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This chapter is from the book

Upright Maps

Whether a mental map is correct or mistaken, the longer it works, the harder it is to change. In a sense, all mental maps successful enough to be retained take on a final characteristic that we see in the world of cartography, as well as in business. This is the tendency to believe that the only way to see the map is the way it has been seen. This is important enough to bear repeating: We mistakenly think that the only way to see a map is the way it has been seen. For example, consider the map in Exhibit 2-9. When they first see this map, most people instantly think that it is upside down. After all, Australia is not "up over," it is "down under."

EXHIBIT 2-9EXHIBIT 2-9 An Australian view of the world. (Map courtesy of www.hemamaps.com.au)

But consider for a moment that you were an alien traveling from a far-off galaxy and you stop your spacecraft by the moon to look at our world. Would north necessarily be up? In zero gravity, isn't it just as reasonable for Australia to be up over as down under? The logical answer is of course, yes. However, when we show this map to people around the world, we invariably find them tilting their heads to one side until the world starts to look right side up again—with the exception of Australians, who think it looks quite right just the way it is.

It is important to note here that, unlike the previous three examples, the traditional right-side-up map is not mistaken and is, in fact, accurate and correct. However, its accuracy and correct

ness are no guarantee that it will continue to work as the only way to get things done. We will come back to this at the end of the book, when we talk about practical things you can do to reduce the chances that you get stuck in holding on to maps that need to change.

Still, the important thing to keep in mind is that, if we see a map a certain way often enough, we end up believing that it is the only way for it to be seen. The longer we see the world as consisting mostly of breakfast cereal in the United States, the easier it is to believe that is the only way to see the world. The longer we see metric-measured beds as the center of the world, the easier it is to see metric beds as the only beds. The longer we see bigger brick-and-mortar bookstores as the path to greater sales, the easier it is to see them as the only path. Given enough time and exposure to any map, it becomes the "right" map. As a result, we diminish our capacity to see the world any other way.

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