Tear Up Your Old Maps

If We Want To Survive We Need To Make Our Own

2016 Has Been A Year Alright.

Almost everything about our society was challenged. From political systems to the corruption in the business elite. Add to that any remaining belief we had in the media. We’ve been confronted with many forms of extremism and stupidity and yet I remain optimistic.

“We’ve witnessed a televised circus — a full frontal wave of hatred. Like never before — a projectile vomiting of bigotry, sexism, racism and isolationism. It seems to have put us back about a century or two…”

Although most of us were agitating for major changes to the establishment — the way we voted wasn’t what we had in mind.

I’m preferring to think of it all as a good thing.

The Map’s Been Torn Up

Fact is, and because of the way the world looks today, no prior map is going to help us anymore. Recent events throw how we make decisions (think what to do next) into disarray. If we are to make sense of it all we need better understanding of two things — 1. Where we are now and — 2. How to manoeuvre through what’s in front of us.

We need a new map.

“It would be sad if we carried on thinking about our new reality with the mindset we had before. By using our old map — whether the practical or the metaphorical one — it would be a shame to miss new opportunities. We have to make a difference that’s presented by such change...”

To many people change is just a bitch. But if we think about it change gives us new choices, new perspectives and fresh chances to excel.

Challenge Everything

Challenging things is a big part of what makes us human. Just because it’s always been the way it was we’ve also proven that it’s probably not right — or forever. Tough as 2016 has been for what we may believe in — it’s important to feel optimistic right now. It means new opportunity.

The question is how prepared are we to take advantage?


Removing Stupidity

Talking about stupid things. Year’s ago I started a marketing and design company in London. In those days it was important to abide by something called the ‘line’ – a fairly arbitrary way of defining the industry.

I was asked countless times — were we above or below it?



A line?

I never understood why we needed one in the first place — let alone whether it was above or below me. Advertising was above and everything else was below. And before you ask, nope I never ever saw it. It drove me a little crazy. Surely the aim of marketing was about the holistic result and not what channels you used?

Wasn’t the idea of great marketing the quality of the experience the audience got and the message — the effect —all of it added up no matter what the mechanism? Didn’t All The Channels Play Together?

I had a very different perspective, I made different choices and I thought I could do things differently.


Turned out some people really cared about the line. They paid homage to the celebrity and status of the damned line. To them it mattered which side of it you were on.

“I have trouble naming myself — within a language I can no longer find…”

Most clients decided they needed a range of agencies, above and below and who never worked well together. Classic human/animal behaviour.

It was all about marking out territory!


It Eventually Dawned

I realised that the point of the line was to position us. The line wasn’t for our benefit and, as it turned out not for theirs either. Sure, customers could choose their preference* but how could they know what they needed over what they thought they wanted. Well they didn’t. But it was the first mark on the map so that they were happy — they could get oriented.

I’m glad I challenged the idea.

It took a long time but eventually our ignoring/challenging the popular convention — it became the new way. The old guard had perished.

Stupid authority and outdated rules eventually went by the wayside.

*It was a mistake of course — by believing in the line the customer had already created a bias — one that would mess up the journey they needed to take. It was bell that they couldn’t unring.

New Territory?

In London the taxi drivers talk about the ‘Knowledge’. It’s the sum of all their learning about streets and places, short cuts and road closures — that’s one enormous amount of stuff. It requires a mindset of constant reorientation and transformation.

As a mere mortal wishing to find their way around a territory we go get a map. These days it’ll be on your smart device as well. Back in the day the map was a guide to the path you needed to take to get to where you wanted to be. The only problem was that you needed to know where you were — right now.

You need to ask, enquire and be curious. We’ve all but stopped doing that these days because we think the information should be right there in front of us. We’ve stopped the thinking bit.

As the Island of Knowledge grows, so do the shores of our ignorance — the boundary between the known and unknown. Learning more about the world doesn’t lead to a point closer to a final destination — whose existence is nothing but a hopeful assumption anyways — but to more questions and mysteries. The more we know, the more exposed we are to our ignorance, and the more we know to ask.” — Marcelo Gleiser

My Map Isn’t Your Map

The really interesting thing about maps is we all read them slightly differently. Give 10 people a map (who don’t know where they are right now) and not only will they take different routes to the destination, they will have very different experiences and lessons from the journey – some will never even arrive.

