My Proficorn Way (Part 32)

A Compass, not a Map

Many years ago, I came across an idea from Warren Bennis that has stayed with me – the difference between working with a compass and having a map. He describes it in this interview in Ivey Business Journal: “[The idea] has to do with the difference between maps and compasses, that Karl Weick of the University of Michigan wrote about in The Legitimization of Doubt. The analogue world is one of maps. It’s like charted territory. Today, the best that one can have is a compass that can set a general direction and meaning. Because it seems to me that what leaders have to do is to create direction and meaning in a world that’s vertiginous and volatile. You’re always blinking. The best thing that leaders can do is to have a compass that will give general direction and meaning.”

Colin Lewis adds: “The guide metaphor that I believe works to navigate the future for leaders is ‘maps versus compasses’. Maps are only good in known worlds that have been charted. Compasses are perfect for when you’re not sure where you are going. Marketing leaders of the future will have to develop their own personal compass to gain their sense of direction, and forget the idea of a reliable map.”

As a manager, there is generally a clear path ahead. Market share needs to be grown by 5% and there is a playbook to do that. Or, new product features need to be added and engineering will provide a pathway to do it. There is a map of the battlefield and one has to navigate it like one drives to a destination using Google Maps.

But as an entrepreneur, you are imagining, living in and creating the future. You do not have the details laid out in front of you. All you have is a broad understanding of the direction you need to head in – a compass. There is no map which lays out the terrain and the markers. It is like you are standing in a forest and there are many paths leading out –you need to figure out the way ahead through unmarked territory.

When I started IndiaWorld in 1995, the Internet was still in its infancy – and not even commercially available in India. I had to imagine how we could use it to bridge distances and connect with Indians globally. Even now in Netcore, it is the same spirit that guides me. How we imagine what marketing in the future will look like? While there are competitors who have charted out some of the territory, a lot of what we do is still driven by a compass and not a map. And it is this uncertainty and lack of knowledge that entrepreneurs have to be comfortable with in their quest to create the future.

Tomorrow: My Proficorn Way (Part 33)

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.