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Map vs Territory

In the early 1900s, as the London underground transport system was booming, commuters still struggled to understand how to get from A to B. The original underground map was 'realistic', though obviously a representation of reality, it still tended to leave people confused. Then, in 1931, a draftsperson named Harry Beck came up with an alternative that embraced a conceptual representation rather than even trying to represent geographic reality. He let go of locational accuracy — deleting rivers, parks and shifting locations — and created a diagram to empower people to quickly get from A to B. It was adopted in 1933 and it's usefulness to commuters has seen Beck's approach adopted globally.  This story is a reminder that any map describes a conceptual understanding of a territory. Maps, by definition, focus on some elements and not others, represent reality and omit a lot in the process, can be outdated, and are open to interpretation. Similarly, all Mental Models are simplified representations of what they attempt to represent.  The Map vs Territory is a reminder that our Mental Models and simplified understanding of reality, while often useful and essential for us to take action in a complex world, they are ultimately incomplete and inaccurate representations of reality. STAY HUMBLE AND SKEPTICAL. Map vs Territory helps to cast a healthy dose of doubt on all models. It's a core part of the thinking behind ModelThinkers, and the reason we include a Limitations section on every model page.  And, even with that scepticism, the London underground example demonstrates the potential power of a targeted and simplified representation of reality. Statistician George Box summarised this well when he explained, "all models are wrong, some of them are useful." While he was referring to mathematical models, the same sentiment applies to our mental models.  IMPLICATIONS.  Some of the implications of this model can therefore be summarised in potentially contradictory points:  A simplified representation can empower us to cut through complexity and take effective action.  No single mental model, no matter how useful, is absolutely accurate or correct. Multiple mental models, even when they seemingly oppose one another, might be partially accurate or correct at the same time, just as they are all ultimately inaccurate.  USE AND COMBINE MANY MODELS. Finally, while the map versus the territory model demands a level of scepticism about all models, it can also be viewed as a call to action to actively develop a broad and dynamic Latticework of Mental Models. All of the models in your latticework will be representations rather than reality, but it's the combination of diverse models that will move you closer to a better understanding of reality and more effective action as a result.

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