The Wrong Map

I found this great story while researching our tendency to be optimistic in estimating work. There is a Scoutmaster Minute or three in this, for sure.

There is a story told by Albert Szent-Györgyi […]. A platoon of soldiers during World War II was lost in the Alps. Overcome with fear and despair, they did little until an officer found a map. Then they rallied, worked and finally found their way to safety. Only later did they learn that the map was of the Pyrenees, not the Alps.

This is great news for those brand-new to leadership, like Patrol Leaders. Even if your information is wrong, it may be enough to make the group more confident and pull everyone together.

It also shows the difference between being lost and merely not knowing your location. Without the map, they were truly lost. With the map, even the wrong map, they now had a goal and a plan and were no longer lost.

Finally, we are who we think we are, especially in groups. Believing we will succeed is critical to getting to the goal.

I found this in Taking Myths Seriously: An Essay For Lawyers by Donald C. Langevoort. A PDF copy is here. His source was Sensemaking in Organizations by Karl E. Weick, page 54, 1995.

For the original story, as far as it can be traced, check pages 16-17 in Any Old Map won’t Do, a study of the origins and mutations of the story.

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