The Map is Not the Territory


“The Map is not the Territory” This phrase has been bouncing about my brain for the past few days… perhaps my distance-from-home is making me hyper aware of places, location, maps and navigating new lands.

The Map is 2D (generally – roll with me on this one) – flat on paper or on a screen. The map shows roads, parks, lakes, places of interest. The OS maps I used as a kid might show contours – the lay of the land will be thus…..The map lays out the landscape – contained on paper – reduced to scale, comforting perhaps…

The Territory? 3D – experienced – hot, cold, tall, steep, deep, beautiful, ugly, complex. That which on paper looks do-able may, in reality, be running a gauntlet….

The Map of Doha shows big roads running around The Corniche and into the City Centre. Smooth, linear, purposeful. The Map does not show the volume of traffic on these big roads; moving either wildly fast, or at a dead-stop at endless traffic lights. The Map does not show the seemingly random lane discipline as drivers move, beep, jostle to get to where they need to be. The Map does not indicate Points Where My Heart Is In My Mouth – though I can point to one place, on a map, where it happens every morning as the taxi lurches forward onto a churning roundabout…..

The Map doesn’t show the Qatari sky – so unlike the cold, crisp blue blue sky I left behind in Edinburgh – this sky is pink-beige-yellow, with a smouldering sun… dust filled and somehow mellow – the light here is soft and smoky. I have fallen slightly in love with the warm-yellow dawns and grey-blue darkening dusks… it is so very very different from home.

The Map doesn’t show the endless building-work – long tracks of corrugated iron keeping you away from epic building sites. From the office, I can see into one of these building sites – currently a deep crater, gouged from the earth, which fascinates and repels me.

The Maps doesn’t show vast skyscrapers being hauled up. Cranes, diggers, endless men doing endless work, wrapped in layers shielding them from the heat.

The Map shows an outdoor swimming pool, but not the questions that it raises, culturally…can I swim here and show my shoulders? I take my lead from other Western Women who have sussed it out before me, but in the moment’s hesitation where I debate the immodesty of my skin, the Territory is fraught.


In a meeting, we talk about mapping the process – drawing out on paper Where We are Now. This Map allows us to look at the bigger picture – the distances to cover, the placement of the work, the ground to be navigated. The workshops will be the Territory, I offer – here what is on paper comes to life – full on 3D experience. The relationships and the uphills – the massive hulking obstacles that look surmountable on paper…..

The Map only gets us so far – the gnarly, unpredictable stuff – the random sandstorms and exhausting heat, the traffic noise, the cultural norms and practices have to be worked with and round and through to get anywhere.

The work now is to look at the Map and understand what equipment we will need to ensure we can navigate the territory…. As we move and transition from one place to another…. I keep coming back to this: The Map is not the Territory….

3 thoughts on “The Map is Not the Territory

  1. Pingback: Learning Live Back Channel - Curated by David Kelly - Learning Professional Network

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