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The Map Versus the Terrain

As an avid backpacker and Scout leader, I have led many groups through the backcountry.

Those experiences are rich with lessons that I learn and apply in my work to improve organizational performance.  In this current Age of Disruption—where the only certainty is constant change—I find a fundamental truth from backpacking helps leaders and organizations craft more resilient strategies: the value and distinction between the map and the terrain.

When preparing for a trek, the map is my guide—it enables me to plan where I want to camp, shows where there are trails and water, and indicates where elevations change.  But what looks good on paper doesn’t always look the same on the trail.  The terrain is the reality: the quality of the trail, the amount of loose rock, the weather impact.  These affect your “plan,” and you must be willing to adapt to the terrain in the moment while keeping your map as your general guide.

What does this look like in a business?  At work, we seek consistency through processes and procedures.  Those are our maps.  Our customers, markets, and the ever-changing world around us make up our terrain.  Sometimes it remains as expected.  Sometimes it is disrupted by a storm or other event.  And COVID-19 has been a hurricane-tornado-tsunami storm.



1.  Complacency: An Outdated Map for the New Terrain

“This is how we have always done it.” We want consistency in performance, but that does not mean we must always do things the same way we did in the past.  Old plans (or maps) may not work for today’s situation.  Let’s learn from the past and not reinvent the wheel if one already exists.  But that also doesn’t mean we want to use something just because it is already in place.  Are we relying on a plan that no longer meets our situation?

2.  Tunnel Vision: Old Map, Wrong Path

We often pick our first option (a path) to a solution and run to execute it quickly before assessing if there were other options.  We keep applying the same old “plan” (a map), hoping for different results.  In a season of significant change, using the old map can lead to costly mistakes and decisions that can end the business.  If you choose your path wisely by identifying your options first, you can avoid many unnecessary challenges ahead.

3.  Reaction: Unprepared for the Terrain

Disruption creates fire drills—issues that we react to—due to its nature of uncertainty.  You can’t plan for everything, but you can BEAT disruption with preparation and discipline.  Preparation is reviewing our plans (maps) and then gathering intel on our markets, workforce, etc. (terrain) to prepare options and reduce risk.  Discipline helps us meet changes and surprises with composure and consistency.

Are you prepared to face the uncertain path ahead? Leverage PowerPlay™ #29 The Three Outcomes; It will empower you to plan for uncertainty so you can be ready for anything.



Do you need help working through leadership challenges to transform disruption into opportunity? Contact us to learn about Bill’s leadership keynote speakingexecutive coaching, and facilitation services.