Your Mind Works Just Like Google Earth…or Perhaps Google Earth Works Just Like Your Mind?

The philosopher Alfred Korzybski formulated three rules for the way we view our world:

  1. The map is not the territory.
  2. The map does not represent the whole territory.
  3. There are different maps for the same territory.

The way we view a situation (our mental map) is not the situation itself, it is our internal representation of the situation – it is what your brain has made of it. It is impossible to fully comprehend every aspect of a situation and other people will have a different perception of any situation to our perception.

Our mental maps are like Google Earth maps (or Here or TomTom or Apple maps…)

We can view, say, Amsterdam from a virtual height of a few hundred meters and can see the streets, canals, buildings, cars and the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum (in 3D!). If we then zoom out, the software removes more detailed items from the display to avoid it becoming overcrowded, so street names and certain points of interest are deleted. In order to see the relative positions of New York, London and Amsterdam the software zooms out to a global level and all detail is removed.

Our Brains Work in a Similar Way.

In order to make sense of our world:

  • We generalise and leave out detail.
  • We can zoom in and out but have a limited conscious processing capacity and cannot have all the detail and the abstract connections at the same time.
  • We ignore information that we cannot comprehend or that doesn’t fit our mental map of whatever it is we are trying to understand.
  • We distort input to meet our worldview – transforming a 3D world into a ‘flat’ internal presentation of our choosing.

It Is Not the ‘Real World’ Input That Arrives on Our Consciousness, but Our Interpretation of the Input: Our Virtual Reality Map.

Take a minute to try this brief exercise: Close your eyes (finish reading this first) and imagine cutting a ripe juicy lemon in half. Smell the zest as you cut through the peel and divide the flesh. Hear the knife slicing through it and reaching the cutting board below. Now pick up half the lemon and hold it at a short distance from your mouth. Squeeze it lightly and feel the juice running through your fingers. Now take a bite into the lemon. (Note: this experiment works best if you actually do it.)

Most people will salivate at the thought pattern produced, but there is no lemon; it is purely a figment of our imagination. There is no difference between an inner theatre production created by our imagination and one generated from real inputs.

Want to change the world? Create a successful agile enterprise? Start with your own virtual reality model of what it would look like, sound like, how it would taste, smell, and feel. Then share, act, get feedback, update the model, repeat until done.


Chris’s new book, Changing the Mind of the OrganizationBuilding Agile Teams, is available for pre-order on Amazon, BOL and other good bookstores.


Image credit: A Health Blog on Flickr (Creative Commons)