A small military unit was sent on a training mission to the Alps. They didn’t know the terrain well. No one had a map. Or so they thought. It began to snow. A blizzard. White out conditions. Big drifts everywhere. The men were lost. They were cold and hungry. Panic began to spread as they imagined what could become of them.
Then one of them found a map in his pocket. Everyone crowded around trying to figure out where they were and how to get out. They calmed down, located themselves, plotted a route back to their base. Packed their gear. And they all began moving.
They didn’t always hit the landmarks they thought they would. They encountered unexpected obstacles. So, getting back meant asking painful questions, shifting paths.
And, ultimately, they had to deal with issues of trust. But the troops got back to base camp.
They looked at the map they had been using. To their surprise, it was actually a map of…the Pyrenees…not the Alps. The moral: When you’re tired, cold, hungry and scared, any old map will do.
But wait! The bad map could have been a disaster, dooming the soldiers to death.
The Island California story in a previous Potato Sack Chronicle told of missionaries who in the early 1700’s used a spectacularly flawed map leading them across the Sierra Nevada to the Nevada desert. The map caused the missionaries to haul their boats in pieces on pack mules from the Pacific coast over the mountains only to find they didn’t need them.
The lesson of the Island California map: If you get your map wrong, you do the wrong things. Once you believe in a map, it’s very, very hard to change. Everyone has deeply ingrained maps, especially executives.
MAP AS CATALYST
Given a choice, the soldiers would have had a better map. But survival here was about map as catalyst. It was about acting on something hopeful even if it would prove to be wrong.
The point about maps remains. A map – good or bad – is just a starting point. Even after you make one, you’ve got to try it out, paying attention to your senses, taking in new information about what’s going on around you. Your map – some might call it a prototype – is a useful sensemaking device.
WHY A POOR MAP CAN BE GOOD ENOUGH
There are several reasons why a poor map may be good enough: It could enable leaders and teams to move ahead with assurance toward goals that might seem unattainable if their view of the world was actually more accurate.
Accuracy may immobilize while partial reality may motivate. Getting people to where they can calm down and act may be more important than finding the right answer. In a rapidly changing world, speed may trump accuracy. It’s very difficult to know whether our perceptions will prove accurate.
In short, plausibility is more important than accuracy in making sense of the world around us. This is not to say you shouldn’t make a map at all. Rather, it is to say maps by themselves are not the end game.
WHAT WOULD THE MISSIONARIES HAVE SAID
Now, are you wondering what those missionaries who found themselves in the Nevada desert would say to that?
Related Topic: World Of Strategy: A Complex Place