Where are you headed? And will you use a compass or a map?


On this week that follows Easter and as I prepare to move my office space, I nod to marketing extraordinaire Seth Godin on finding one’s way without seeking explicit directions. Godin cites Steven Pressfield’s “magical story” on how we need to use our own inner “compasses” and “not maps” to seek our way into the unknown.  Godin observes:

As entrepreneurs, “wouldn’t it be great if we always had a map? A set of step-by-step instructions on how to get from here to there, wherever we were and wherever wanted to go…”

Stories chart the discoveries of our compasses, since map-based, formulaic decision making carries no useful or creative purpose.

Entrepreneurial thinker, Steven Pressfield (a colleague of Godin and also referred to in my prior blog postings) shares the following remarkable story:

“A Ghurka rifleman escaped from a Japanese prison in south Burma and walked six hundred miles alone through the jungles to freedom. The journey took him five months, but he never asked the way and he never lost the way. For one thing he could not speak Burmese and for another he regarded all Burmese as traitors. He used a map and when he reached India he showed it to the Intelligence officers, who wanted to know all about his odyssey. Marked in pencil were all the turns he had taken, all the roads and trail forks he has passed, all the rivers he had crossed. It had served him well, that map. The Intelligence officers did not find it so useful. It was a street map of London.” 

Godin concludes this story by observing that “happy endings come from an understanding of the compass, not the presence of a useful map.” The Ghurka rifleman knew all about compass-driven journeying and never relied on a map. As Godin writes, “if you’ve got the wrong map, the right compass will get you home if you know how to use it.”

Compasses allow us to tell better stories–one form that they may take is storytelling, itself. And as Godin says, compasses are undergirded by a very powerful, motivating question: “Where are you headed?”  There cannot be any coherent story to tell (or work to ship) without a clear direction and purpose. 

And now it’s your turn: Where are you headed? And do you find yourself reaching for a map or a compass? Please weigh in. I’d be delighted to hear from you.