Any map is better than no map

During the first world war a group of Italian troops were camped in the Alps. Their commanding officer sent a small group on a scouting mission, but shortly after it began snowing and continued heavily for two days. The scouting squad didn’t return. The officer started to believe he had sent his men to their death.

On the third day the, now long-overdue, scouting party returned unexpectedly. There was relief and joy in the camp. The commanding officer couldn’t wait to question his men about what happened and how they survived. “We got lost in the snow” answered the sergeant who had led the scouts. “We’d given up hope and resigned ourselves to die. Then one of the men found a map in his pocket and we used it navigate our way back”.

The officer asked to see this life-saving map but when he looked at it closely he saw it was not a map of the Alps at all, but of the Pyrenees!

Maps — even wrong ones — are better than no maps at all. Maps provide a visual aid for communication, challenging assumptions and help you learn as you go — rather than blindly wandering off in a direction you hope is right.

Understanding where you are, the direction you’re heading and why you’re going there (and not somewhere else) is also critical in strategy⁠. This is why, over millennia, leaders have used maps to see the landscape they’re in, understand how it’s changing, and where their options for movement are.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect map. But any map that provides a reasonable model of the landscape will enable you to make better decisions. But without a map you will lack sufficient awareness of the situation — meaning you’re simply be guessing at where to head next.

Govern the state by being straight-forward; wage war by being crafty. — Laozi