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Future direction setting: map vs compass

There seem to be two general kinds of work:

  1. The defined work (just not done)

  2. The undefined work

The two ask for different approaches: focused and narrow vs open and wide. And the two need different heuristics.


Say you want to get more followers on Instagram for some reason. The best thing to do is to look for guides on the web and then follow them, since they’ve been tested.

In other words, the territory is known and the path is known, so you simply need a plan to execute. And if you execute it, you end up where you wanted to be.


This one is more interesting to me. Say you want to design a workshop on effective learning. There are infinite ways to do that, so you might look for inspiration and general guidelines and principles.

In other words, the territory is unknown, the path is unknown, but you know about some places (from other peoples examples) and you know the general direction (from principles).

Map means getting focused and following the footsteps of others to go fast, but occasionally getting lost by taking wrong turns or finding dead ends. There is very little separating the knowledge from the action.

Compass means covering new ground, but occasionally stumbling sluggishly through the woods. You have to take abstract principles (like a reading of a compass) and figure out how to apply them to where you are, and then check continuously as you go forward.

Change between the map and the compass as necessary.