Why do we work with maps?
Map: “A diagrammatic representation of a specific area or domain”.
Maps help under pressure
Maps stand out as a superbly efficient, effective method of recording, storing, and transferring information. The map format is universally understood, as is the way that they are used. And in a domain such as high performance under pressure, where there is such an enduring sense of mystery and suspicion, the first step of developing an accurate map of the terrain so that we all know what we are talking about, seems such an obvious task. It may look like a simple diagram on a single piece of paper, but its inherent simplicity should not lead you to underestimate the value of the map. This familiarity with maps as everyday tools may lead us to become complacent about them. But if we extend our common understanding of maps as tools to assist physical travel, to apply them to ‘mental movement’, the possibilities quickly become apparent. A map of mental pathways to drive effective performance is certainly an attractive and challenging goal but because of the properties of maps described here, it is a goal worth pursuing.
To train skills for performance under pressure, Gazing maps really are ‘the way to go’.
Maps allow for more impactful and measurable training
On training courses, delegates usually get trained in one of two ways: either the trainer leads the delegates through thick manuals or the delegates listen while the trainer lectures. At Gazing Performance, we think both of these approaches are fatally flawed, so we have deliberately chosen a different method of training. Essentially, we teach everyone how to read a ‘map’ of the performance domain or skill in question – a simple 1-page diagram either in the field of business, sport or education. Then, as familiarity with the map increases, we help delegates to practice applying it to situations which resemble how they will use it in real life. The map, therefore, is the central tool which provides the foundation for effective skill development.
Why have we placed this emphasis on learning maps, as opposed to working through manuals or listening to gurus? Because history has shown us that maps are one of the most effective forms of communication ever developed. Far from being a training company gimmick, maps provide an elegant solution to the major problem of ineffective training. Maps can do this because they have special properties which make them the ideal format to transfer information to delegates in a way that they can apply it in the real world, transforming knowledge into skills.
Maps allows us to test underdstanding and recall on our training as well as application and skill development.
An accurate map is invaluable.
What is a Gazing Map?
Maps are comprised of components and connections. We break each skill or task down into its component parts or ‘locations’. Our maps contain a graphic representation of these ‘locations’, and show the routes or pathways for moving between these locations. This simple description belies the process of developing accurate maps. Effective movement is often prevented in a certain area if there is no clear description of that territory. And maps only work if they are reasonably accurate and comprehensive – a map showing only parts of the territory is of limited usefulness. We have spent several years looking at each skill or performance domain we train very closely, to try to make sure we have got all of the important and relevant components on each map. The maps have been ‘tested out’ in numerous courses so that they have undergone multiple revisions, improving their accuracy. Delegates have given us invaluable suggestions about pathways not originally on the maps. In the end, each map represents several years of research, development, and testing summarised graphically on one page.
Of course, at one level the maps can just be seen as simple diagrams of performance for a specific skill. In what sense should they be considered ‘maps’ in their own right? We think this description is justified for three main reasons. First, the frameworks are comprised of an original collection of multiple sub-structures and concepts, which are combined in such a way that movement between them is important. This ‘movement between locations’ seems to us to accurately represent map-like qualities. Second, as the content of each map has been developed and refined over several years to represent a comprehensive approach to a particular skill or task, the breadth and depth of each map represents much more than a personal ‘mind-map’ held loosely in someone’s mind. Third, and perhaps most importantly, whereas mind-maps are designed as very individual, personal aide memories, Gazing performance maps are designed to provide shared platforms for groups of people and teams. Imagine the chaos if they all worked from different maps!
10 more reasons why maps are the way to go
1. Maps chart the territory
The first and most important reason why maps are important for performance is that they chart the territory, revealing what is there. READ MORE...