There are people out there who place big walls and obstacles around their property — so diversions and conflicts emerge. Therefore really knowing the terrain, the place you are at on the map and your subsequent choice of routes takes on a whole new level of importance.

The Territory Is Very Different Now

The Thing About Maps

1. They’re Risky. A traditional map doesn’t usually give you much to go on —maybe a road or a field, buildings, parks, blocks and bridges—you have to take a bit of a chance on the route—anything can happen. And it’s all much harder to figure it all out at night.

We are surrounded by horizons, by incompleteness.” — Marcelo Gleiser

Suddenly You Are In The Wrong Neighbourhood

2. They’re Too Simple, Sometimes. A map is always incomplete. It can create a false sense of security because you can see a few landmarks — they make you feel good. But that false security means we fail to appreciate all the other things. We don’t get the full meaning and opportunity that sits behind each facade and in the bigger context — imagine what we miss by taking the same route every day..

“The Map Is Not The Territory” — Alfred Korzybski

You Are Way Off — Before You Even Realise You Are Off

3. A Lot Of The Important Stuff Is Missing. Maps are mostly symbolic and that’s because they have to simplify rather than amplify. As currently defined the role of the map argues that complexity is unhelpful — but as a result it becomes less than fully meaningful. Today we have fake news, echo chambers and self serving bubbles everywhere.

A Missed Opportunity Has Never Before Been So Much Of A Miss

5. They’re Stuck In Time. Stuff changes — all the time. Really. If you are a mapmaker the real world is annoying like that. It’s not possible to keep a map up to date. We don’t realise we’ve made a big mistake until it’s too late.

“All Models Are Wrong, Some Are Useful.” — George Box

By The Time You Realise It’s Changed It’s Usually Too Late

6. They’re Subjective. Maps are mostly well intentioned — they don’t set out to deceive. But they are made by somebody. That somebody has to make decisions about what’s left in and what’s retained. As a result (depending on what you need) it’s certain to lack important information. As we know to our cost it can be dangerous to base decisions on outdated maps.

“If you are just hoping to happen on things you are going to like you have to add a fair bit of research — and that requires you to know what you don’t know — that’s way beyond the capability of your average map…”

A fixed map, a printed one is almost out of date the minute it’s made — maps need to change regularly to be any use. And where you are right now is already more complicated than it was before.

So What Can We Do?


Making The Map Ourselves

In redefining the map for the 21st Century we need to add the concept of the ‘framework’ — and that means that a map that can become multifaceted. In this way it’s both a model we know well and a dynamic idea that’s never static. Put it another way it’s a mechanism that’s always owned and refreshed by those that are using it.

It’s why Waze users are such fanatics — they keep the map alive 24 X 7,

“We’ve heard it said that any model is preferable to no model but there’s a big caveat — the first model is there to prompt learning and create progress towards the right model…”

User Defined Navigation

We have to assume that, because everyone reads a map differently that unless we have our own we are unlikely to be able to help others find the better path. Making our own map that we can share and encourage others to engage with puts us in a position of greater utility and value.

“Pretty soon we would have a dynamic tool that’s to the benefit of everyone — more use, more value to each other and more likely to get us to the better place…”

Redefining a map means everything gets reconfirmed all the time – right down to the latest label, symbol and mark. Even the legend, the guide to how to use the map has to change as the world goes around.

A Definition.

So How Does A Map-framework Work?

Given we are all in control of so much local information we can all have an input to the ‘device’ — the the framework. It means we have to understand the relationship with the surroundings far more but that should only increase interest and engagement in good ways.

“Technology has empowered us — it’s made us all more comfortable with what good design can achieve. This means we can build systems and structures that work better for us — the way we all know they should…”

We can all become architects of a better map. With great interface design the technology allows us to hide complexity until it’s needed. We can be immersed in the right way — becoming more and more prepared to handle new input when we are ready.

Prepared For Whatever

The Devil In Definition

We help to create the better definition of things when we understand the context of it — and not before. Information that’s out of context tends to mean it gets ignored so that is a waste of everyone’s time. Simply knowing the description of a ‘thing’ is not knowing the thing itself. So handing someone a map does not equate to them understanding the terrain.

