We have moved from a Map World to a Whiteboard World – (Insight from General Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams)


I remember years ago (sorry, I don’t remember the book) reading about how the new business environment is kind of like we’ve moved from playing volleyball on a hard gym floor to playing volleyball on beach sand. In other words, we feel like we can’t quite get our footing…

Team of TeamsI thought of this as I read about the use of whiteboards in Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal. After describing the legendary and almost sacred role of maps in the military, General McChrystal described how, in fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, they had to abandon maps for something more nimble:

In place of maps, whiteboards began to appear in our headquarters. Soon they were everywhere. Standing around them, markers in hand, we thought out loud, diagramming what we knew, what we suspected, and what we did not know.
…connections between things rather than the things themselves. 


His point was this – the enemy was constantly shifting, in small numbers, in small ways, and the “fixed” maps were no longer useful. They had to throw things up quickly, erase them quickly, change them constantly…

I think this is true in all sorts of ways in every business environment. We have moved from a map world to a whiteboard world. In other words, it’s all

(When the whiteboard was full, this soldier improvised on the refrigerator)
(When the whiteboard was full, this officer improvised on the refrigerator)

simply moving too rapidly to keep a handle on. We need the flexibility and nimbleness of a whiteboard, and can’t afford to be trapped by the fixed maps of last decade, or last year, or maybe last month…

It’s the V in Vuca – (Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity).

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