A major problem with the whole area of the psychology of high performance is that there is a degree of mystery about precisely what it involves. We are much more aware of the physical requirements of sports performance or the technical components of selling – but when it comes to the mental aspects of performing under pressure, most people readily acknowledge it is important, but are much less clear as to what it entails. Some of us even get lost. Maps help demystify the area by simply showing us what is there – they describe the territory so there are no surprises or secrets.
And, very importantly, we can all see what is there. Maps can be used by individuals but they are at their most powerful when groups of people (and especially teams) use the same map. This is because they create a common language for the group, making communication clear and efficient. There is a standard reference point to guide decision-making and problem solving. Implicitly, we all know that this is important – it has even entered our colloquial language – “we need to get on the same map”. We know that everyone working off different maps does not lend itself to high performance. Yet much of the time, this is precisely the situation in which groups and teams find themselves in. They have a general idea in verbal or written format about the domain they are operating within, and maybe even a personal internal ‘map’, but there is no clear, explicit external map that everyone can see and refer to.
2. Maps are descriptive (rather than interpretative).
The job of a map is to visually show you the territory – to simply describe what is there. They are not designed to put a spin on it, create an angle, interpret the data, or propose a theory. READ MORE...
Because they are descriptive, maps are inherently ‘neutral’ structures, which are not emotional or controlling. They do not make judgments about what is good or bad or right or wrong - their purpose is just to provide useful information. It is up to humans to traverse the territory in the way that we see fit. Maps might guide your thought and action but they do not enforce it by telling you that you MUST take a certain path or route. This means that if used correctly, maps provide flexibility and choice rather than rigidity. You remain in control and the map is a tool at your disposal, for when you need it. The fact that maps are simply a diagram of the real world coded onto a 1-page summary means that they do not create resistance – there may be discussions or even disputes about which way to go (there commonly is!), but as long as the map is accurate, no one criticises the approach the map has taken.
3. Maps are inherently practical devices.
There are several reasons underpinning the practicality of maps. READ MORE...
First, no one ever criticises maps as being ‘theoretical’ because we all appreciate that they are meant to be practical representations of the real world, with the clear job of getting us from our current location to our preferred destination. Maps do not generate resistance of negative emotional responses because we appreciate that their whole purpose is to help us by generating movement, to guide us when we are uncertain about which way to go. Maps help us make decisions and get things moving again. For this reason, maps are practical because everyone knows how to use them. We work out where we are, where we want to get to, what we want to avoid, and work out our preferred route. And then we get going. Maps, therefore, are powerful tools because they transform mental activity – the thinking part – into behaviours in the real world – the doing part. This simple function of maps is important because performance is fundamentally about movement because when we are under pressure, we lose direction and sometimes even get into a state of overwhelm and stop. Maps guide our thoughts and actions, generating movement, and ultimately improving performance.
More than just generating movement, maps provide direction to the movement so that it is purposeful. It avoids situations where individuals or teams are full of activity but lack direction and their efforts are poorly coordinated and focused. The behaviour (movement) has intent. The direction given by maps is essential for performance under pressure so that individuals do not lose their way. The directions provide stability, allowing the individual to just concentrate on their immediate role or task, rather than becoming anxious about whether outcomes will be achieved or not.
Second, there are important psychological reasons why people find it easy to use ‘maps’ as a way of learning and improving performance: we do it naturally as human beings. As long ago as the 1940’s research was conducted to show that when we find ourselves in new surroundings, we arrange things around key landmarks in our minds to form mental or ‘cognitive’ maps, so that we remember our way. These maps are an internal representation (images in our minds) of the way objects and landmarks are arranged in our environment. Put simply, humans find it very practical to arrange information spatially inside our heads. We locate ourselves in a particular place and think about how to move to where we want to go. The Gazing approach taps into this natural tendency for humans to organise complex information into mental maps.
Third, maps are practical because people like the fact that the maps are transportable and can easily be carried around and used whenever they are needed.
4. Maps are highly memorable
Maps are easy to remember because they are simple – they are summaries of the real world. READ MORE...
