If we’re navigating into unfamiliar terrritory, we need three things.

  • The best map we can find,
  • The best compass we can lay our hands on,
  • And to know where we’re starting from.

Each of these three things carries it’s own challenges.

The map of course is a reduction, done by somebody at a different point in time. It will tell you where things are in relation to each other, show geographical features, and help you understand differences. It will not show you what the weather’s going to be like, or the animals you might come across, or who else might be there. The map is not the territory.

The compass has it’s own idiosyncracies. Compasses point to magnetic north, not true north, and magnetic north moves around – known as variation. They are also subject to deviation, which is determined by the surroundings of the compass – the materials in a boat for instance. To find true north, you have to correct for both variation and deviation.

Neither compass nor map however are a great deal of use unless we know where we’re starting from, and what we’re looking for or where we want to go.

The same of course is true for our lives, careers and organisations.

Today, the conditions we find ourselves in are deeply uncertain. Others are offering us maps, but don’t talk much about the territory we might find ourselves in (because they don’t know). We need to make our own assessment of the conditions we might walk into.

Our own internal compassess are subject to their own forms of variation (the assumptions we make, the heuristics we use and the unconcious biases we have) as well as deviation (the communities and organisations we are part of, the hierarchies in them, the culture and how all these affect what we “see”)

As for where we’re starting from, that’s always contentious. Where we think we are, and where others see us is often very different. A great appraisal might convince you you’re in a great place and can see your surroundings clearly, but the organisation may itself be lost.

In conditions of uncertainty, we need to make sure we’re grounded in reality.

We need to orient, and to do that we need to make sure we have our own map, compass and understanding of where we are, and where we’re trying to get to.

Using other people’s equipment is a high risk venture

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