FOLLOW THE TERRITORY, NOT THE MAP

Planning is one of the big issues in anything. The quality of the plan determines the quality of the outcome. No question there. But as for everything, it is how this rule is interpreted that can change everything.

A plan is like a roadmap. It tells where the exact location that you wish to go to is located and it tells you where you are. It also gives you the different routes to get there, and proposes the best. But the map is NOT the territory.

I remember when road maps where the huge sheets of paper with intricate folding schemes! 

The miura fold is one way to fold maps (image wikipedia)

The miura fold is one way to fold maps (image wikipedia)

Folding the map back to its original state was one of the hardest tasks! But that is another story. Today’s maps are digital and supported by GPS. They are dynamically updated and always give you the exact information as to what the new situation is. For example if you make a wrong turn, for whatever reason, the GPS updates the route, revises the distance and travel time remaining. You just can’t get lost. It allows you to follow the territory whatever happens, and even if the actual map stored in the GPS is wrong part of the way, it eventually matches your path with what it does have and helps you get to destination.

 In other types of roadmaps, as in the organizational roadmaps we encounter in management, GPS-like reactivity is impossible. This has many reasons:

  • The mapping is a general process mapping. The detailed specifics of particular task aren’t mapped out specifically: it presupposes previous knowledge or training.
  • The maps are usually “wishful thinking” maps, not taking into account everything that could possibly go wrong. In the GPS analogy for example, the driver could simply miss the intersection because he was busy talking on his cell phone. This behavior goes against the search of maximum efficiency, is dangerous, and illegal in some places, but it can, and indeed often does, happen.
  • There are no technological solutions in most cases that allow the dynamic mapping of the GPS, when considering management planning.
  • The indicators and plans can be far more complex than those in a classical roadmap. The goals can be official, non-official, and at times hidden.
  • The key performance indicators can be measurable or non-measurable. An example of non-measurable performance in a project is the expected ambience in a traditional office Christmas party. Yet there are those who can feel when the mood looses some of its festive character and do that little something required to revive the party spirit.
  • In business or project planning, the planning tools are awkward and not very user friendly: which project engineer has not struggled with Microsoft project, trying to optimize the use of resources, or to minimize time and critical paths?
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  Painting by Magritte saying that this is the drawing of a pipe, not the pipe itself.

Painting by Magritte saying that this is the drawing of a pipe, not the pipe itself.

But as the scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski said: "the map is not the territory". His view is that whatever mental image we have of something, is NOT the thing itself. This of course is true for the plan as, by definition, it precedes the thing being planned.

The point of all this is to point out that things WILL deviate from plan. And or procedures should account for this by allowing the person in charge of a particular task the possibility, the authority and the resources to directly solve what has to be solved; And in what innovative way he deems fit! It is also important to have the communication tools that allow proper “live” reporting of any given situation.

In today’s ISO9000 driven culture, we have been accustomed to think of deviation as a quality problem. We measure deviation, and take corrective action to insure that it will never happen again. This vision of processes has given us an excessively rigid control protocol. In essence, we have developed the culture of following the map: If the map and reality don’t agree, change reality.

As managers, seek to insure that all involved have more respect for the territory than for the map. If the map and reality don’t agree, choose reality. This can only be achieved through a voluntary effort to listen to those doing, not only the problems they are facing but the solutions that they are finding:

  • Encourage the idea that there can be many solutions of about equal value, and the person doing the task can pick whichever one he chooses. 
  • Build that reactivity into the control protocol.