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.