There is a mental model known as the map is not the territory.

Here’s how it works and why it’s one of the most useful concepts to understand for everyday life.

While useful, the best maps or models are necessarily fallible. The key is knowing when they're useful and when they're misleading.

We find maps and models everywhere around us because they reduce complexity and help us navigate uncertainty.
While all maps and models are flawed, they are often useful.

Consider a map. If it were to represent the territory with perfect fidelity, it would no longer be a map. And often we use the wrong maps. Even an excellent map of Chicago won't help you navigate New York.
If a model were perfectly accurate it would be a law.

Models are built with parameters in mind. They frequently assume the worst thing that can happen is the worst thing that has happened in the past. This thinking is clearly flawed.
When parameters change the model breaks and you're unknowingly blind.

And while maps and models might reveal some risks, they don't mention the risk of using it.

No model would have predicted 2020 to turn out the way it has.
The best way to grasp the difference between a map and a territory is to think of a resume. A lot of people look good on paper and fail to deliver in real life. There is a difference between the paper (map) and reality (terrain).
We get into problems when we mistake the map for the terrain. If you hired a person based on a resume, you'd quickly understand the gulf between representations and reality. The same if you were to marry based on an online dating profile.
Understanding the map & territory model helps us make better decisions.

Lesson one: Our brains prefer the wrong map to no map. Using no map means processing an overwhelming amount of information. Our brains are lazy. They'd prefer to grab something close even if it's wrong.
Lesson two: We confuse maps and models with reality. To verify what's happening we need to touch the terrain. A CEO, for instance, can't rely on surveys to understand corporate culture. They need to touch it on a regular basis.
Lesson three: You don't understand a map or model until you understand the hidden variables and assumptions. Relying on a model that assumes the worst outcome that has happened is the worst that can happen is going to lead to false confidence.
In our effort to move quickly we often use maps and models. While these tools are necessary and useful, they are flawed.
For important decisions we need to (1) verify we're using the right maps and models, (2) that the terrain hasn't changed, and (3) that we understand the hidden variables and assumptions.

Remember, when the map and the terrain differ, follow the terrain.
If you want more practical ideas for using mental models everyday, check out The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts.

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