They work because of this simplicity – if they were more complex, they would lose their usefulness. This inherent simplicity helps make the terrain more memorable. They are a summary of the parts we need to know about. However, maps can be deceptive in containing an immense amount of information. For example, they contain both the ‘main centres’ and specific detail. Maps rely on both levels of information for their effectiveness. If only the main centres were included but no local detail, it would be like arriving in the town where your friend’s live, but driving around not being able to find the right street they live in. If only the detail was included, it would be very difficult to get an overview of the simplest way to travel from where you are to the general location of your destination.
So, maps do include some local detail around specific locations, but you don’t have to use all of the information on the map all the time, just the pieces of information that are relevant to the task at hand. It doesn’t mean that the other information (locations, routes) is redundant, just that it is not needed at the current time. It could be very important in a different situation.
Maps are also memorable because they utilise important principles of brain functioning, making them highly memorable. Information is summarised in a format superbly designed for memory recall. This includes the use of hierarchies: as for all maps, some locations are major centres and their names are written in big type; others are less dominant and are written in smaller type. Similarly, major routes are drawn in a different colour or in a bold format, while minor routes are in the background. Maps also enhance memory by invoking the visual aspects of brain functioning by arranging things spatially, using colour, and connecting different locations with links (or routes). It is a widely understood psychological principle that humans remember pictures or visual diagrams many times more effectively than the written word.
All this means that the main structures of well designed maps are easy to remember. Certainly easier than a whole book. Certainly easier than a lecture from a guru. So easy in fact, that even when we do not have the maps physically in our hands during performance of a skill, the fact that the main locations and routes can be remembered means that we still have the maps available mentally.
In fact, maps can be so memorable that once it is inside our head (we say that we have ‘internalised’ the map), we don’t actually have to get the map out to look at it. We form an image or picture of where we are in our minds and adjust what we are doing accordingly. This means that a map of the mental domain is an ideal approach for performance under pressure – we don’t have to take it out on the pitch with us or into the business interaction or into the classroom because it is already inside our heads. Better still, in team situations, it is inside everybody’s head.
5. Maps are especially useful at times of uncertainty.
You don’t have to use a map if you are clear about where you are going. READ MORE...
They become useful when you are uncertain and need some guidance. At these times, maps are priceless, giving back immediate control to the user. Behaviour becomes focused, directed and full of intent. This intent leads to intensity and commitment.
Maps are widely accepted because you remain in control, tailoring your use depending on your level of uncertainty. Beginners have to refer to their map more frequently than experienced practitioners. But this doesn’t mean that the master doesn’t refer to their map on occasions, whether just internally or privately, on the few occasions when they are uncertain. Beginners and experts can use the same map. They may concentrate on different aspects of the map and use them with different frequencies, but both experienced people and those unfamiliar with the territory still use the same map because its primary value is that it is an accurate representation of the terrain.
6. Maps highlight hazards
Because maps are intended to be representations of the real world, they are not designed to be idealistic models that show only the positive aspects of a domain. READ MORE...
Maps are especially useful when they show hazards, diversions, and the areas to avoid. Maps are helpful to us as much because they show us where not to go, as they are for showing us where to go. And seeing as we all end up in the wrong place from time to time (some more than others!), maps are particularly useful when they help us to avoid these traps or hazards, and to escape from the traps when we find ourselves in them.
7. Maps encourage adaptability
Although maps are often consulted at the start of a journey to plan the route to be taken, the fact that they are used when we are uncertain means that we typically use them during the journey as well. READ MORE...
They retain their usefulness at all stages – before, during, and after the journey. And because we can check on our progress literally while we are mid-journey (mid-performance), this allows us to make any necessary adaptations. This creates a kind of feedback loop – we check where we are, and if we need to make adjustments, we can easily make these decisions. This quality, the ability to adapt and adjust mid-performance, is a defining feature of high performance. Maps provide an excellent vehicle or framework for this process of constant checking and adjustment.
