Imagining new maps
How do we create the maps that we use to navigate everything from the work environment to our relationships to the grocery store? What happens when change, either gradual or catastrophic, requires us to re-imagine our maps? These questions re-emerged as I began with reflecting on a blog post by Shirley Showalter, writing about memoir and walking in the city.
And, the questions appeared in recent conversations with leaders. The conversations about navigating organizational waters roiled by the economy, a new generation of workers, and shifts in how people communicate and connect. Thomas Friedman’s recent column asks us to re-imagine the map we call leadership, “The role of the leader now is to get the best of what is coming up from below and then meld it with a vision from above.”
So here, to stimulate your map-making imagination, is an excerpt from The BFG, by Roald Dahl:
In the leading machine the Head of the Air Force was sitting beside the pilot. He had a world atlas on his knees and he kept staring first at the atlas, then at the ground below, trying to figure out where they were going. Frantically he turned the pages of the atlas.
‘Where the devil are we going?’ he cried.
‘I haven’t the foggiest idea,’ the pilot answered. ‘The Queen’s orders were to follow the giant and that’s exactly what I’m doing.’
The pilot was a young Air Force officer with a bushy moustache. He was very proud of his moustache. He was also quite fearless and he loved adventure. He thought this was a super adventure. ‘It’s fun going to new places,’ he said.
‘New places!’ shouted the Head of the Air Force. ‘What the blazes d’you mean new places?’
‘This place we’re flying over now isn’t in the atlas, is it?’ the pilot said, grinning.
‘You’re darn right it isn’t in the atlas!’ cried the Head of the Air Force. ‘We’ve flown clear off the last page!’
‘I expect that old giant knows where he’s going,’ the young pilot said.
‘He’s leading us to disaster!’ cried the Head of the Air Force. He was shaking with fear. In the seat behind him sat the Head of the Army who was even more terrified.
‘You don’t mean to tell me we’ve gone right out of the atlas?’ he cried, leaning forward to look.
‘That’s exactly what I’m telling you!’ cried the Air Force man. ‘Look for yourself. Here’s the very last map in the whole flaming atlas! We went off that over an hour ago!’ He turned the page. As in all atlases, there were two completely blank pages at the very end. ‘So now we must be somewhere here,’ he said, putting a finger on one of the blank pages.
‘Where’s here?’ cried the Head of the Army.
The young pilot was still grinning broadly. He said to them, ‘That’s why they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They’re for new countries. You’re meant to fill them in yourself.’
Where is your organization in uncharted waters? Is the way you lead changing?
One of the characteristics of the new leaders whose help is wanted and needed today is that of creative weaving of new and old materials into a new kind of cloth.
You, Kathleen, model this art superbly. To think that you have been pondering a blog post about walking in the city, able to see connections to neuroscience (implied) and communication (explicit), leadership literature, a classic children’s tale, and Thomas Friedman’s off-the-map analysis of the current geopolitical scene, leaves me amazed. Your clients will surely benefit from such artful connection.
The skull illustration is lovely also. Is this a phrenology map of the brain from the nineteenth century? If so, you must have activated both the gold reflective and the blue aspiring parts of your brain to write such a post. I would hit the “like” button if I didn’t feel self-promotional by doing so.
Just let me say that I am honored to be part of the fabric you weave here.
What a wonderful analogy! Yes, we need leaders and all people who are willing to weave a new kind of cloth. I’m actively seeking the actions and conversations that create that weaving process and the discovery of new kinds of cloth.
Thank you for adding to the ideas here and your gracious words of encouragement.
I will add that yes, this is a phrenology map of the brain. I cannot find the original reference to the drawing, but it was used by DJ Stout and Julie Savasky in designing a cover for Peter Turchi’s book, “Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer.”