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The Map is not the Territory

As the first post of this new year, I want to explore my favourite mental model.


I write about mental models often, and if you're unfamiliar with the term, a mental model is basically a way of seeing the world.


The one I want to explore today is: The map is not the territory.


I can summarize what this mental model is all about in two short sentences:


Google Maps can't tell you what a street smells like. To know that, you must walk the street yourself.


Maps don't necessarily need to refer to literal maps.


When you allow yourself to detach from the literal definition, you may realize that maps are everywhere.


Maps provide information.


Mapmakers determine what information gets put in a map.


The more relevant the information, the more useful the map.


If a map contained all the possible information it could, it will very likely cease to be a useful map.


Anytime you hear or read a summary of anything, a news article (or anything in the news for that matter), a book summary, a dashboard of metrics at your place of work, the answer to the question, "how was your day?" ... these are all maps.


The territory is the real thing.


The territory is constantly changing.


If you explored a certain territory once, you may go back there again and find it's changed.


If you don't think it has, it's likely the case that you're not looking closely enough.


A big reason why I love this mental model so much, is because it's so instructive.


It reminds me that we have read more maps than we have explored territories.


The simple truth is that we don't have the time to explore all the territories we may want to.


We must choose where to explore, and where we're comfortable reading a map.


I will leave you with this closing thought, dear reader:


Our thoughts, feelings, and experiences make up our own territories.


When we communicate these with others, we become the mapmakers presenting others with our maps.


When you're reading someone else's map, don't forget about the territory that it represents.


I wish you a year of happy exploring ahead.


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