Using a Compass, Not a Map

We recently held a focus group with experienced leaders in the federal government about a new program—High Change Environments and Wicked Problems—we are offering.

To begin I used a framework suggested by the International Futures Forum (IFF calls it a prompt):

When in unknown territory, look for a compass not a map.

This single sentence elegantly captures a great deal of the change in perspective and measurement that can be helpful in a time of high change.

When using a map, we have a fixed plan. When using a compass, we expect our position to change and that we will need to reorient ourselves. A compass is drawn towards something, such as magnetic north.

In a sea of change, one of the most effective ways to reorient ourselves is to use the power of shared values. Although it often takes time and effort to identify shared values, they have more staying power than other features of a high-change environment. When the situation shifts, ask: What do we value? What are we hoping to accomplish?

In their excellent book, Do More Than Give, Crutchfield, Kania, and Kramer make the distinction between measures that report and record what we have done (a very map-like retrospective view) and measures that support learning (a compass to help understand what is happening now and what we are drawn to for the future). I’ll write more about this in my next post.


The Power of Being Fully Present

“The success of an intervention depends on the interior conditioner of the intervenor.”
— William O’ Brien, former CEO, Hanover Insurance Company

I’ve been noticing lately that there is a significant difference in my undergraduate classes in Media Studies when I use the time it takes me to walk to the classroom to settle myself and to remind myself–as a sort of mantra–that the most important thing I can do is to be fully in the moment, aware, and engaged with my students.

All the preparation that I do to develop lectures, create exercises, host discussions, and provide comments on student work is important, of course.  But the effect of my work is greatly diminished if I am not able:

  1. to bring all of my awareness and attention to the students
  2. to do my best to begin the class from where the students’ hearts and minds are   …. rather than insisting they somehow make the jump to where I am.

Classes where I am able to do this are much better than those where I’m distracted or focused entirely on the information I want to provide.

As I pay more attention to this, I notice it is also true for meetings, presentations, and consulting.

I was interested to learn recently that Søren Kierkegaard wrote about this long ago (I’ve added paragraphing).

If One Is Truly to Succeed in Leading a Person to a Specific Place, One Must First and Foremost Take Care to Find Him Where He is and Begin There.

This is the secret in the entire art of helping. 

Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he–but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands.

If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.

But all true helping begins with a humbling.

The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.

Thanks to Otto Schamer of MIT for sharing the two quotes in this post.  I’m currently revisiting his interesting work, designed to help leaders and groups to develop their best work in the face of an uncertain future.

Source: Chapter A2 from Kierkegaard’s Writings, Volume 22 translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong.