutes he came up with a napkin sketch that looked like the picture in Mapping – Second Pass.
Now we had some progress.

I pointed out he now had a starter list that not only contained companies but the whence of a map of the relationships between those companies. And while he had a few facts, others were hypotheses and concepts. And he had a ton of unanswered questions.

We spent the next 20 minutes deconstructing that sketch and mapping out the Second Pass list as a diagram (see Mapping – Third Pass.)

As you alimony reading increasingly materials, you’ll have increasingly questions than facts. Your goal is to first turn the questions into testable hypotheses (guesses). Then see if you can find data that turns the hypotheses into facts. For a while the questions will start stook faster than the facts. That’s OK.

Note that plane with just the sparse set of information Shenwei had, in the marrow right-hand corner of his third mapping pass, a relationship diagram of the semiconductor industry was whence to emerge.

Drawing a diagram of the relationships of companies in an industry can help you tightly understand how the industry works and who the key players are. Start towers one immediately. As you find you can’t fill in all the relationships, the gaps outlining what you need to learn will wilt immediately visible.

As the information fog was whence to lift, I could see Shenwei’s conviction returning. I pointed out that he had a real wholesomeness that his work was in a known industry with lots of misogynist information. He quickly realized that he could alimony subtracting information to the columns in the third mapping pass as he read through the reports and web sites.

Google and Google Scholar are your weightier friends. As you discover new information increase your search terms.

My suggestion was to use the diagram in the third mapping pass as the whence of a wall orchestration – either physically (or virtually if he could alimony it in all in his head). And every time he learned increasingly well-nigh the industry to update the relationship diagram of the industry and its segments. (When he pointed out that there were existing diagrams of the semiconductor industry he could copy, I suggested that he ignore them. The goal was for him to understand the industry well unbearable that he could yank his own map ab initio – from the beginning. And if he did so, he might create a much largest one.)

When lunch was over Shenwei asked if it was OK if he checked in with me as he learned new things and I agreed. What he didn’t know was that this was only the first step in a ten-step industry mapping process.


Over the next few weeks Shenwei shared what he had learned and sent me his increasingly refined and updated industry relationship map. (The 4th mapping pass showed up 48 hours later.)In mart I shared with him the news that he was on step one of a ten step industry mapping program. Other the next few weeks he quickly built on the industry map to wordplay questions 2 through 10 below.

Two weeks later he handed his leadership an industry report that covered the ten steps unelevated and contained a sophisticated industry diagram he created from scratch. A far cry from his original napkin sketch!

Six months later his work on this project convinced his visitor that there was a large opportunity in the semiconductor space, and they started a new practice with him in it. His work won him the “best new employee” award.

The Ten Steps to Map any Industry

Start by continuously refining your understanding of the industry by diagramming it. List all the new words you encounter and create a glossary in your own words. Start collecting the weightier sources of information you’ve read.

Basic Industry Understanding

  1. Diagram the industry and its segments
    1. Start with anything
    2. Build your learning by successive iteration
    3. Who are the key suppliers to each segment?
    4. How does this industry feed into the larger economy?
  2. Create a glossary of industry unique terms
    1. Can you explain them to others? Are there analogies to other markets?
  3. Who are the industry experts in each segment? For the unshortened industry?
    1. Economic experts? E.g. industry analysts, universities, think tanks
    2. Technology experts? E.g. universities, think tanks
    3. Geographic experts?
  4. Key Conferences, blogs, web sites, etc.
    1. What are the weightier opensource data feeds?
    2. What are the weightier paid resources?
Overlay numbers, dollars, market share, Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) on all parts of the industry diagram. That will inform velocity and direction of the market.

Detailed Industry Understanding

  1. Who are the market leaders? New entrants? In revenue, market share and growth rate
    1. In the U.S.
    2. Western countries
    3. China
  2. Understand the technology flows
    1. Who builds on top of who
    2. Who is hair-trigger versus who can be substituted
  3. Understand the economic flows
    1. Who buys from who in this industry
    2. Who buys the output from this industry.
    3. How cyclical is demand?
    4. What are the demand drivers?
    5. How do companies inside each segment get funded? Any differences in wanted requirements? Ease of starting, etc.
  4. If applicable, understand the personnel spritz for each segment
    1. Do people move just between their segments or up and lanugo through the unshortened industry?
    2. Where do they get trained?
The beginner’s forecasting method is to simply extrapolate current growth rates forward. But in today’s technology markets, discontinuities are coming fast and furious. Are there other technologies from proximal markets will impact this one? (e.g. AI, Quantum, High performance computing,…?). Are there other global or national economic initiatives that could transpiration the shape of the market?


  1. What’s reverted in the last 10 years? 5 years?
    1. Diagram the past incarnations of the industry
  2. What’s going to transpiration in the next 5 years?
    1. Any big insight on disruption?
    2. New entrants?
    3. New technology?
    4. New foreign suppliers?
    5. Diagram your model of the industry in 5 years