“Knowing the name of something does not mean you know something about it.” — Richard Feynman

Engagement in this way increases the ownership and imagine that when the map is about the future you want, the strategic plan you need and the dashboards that keeps everyone on track.

It’s now widely known that it’s irresponsible to operate a business based on a static business plan.

Collaborative Map Making

In this day and age it’s crazy to give someone a map and think that’s it. Expecting people to understand what they need to know to get about is full of risk and we know it doesn’t work.

We are in the era of what Gerd Leonard calls the ‘Megashifts’.

“Megashifts are changing society at warp speed, and your organisations are in the eye of the storm: digitization, mobilisation and screenification, automation, intelligisation, disintermediation, virtualisation and robotisation, to name the most prominent. Megashifts are not simply trends or paradigm shifts, they are complete game changers transforming multiple domains simultaneously…”

Allowing the people in the business to ‘be the map’ and embracing the ‘Megashifts’ make them effective collaborators in its success. Ever since we left the caves* and started drawing maps we found it one of the most valuable tools for our continued existence — it was a way of establishing everything, simple to explain and society building.

* Back in the day maps couldn’t show where the Sabre Toothed Lions actually were but if we are all on the job maybe we can improve on that.

Knowing Something Isn’t Always Good

Let me put it like this — everyone in a business needs to know where they are headed. The ‘signposts’ for everyone are the big themes that the business says its focused on. They usually contain very classic ideas — sustainability, efficiency and performance for example.

Let’s just pick on these as the destinations

“On the surface, words like sustainability, efficiency and high quality performance are compelling. How could they not be a requirement in this day and age. My first question when I hear them is — what do you actually mean?…”

In map terms it means three things — often missing from business today.

  1. We have to know where we are on these ideas right now. How sustainable and effective are we and what’s our performance today?
  2. What would we like these things to mean and what would we say success looks like so that we might determine our route to make them different/better?
  3. And on the journey where do we need to go (and do) to pick up the new resources and/or the capability to improve them — if we are to arrive at our destination and fully meet our dreams?

Proving The Point

We are working on a big sustainability, efficiency and performance program right now. It’s not a small challenge – creating a world where we can survive as a species and be fair and free of inequity. We know that creating something sustainable means that it has to withstand a constant assault. We know that it’s likely everyone is using a different map to our own – reading things very differently.

In fact it has to be able to shift and adapt, morph and alter itself out of all recognition. Just like the redefined idea of the map we’ve been talking about here.

Some Rules For Mapmakers

  1. Explain all the components clearly. Image or text and identify them to everyone allowing them to properly engage in their meaning.
  2. Make sure the ‘whole concept’ of the idea and role of the map is understood and can be repeated by everyone involved.
  3. If possible make sure each component is tested against agreed standards for definition – for example scope, timeframe and utility.
  4. Practice using the map – finding any structural issues and keep clarifying and updating the information.
  5. Recognise all the new patterns and trends and build a collaborative environment that encourages input.
  6. Create appropriate ways of better capturing and constantly validating the input against the whole architecture before wholesale change
  7. Always evaluate the new definitions for clarity, completeness, and correctness against your agreed rule and then add to the main legend and index of terms as required


Challenging everything around you to see what you are missing is the first rule of mapmaking. A map is at least a three dimensional thing which means it’s both a physical and a philosophical thing. It’s inside you as an attitude and right there in front of you as a constant guide to navigation.

For a map to be of any use it has to inform us of where we are now as well as keeping us on track in real time – all of the time.

“Giving someone no map is much, much better than giving him a wrong map.” – Nassim Taleb

Remember, even as we started to get used to maps on our phones we could still get confused about which way to go. We had to move to allow the thing to show us how that worked. Don’t wait for the map to tell us which way to move – be a part of the ‘idea of a map’ and keep moving – it’s a preparedness engine.

“We’ve always had to make important decisions about the journey ahead. We base that on what we now know and not what things might mean as we start to move and make progress to get there. Now more than ever — whether it’s in business or as an individual, if we don’t make more of an effort to get outside our own ‘bubble’ to better understand the entire context around us we will miss meaningful opportunities…”

Relying on a static map will increasingly help us make the wrong decisions. Not making our own maps will ensure we fail ever more spectacularly. We will be blindsided and unable to take advantage of the incredible time we are now living through.

Get out there – really look around you, enlist your crew – create your own map!