The map is not the territory
In the past, I wanted to offer people big ideas that would give them a map out of the wilderness. People usually call it “dysfunction.” In professional language that means, “I / we are suffering here.” Of course, some times I work with people who are standing on a plateau of accomplishment. They can see even higher peaks in the distance. They would like a map, too.
But a map is not the territory. Big ideas are no more than conceptual ways of orienting ourselves. When we step off the trail, or are forced there by forces around us, how do we find our way?
I have changed the focus of my work from map salesman and tour guide to orienteering teacher and field guide. I did this because I needed to find my own way. I wasn’t exactly lost, but I felt that I was walking in circles. Here are three ways I knew I needed to find another way of knowing how to make a positive impact.
- I noticed that following other people’s examples proved to be a dead end for me.
- I put a lot of effort into re-making myself into the image of my role models. That included attempting to banish facets of myself that didn’t match those models.
- I believed that someone else had an explanation, description, or model that would show me how to be the sort of person and professional that I wanted to be.
You could look at my list and say that I was naive. But we all look to each other for clues about what’s valued, who gets ahead and who’s admired around here, what fits in this organization or culture, and what connects me to this group of people I work with. Your list may look very different than my reasons for looking elsewhere. But you may find that you could write your own list.
Finding a different way to know
The big ideas that I used to try to change my own circumstances did give me a thrill of hopefulness. But they didn’t change my patterns of thinking and behavior. I needed a different way to know. You read that right: “a different way to know.” I knew plenty, but I didn’t know how to understand my situation. “What am I not seeing in myself that’s having so many effects I don’t want to have?” I needed help with that.
I’m sure I’m not alone. We tend to think that that should be resourceful and competent. It’s hard to admit that we’re not sure about the right direction for ourselves or those we’re responsible for. We live in complex times. To pretend that we’re certain might be riskier than admitting our doubts and the discomfort that goes with them.
At the heart of the shift in focus here at BIG IDEA is my confidence in that statement. It’s not an idea. It’s an observation borne out again and again in experience. Not just my own, but those who are practicing attention themselves through programs and coaching with me.
Here’s what I know we get out of developing attention, which produces the different way to know that I talked about earlier. We:
- Enable skills and talents that we already have and broaden their range
- Develop new way-finding abilities in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity
- Develop abilities to connect with others genuinely and honestly
- Become less reactive, which helps defuse unseen, persistent patterns
- Foster a sense of clarity that isn’t based on what someone else would do or what someone else has said
If some of what you’ve read resonates, I hope you’ll pay attention to the inkling you have that something is up. It’s just one clue. You’ve probably noticed others. They often add up to something important, like pointers about what’s growing, what’s neglected, where to go, and maybe even what to leave.
I hope you’ll stay in touch, too. My mission is to support, accompany, and guide people who want to explore the territory without a map.
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