Compasses Over Maps

A map is certainly a handy tool to help you reach your destination. When the map is accurate, you can sit back and follow your course, no thinking required.

Your brain can really take a vacation if you’re using the GPS guidance in your car or from Google Maps. When the system tells you exactly how to navigate every twist and turn, you can focus elsewhere and simply comply.

But what if the map is wrong? When conditions change, such as roadwork or an accident, your GPS system no longer maximizes efficiency. Or when new roads are built before the system is updated, you find yourself relying on an outdated set of instructions.

Think about how you and your team navigate the work in your own organization. Do people require detailed, step-by-step instructions of exactly what to do at every moment (a map)? Management-by-operating-manuals worked fine back in the days when markets were local, customers were homogenous, product cycles occurred over decades, and complexity was minimal. Workers didn’t need to think all that much on their own, as long as following the map would ensure their safe arrival.

Boy, has the world changed.

With today’s furious speed and mind-numbing complexity, there’s no such thing as a map to success. Naïve bosses who still hand out maps don’t understand that the model no longer works. The cost to produce a map in the past may have been justified, since change was slow. But with a rate of change like none other in history, imagine trying to create a street map if the roadways completely changed five times an hour.

Not to mention, business victories now involve pioneering new ground, requiring the equivalent of off-roading through uncharted territory.

When teams or organizations turn off their brains and simply follow the map, progress shrivels. Issuing a compass, in contrast, is a far more effective approach to leadership. Provide a clear vision of your destination point, and give your team the tools to navigate their own path. Empower them to make decisions in the face of ambiguity.

Give them the target and resources, and then let them use their ingenuity and judgment to find the best route. Shifting terrain, unexpected roadblocks, and surprise attacks can be conquered only by travelers who can think and act without detailed instructions.

Creativity over compliance. Empowerment over control. Thinking over following. Compasses over maps.

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