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?