Monday, September 17, 2012

Any map will do, won't it?

There is a map that most of Rome’s hotels give away to guests; you may have used it yourself.  The eternal city´s winding and narrow streets provide an orientation challenge at the best of times, but it is the way the images are drawn that makes this map add to that challenge. Needless to say, at any corner in the centre, you are bound to find some confused couple figuring out where they are in relation to the map.   

This came to mind when going back to Chris Rodger's book Informal Coalitions, where he recounts organisational sense-making theorist Weick’s concept that “any map will do”.  Weick came to this conclusion after hearing about the story of a small group of soldiers who were lost in the Alps, finding that they indeed had a map which they were able to make sense of and which enabled them to get home safely. The interesting point of the story was that, as it transpired, the map was not of the Alps but the Pyrenees.   The fact that the map was not the right map didn’t matter – what mattered was that it was “good enough.  It spurred them into action, and gave them confidence that they could make progress”.

As it is also with any leadership theory, self development manual, meditation technique or parenting book, like getting around Roma with the infamous map,  if it gets you gaining new insights, asking useful questions of yourself and others, means you take responsibility and make sense of where you are, helps you move forward in your understanding of where you would like to be,  it works.  Of course
some will work better than others, some will be more suited for you and the occasion. The Roma map has been less useful here in Palma de Mallorca for instance!. 

The thing is, a map can never be a replacement for experiencing the territory.  And there is no use accepting a theory or practice blindly, however scientifically or academically robust;  you must test it for yourself, feel your way, walk the path.  When you do, as when navigating the alleys of charming cities, there is no doubt you will come across wonder - and any frustration or confusion experienced will all seem worth it.


  • Rodgers, C. (2007) Informal Coalitions: mastering the hidden dynamics of organizational change, Palgrave Macmillan,  NY. pp:34-35  
  •  Image source: own

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