The Map Is NOT The Territory

When we say, “the map is not the territory,” we’re making a point that a drawing of some location is always a reduction of the “real” location. It’s a simple yet incredibly important distinction because it applies any time we (or someone else) simplify a more complicated domain we’ll be traveling in/experiencing.

In corporate and career strategy, these maps can and will be used against us. Learning the distinction between map and territory is how we spot where natural boundaries exist (ex. a river at a road’s end) versus mapmaker-made boundaries (ex. a very walkable field at a road’s end).

Corporate ladders, competitive marketplaces, cultural pecking orders – these are all maps of terrains. While real boundaries exist within each, so do the mapmaker’s interpretations.

Whoever makes the map will tell you, by the act of simplification, what they want us to know. This is different from what is possible for us to know. This is critical if we’re looking for an upper hand or an advantage.

Just because a mapmaker says the way to advance is through job postings and working your way up doesn’t mean there aren’t alternate pathways. Just because the mapmaker says “this is how we beat our competition” doesn’t mean there aren’t additional weakpoints. Just because the map shows it one way doesn’t mean the territory might tell a different story. If you’re willing to look for yourself.

I’m thinking extra about this idea because Venkatesh Rao just shared his extensive OODA Loop presentation. If you want a deep dive into how we can operate within or even re-write maps to create our own advantages, check his post out, “Thinking In OODA Loops.”

Even if you don’t want to dive down that rabbit hole, remembering “the map is not the terrain” is a way to make sure you’re interpreting the existing interpretations in any situation you find ourselve in.