Radar charts and the management of complexity

Radar charts are a way of putting lots of different scales in one picture. (If you speak Excel – I don’t – you can probably either build them already or find an internet reference about building them that you understand.)

Here’s an example of what you could depict, the textbook Romantic Hero.

The Romantic Hero

Capacity for brooding/smouldering5
Position in British Aristocracy5
Vulnerability despite all the above3

That gives you five axes.

Then, give a score to each axis. On a scale of 1-5, your proper Romantic Hero would score fives on each axis (five is high and 1 is low), with the exception of Vulnerability, where he gets a 3… enough for some tenderness but he’s not looking for another mother.

The current option on the table, however, is Ed from Accounts, let us say. Here’s his score:

Ed from accounts

Capacity for brooding/smouldering1
Position in British Aristocracy1
Vulnerability despite all the above4

He’s OK with solvency, intriguing with vulnerability, hopeless at brooding because he’s a chirpy, upbeat sort of chap, has no links with the aristocracy and is fun-sized, rather than premium, when it comes to stature.

Spider (or radar) diagrams save you much tedious working and turn all this data into useful pictures. The picture broadly summarizes all you know and helps you make a decision. (Do you invest in Ed, who is conveniently at hand, or do you keep singing ‘One day my prince will come’? Tricky, but a radar chart may help.)


You can do the same for countries. Some countries claim to be ‘democratic’ because they are ruled by a benign father figure who, in a lifetime of public service, always acts for the good of the nation. And anyone expressing an alternate view finds large people bursting into their house and bundling them into the back of a van.

Other countries also claim to be democratic and they also possess a free press, a robust and plausible opposition and the kind of independent courts that enable an individual to prove the goverment is acting unlawfully. All these can be put on a scale and in fact probably are put on a scale somewhere conveniently for us by hard-working NGOs.

Other spheres too

I wonder if plotting things on multiple axes might help us see, and manage complexity, in other spheres too? For example, perhaps in medicine, Western practice can often be a bit one-dimensional: you count the infection markers in the blood, you apply antibiotic, you watch the infection markers go down again over time. (I think.) It’s possible to attempt a more rounded picture (are you sad, lonely, overweight, under-exercised, an adult victim of childhood trauma, or surrounded and nurtured by people like that, and is that really why you are so often off sick?)

There was a trendy theory of church growth that could work the same way. A church will usually grow, the theory says, until it reaches a limit caused by the one thing the church is least good at. Fix that, and it will grow again until it reaches a limit caused by the next-least-good quality of the church. And so on. All this could be conveniently mapped on a radar diagram.

Finally, the total witness of all the people of God could be summarized on a radar chart, though I suspect this can only be viewed in heaven. It would be nice if we (the church) scored a five on all the axes, doing social justice, witnessing to the truth, exercising hospitality, treating people with respect, sharing our goods with the poor, lifting the fallen, committed to creatively, worshipping Christ and introducing people to him…)

Where does this lead us?

Er- wish I knew.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.