As the mighty forces of Germany, Britain, and France carved up East Africa in the mid-1880s, they used maps to divide the spoils. Rivers, lakes, mountains, and valleys all served as convenient landmarks to slice and dice territories.
Picture yourself for a moment as a negotiator for these great empires, what was your main concern? How were you rewarded and recognized or perhaps how might you be punished if you don’t do a good job? One can only imagine that a peaceful agreement was paramount. We can safely guess that nobody paid a second thought to the people on the ground.
Now, picture yourself as an inhabitant of the conquered territory. All of a sudden, your village is divided by the conquerors, your tribe is ripped apart, your lands are no longer yours.
This is often what happens when organizations hire consultants to devise a new organizational strategy or devise a new business model. The consultants “tend to be designers of ditches, not diggers of ditches. When it comes to executing their lofty theories, well, consultants lean toward leaving those messy realities to the companies themselves.” (a quote I borrow from our forthcoming guest on the Innovation Show, Bethany McLean, the author of “The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron”). For many consultants (I am one) we must keep in mind that the map (designing the ditch) is not the territory (digging the ditch). And by the way, I get that we are often under time constraints to deliver a result, but there is no substitute for guiding a team to develop their own strategy, enabling them to build their own skills.
This also happens when leadership teams (in the name of efficiency) exclude the wider organization in the bid to define a new organizational vision. How does that make the receivers of the wisdom of the tablets from on-high feel? Dis-empowered, underappreciated, excluded. It is much harder to buy into a vision when you were not involved in formulating it when you did not have a voice.
Image of Confused People Reading a Map to a Maze
The map is not the territory means that the description of something is not the reality of that something. The model is not reality, or in the context of this Thursday Thought, when a group of consultants who know very little about your organization design a strategy, it does not mean that strategy will succeed. In fact, because they do not know the inner workings of not only your industry, or the realities of the territory of your organization, coupled with the reality that they often do not include key people in designing the map, many consultants design bum maps. Is it any wonder that 75% of transformational efforts fail? (I always believe it is more because some organizations will not admit such failure)
For these reasons, it is important to remember that a map is only a symbolic representation of the actual territory. If a map is taken as the terrain itself, you miss important aspects of the territory. You become fixated on the map and it is a linear representation of the territory rather than using it as a guide, a fuzzy direction to get you to your goal. Change initiatives, innovation, and any new venture is non-linear and never pans out as you expected it to. It is for these reasons that we must be clear about where we want to get to, yet flexible about how to get there.
People respond to their experiences, not to reality itself. We experience our personal “map” reality through our senses, our beliefs, our filter systems, socialization, expectation, education, upbringing, content sources, Netflix, books, colleagues, and friends. An organization is no different.
A predominant message in my book “Undisruptable, A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention” is that you cannot change business models until you first change mental models, you cannot force the territory to evolve. You can nudge it in certain directions, but lasting change takes time.
THANKS FOR READING
If you would like to strengthen the mental models of your teams, question your maps, and add some new frames through which to see change our Permanent Reinvention workshops are fun, visual, and highly engaging. They are designed to create Aha moments for you and your team. Drop me a line if you are interested.
Add alt text