Maps tell stories in that they can represent the viewpoint of their makers or commissioners. They may tell a specific story, from one side, when in fact there may be other viewpoints.
— Andrew Janes & Rose Mitchell, Maps: Telling Their Untold Stories
The process of making a map helps us rise above the limits of the local to see the whole, but this bird’s-eye view isn’t suitable for all audiences. Often we must aim for simple visuals that make the complex clear, focus attention, and transform ideas and understanding into decisive action.
— Peter Morville, Intertwingled
To stay on solid ground, whatever humans ‘can grasp’ should be critically scrutinized by others whether it faithfully maps reality or contingencies.
— Zbigniew Gackowski, The Helix of Human Cognition
The wandering and curiosity of the flâneur. The pattern recognition and sense-making capabilities of the detective. These are good habits, useful skills to have as awareness of the digital era develops. People are looking to others to guide them, to help them navigate the complexities of a networked world. The edges between virtual and physical, online and offline, inside and outside, are blurring. All is liminal, fuzzy, ill-defined. Bridge builders are required. Mapmakers too. Explorers who will simplify and translate what they discover, laying out suggested paths for others to follow.
Edges, usually artificial, are drawn up between the known and unknown. The Argentinian author, Jorge Luis Borges, knew this. He lost his eyesight and began to rely more on other senses to understand the world around him. Space became labyrinthine, a constant garden of forking paths. It is he who becomes the blind librarian in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. He who determines which books of knowledge should become forbidden fruit. As Jorge of Burgos, he and a small number of other monks create a mystical land of literature that only a few are permitted to enter or able to navigate. Brother William and the novice Adso are visitors who unravel the mystery of this foreign land. One clue leads to another, like hyperlinks in our virtual spaces.
Throughout the history of humankind, our explorers, scientists, inventors and artists have constantly reshaped the boundaries between the known and the unknown. Whether on the ocean, jungle-bound, in a laboratory, before a canvas or with the first tentative steps on the moon they have erased old edges and drawn in new ones – for others to smudge and redefine in the future. Their endeavours help simplify the chaotic for the rest of us. They overlay new patterns that they have recognised, erect signposts and markers to guide us, beacons to light our way. They enact the cycle of knowledge mastery, seeking, sensing and sharing as they go.
[Picture credit: Ptolemy’s World Map, sourced from Wikipedia]
Of course, their maps are ultimately personal. They reflect their own cultural context, ideology, preferences and prejudices. ‘Here be dragons’ is a call to action to venture into the unknown and explore. But it is also an opportunity to impose their own vision, to channel their own beliefs and values and thereby influence others. Mental landscapes become entwined and intermingled with physical ones. James Joyce’s Bloom and Dedalus wander the remembered streets of Dublin, and years later Vladimir Nabokov maps their literary wanderings. Others have taken advantage of Google Maps’ capabilities to do the same both for Ulysses and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Reality and fiction merge, if they were ever distinct in the first place. Writing itself becomes a form of mapmaking, as Ferris Jabr notes in a recent article in The New Yorker: ‘writing forces the brain to review its own landscape, plot a course through that mental terrain, and transcribe the resulting trail of thoughts by guiding the hands. Walking organizes the world around us; writing organizes our thoughts. Ultimately, maps like the one that Nabokov drew are recursive: they are maps of maps.’
In Intertwingled, Peter Morville shows us that the way that we organise, shape, categorise and architect information is another form of mapmaking, another process for knowledge mastery. Echoing the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, he argues that in the digital world ‘We use links to make maps and paths.’ But he is equally quick to warn that ‘all maps are traps’, that ‘We draw edges that don’t exist.’ We see this in our digitally-assisted journeys, new roads not yet visible on maps, GPS devices suggesting that we are driving through the middle of fields. We observe it in our organisational cultures too, context shaping where leadership responsibilities reside, where influence rests, albeit temporarily, in the dynamic flow that characterises life in networks. We have to navigate with care, develop understanding before we proceed, map and compass in hand.
The maps themselves are constantly transforming. We have to keep retuning, exercising our sense-making skills not only to guide others but ourselves too.
Usually our work maps don’t reflect the potential geography. They are a simplification of the complexity of the real world with real customers. They don’t adjust often enough to the shifting context of our organisation … Change the map and you change your potential.
— Simon Terry, Check Your Mental Map
We are explorers, pioneers of the Social Age. The technology is taking us into new spaces, new ways of relating to each other, new ways of ‘sense making’, new ways of working and playing. Everything is changing and it’s down to us to draw the map, not from on high but as we tramp through the mud.
— Julian Stodd, The Social Leadership Handbook: Launching Today
We have most of the answers, but a lot of organizational leadership appears to be directionless in preparing for the Big Shift. Social leadership can be the rudder, with PKM as the compass.
— Harold Jarche, A Compass for the Big Shift
See Daniel Durrant’s map of this post: http://metamaps.cc/maps/952