Are you better served by a map or a compass?

Here’s a fundamental question from Joi Ito (Director, MIT Media Lab) based on his recent TED Talk:

Are you better served by a map?
Or by a compass?
     - Joi Ito

If you think your current surroundings are static, and you think your journey won’t stray from the well-worn paths, then a map is best. Spend time exploring the lay of the land, develop as intricate a map as possible, memorize waypoints, and continue to use that static map to navigate through the future.

But this is a waste of time if your environment is dynamic; ever changing, unpredictable. If you realize that you will be traveling through new, uncharted areas, then having a dynamic compass is best. No point in memorizing waypoints if you know they’ll be torn down and replaced on a regular basis.

Instead, you’ll have to learn to use a compass to quickly develop a small, immediate map to navigate the here-and-now, something you’ll likely discard, then quickly redevelop a new version the next time you find yourself in a similar situation. Joi Ito calls it being a "Now-ist" Agile. Adaptive. Open minded. Open to new patterns.

Don’t throw away all your maps, though...

If you get good at both approaches you’ll be able to decide which is appropriate in any given situation.

Here’s the video that inspired this question:

And I realize this metaphor breaks down somewhat in the world of smart phones, GPS maps, etc… Think back to the old paper map days.

(Original photo Toronto Royal Ontario Museum from my photoblog seemsArtless, text added using

? > !! - QB71107

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