8. Maps are universal tools
Everybody understands what a map is and how they are used. READ MORE...
And we mean, just about everybody. Think about it: you don’t try to explain to people how to use the map. Knowledge of the method of using the map is just assumed. No explanation is required It’s simple: you work out where you are, where you want to get to, choose between alternative routes to meet your needs, and you set out.
The universality of the acceptance of maps and their application is a testament to their practicality and a statement of their importance to everyday life: they are, without doubt, one of the most practical tools known to mankind. Every culture on the planet uses maps. More than this, maps are iconic cultural documents because in many ways they define a culture or region.
As a further reflection, the universality of maps has been demonstrated by the audiences who have attended Gazing training courses. Gazing training has been conducted in over 100 countries so far. And the maps have been used in education (including examples of the best and the worst schools!), sport, and business. And the Gazing maps have been used in surprisingly sophisticated ways by primary school children as young as 9. Aside from potentially embarrassing some of us, this tells us just how universal maps are: they are understood across the age range and across cultures.
9. Maps have longevity depending on their accuracy
Maps have been used throughout history. READ MORE...
In fact, when we look at maps centuries old we find that the earliest map-makers were remarkably accurate. This is an impressive achievement given the rudimentary equipment they had at their disposal at the time, compared to today’s sophisticated technology. But it also illustrates a very important principle: A map is practical and used only insofar as it is accurate. Maps that are inaccurate are quickly thrown away because there is no sense in using them. But, if a map is accurate and adequately captures the essence of the real world, it can be used time and time again. There is no need to change it. Certainly, it can be refined and small details can be clarified if needed, but its essential structure is maintained and is enduring.
This is certainly an attractive quality in today’s commercial world, which emphasises marketing ploys which lead to transient fads and trends and, ultimately, obsolescence of the innovation as it is overtaken by the next or latest craze. But accurate maps have not been overtaken, and with good reason. They remain relevant because they show us what is there.
Maps may have been presented to us in different ways, for example, electronically. And we may have been exposed to new maps of new territories – space comes to mind. But a striking gap has been a map of our minds. A practical map of the brain and its functioning which is readily accessible to the layman, remains elusive. Any ‘map’ of how the mind functions – for our purposes, performance under pressure – would, if it is accurate enough and if there is enough general agreement that it captures what really goes on in our minds, be valuable indeed.
This brings us back to the point that maps are descriptive –they stay in use because they describe part of the world we live in. They are not intended as the latest management innovation to be used only until the next idea comes along – they are representations of the real world and therefore stay with us.
Because the accuracy of a map is so stark – it is either accurate or it is not – there is an extreme degree of accountability when it comes to their accuracy. If someone can show that a map is inaccurate, it will immediately become worthless. However, if it is accurate, it will continue in use. Forever.
And, this accountability on accuracy on maps also leads to accountability on those that use them, certainly a feature that is encouraged in high-performance domains. If someone has an accurate map and they end up in the wrong location, they have some explaining to do. It is their responsibility – not the maps! They had the basic information at their disposal; they knew the routes; they made the decisions. And therefore, their outcomes largely flowed from their thoughts and actions. Maps are very powerful vehicles for establishing accountability because they make everything –the task, the strategy, and the roles – so explicit, so clear.
10. Maps allow discoveries to be made.
An enticing feature of maps is that they show the way to buried treasure – or at least they do in stories about pirates stashing their ill-gotten treasures on desert islands. READ MORE...
Although there is a story-telling aspect to this, maps of the real world can also have this quality. They sometimes throw up something unexpected. If there is enough depth in the map, people who use them sometimes find that it reveals something of value to them, which they have previously not realised or been aware. This is certainly the case when it comes to a map of the mind under pressure. The more familiar we become with the map, the more likely we are to identify our own personal patterns and sensitivities. This might lead to some interesting insights or discoveries, when we connect our current patterns with our previous experiences and make sense of our particular strengths and vulnerabilities.