Once a fundamental traveler’s aid, today the concept of using a paper map to find our way seems almost quaint. Likewise, the car street directory is now a thing of the past. They have lost their relevance and become out of date.
And, as we try to navigate uncertain professional landscapes, perhaps we need a new kind of map to help us navigate this aspect of our lives too?
For decades we have been taught a Newtonian model of leadership. A reliable “do this to get that” cause and effect logic. A standard set of tools, methods, and frameworks, offering us guidelines to navigate our way through organisations, industries and markets. Whether we use SWOT analyses, or situational leadership approaches, we are using these maps to help make sense of our world and plan our next steps in it.
These maps work extremely well in a world where we know where we are (Point A) and where we are headed (Point B). They work well when we know how we are going to get there (The Plan). Indeed, planning how we get from Point A to Point B has been one of the most useful organisational maps for decades. And for times when we know where we are and where we are going, these maps are excellent in providing direction, but today they’re not enough.
Many of us feel that right now we are not sure where our organisations or careers are headed. Even more daunting, we are not sure how we will go about getting there. We read about the rise of automation disrupting industries, and are rapidly (or maybe slowly) realising that staying where we are would be foolish.
This is uncertainty, and it’s everywhere. Here the old maps simply don’t work. How can we plan our way from A to B when we cannot know where “B” is? How can we determine the steps needed when we cannot possibly know how we get to where we are going?
What is called for is the writing of a new map. A set of directions that guide us through uncertainty. It’s about knowing the difference between complicated problems and complex problems.
Complicated problems have known solutions. Somewhere there exists a knowable answer. Finding our way in a foreign city is a complicated problem, but easily solved by using one of the many reliable maps that are available to us.
Complex problems do not have known solutions. This is like finding our way in a foreign planet. No expertise already exists. No one has been there before, and there are no maps.
Instead we must find our inner cartographer and draw the map as we go. And to do this we must constantly experiment in small ways, learning along the way. This is how we can learn about where Point B is. This is how we learn what the steps are to get there.
In the new map, the solution emerges from action. Doing triumphs thinking, as it’s only through trial and error that we can begin to draw the new map, piece by piece.
If the approach goes well, then amplify it. Do more. Share it with others. If it doesn’t go well, then ask why? Ask what is missing? And then course-correct quickly. No mourning the loss of your brilliant idea. No devastation, just fast reactions and trying something else.
Like the explorers and pioneers who wrote the maps we now follow, we are all being called forth to help write the new map for today’s professional landscape.
The new map is drawn as soon as we take that first step towards the uncertainty. And when we do, we can write the journey down, share it, and perhaps guide those set to follow our footsteps.
This article first appeared in Business Insider Magazine on 3rd December 2015 here