On Exactitude in Science Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley.
“…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.” — Suarez Miranda,Viajes devarones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658
At a glance, it may be hard to imagine how this short story relates to your company, but there’s a lot for any organization to learn from this. The above paints a picture of an empire where the science of cartography becomes so exact, so detailed, and so inflexible that only a map on the same scale as the empire itself suffices. Unconscionable maps are strategies, tools, and concepts that presume a higher degree of knowledge, uniformity, and control than is available. Even worse, they present a potentially higher risk to organizations today than many of the other dangers to systems that organizations are more likely to worry over.
Our traditional approach to designing strategy is linear, complex, and inflexible. Furthermore, engagement across the whole organization is too often limited to the C-Suite executives and executive board members who prioritize the “bottom-line” above people and process. It’s time we opened things up a little.
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