OneThing8: all models are wrong

Crossing the Line

Just north of Salem, Oregon, on I-5 one sees this sign.  For a young boy growing up amid maps and on the road south from Portland to visit relatives, my first siting of this sign created both wonder and confusion. I was about to cross a clearly marked latitude that I had noted on our reliable Mercator projection maps we had in the hallway upstairs – marking so absolutely the boundary of Montana and Wyoming, of upstate New York and Vermont with Quebec, thence to curve across the Atlantic, furrow the vineyards of France, through the eastern block countries, the Caucasus, through China and Mongolia, out to the Pacific, and then, well, back home, to Oregon.  I could see it in mind’s eye so clearly.

But it wasn’t there.  And I swiveled my head so quickly: right at the sign, I looked across the fields of peppermint.  There should have been some kind of line, right? Where was it?  Was the sign in the wrong place?  The 45th Parallel should  . . . be . . . right . . . THERE!

Ah, the loss of innocence.  It’s hard for a little boy to let go of a certainty that just ain’t so.  Years later, psychically recovered from that seminal map event, I read Alfred Korzybski’s famous dictum:  “The map is not the territory.” How helpful that is when trying on a new model for understanding something.

Just this last week, we rolled out an org chart for the staff.  Lots of pointed discussion, and most of it on target about what was missing or poorly constructed or mislabeled or simply unclear.  It served us all pretty well in that we stepped a mite closer to what actually takes places or what we wish to take place.  By the time we finished our boisterous discussion, no one could recognize the original draft.  It is so hard to capture the breath and action of a living school on a two-dimensional plane.  After lunch, I noted the difficulty of our discussion:  “This org chart is just a model of our school. Of course,  all models are wrong, but some can be useful.  Perhaps our revised map will be better.”  This seemed to give us all a little hope.

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