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Since the dawn of mankind, human beings have structured their social identity from their affiliation to one or more territories. This belonging, whether geographic, social or symbolic, has allowed the birth and growth of collective structures with tangible, concrete boundaries, which turned into more and more complex systems (cities, companies,… ) which in turn developed their own identity (internally) and structured themselves through exchanges and markets (externally).
During the course of the XXth century, these systems have ossified, their boundaries have stratified themselves, up to sometimes giving up their essence for race for survival. At the same time, digital technology has facilitated the creation of new, virtual territories, whose boundaries continuously evolve, boundaries between private and professional life, between trusted and distrusted circles.
Loss of identity
Today, interpenetration of virtual and real, superposition of the territories there defined, have rendered identification with one -or several- territories nearly impossible. Customers are now active stakeholders of the companies they rent services from. Our relationships with the city we inhabit are becoming more and more abstract, cutting ourselves off from geographical, or even political, considerations. The sense of belonging to an enterprise, to share values, is vanishing. The systems of exchanges, symbolic or commercial, which had built the links between territories, are more and more dematerialized and spread into pieces as our territories no longer define us.
An increasing tendency toward more control and more planning has shown up inside these territories, whether organizations or urban entities, leading to less and less convincing results. Beyond the structural dysfunction of management models inherited from the urban and industrial revolution of the XIXth century, our inability to enjoy again a sustainable growth finds its roots in the vain attempts to manage these territories as closed systems. The more complex they become, the more resources are needed to try to hold entropy back (risk and security management, requirements management, process-based operations, urban planning,…), and the less effective and efficient they appear.
We behave as if organizations were closed exoskeletons and focus instead on the markets which link them together, granting them a life of their own (of the total of economic exchanges taking place nowadays, more than 96% are financial, and do not involve any product or service).
Maps and territories
For organizations as well as for urban entities, this loss of identity goes on pair with dilution of value. Their development, even their survival, is facing new challenges. Strategies of rules’ optimization become more and more irrelevant as we no longer master the boundaries of these territories, and we need instead to try to understand the logic of their inner dynamics. Our primary concern, when dams cannot contain the flow anymore, should be first to learn swimming.
How can we create value when value doesn’t have the same meaning for all stakeholders (customers, shareholders, managers, workers, or citizens, as social responsibility weights more and more in our minds)? How can we grasp the influence the territories we belong to, as customers, as citizens, are workers, exerts on us? The one they exert on each other?
Many of the frameworks and methodologies we are using to help organizations are now obsolete, as complexity trumps any attempt to globally understand them, as well as to address unique situations with out-of-the-box solutions. We need instead to favor experimentation, patterns matching, scenario testing, and resilient thinking, in order to get a grasp of the dynamics involved in the ever changing interactions inside and between the territories we belong to. In other words, we need maps.
Of course, the map isn’t the territory, as Alfred Korzybski said. But maps potentially replicate the territory’s structure, which allows us to re-appropriate its dimensions, symbolic as well as operational. Successive iterations will unfold the flows of exchanges at work at different scales in a fractal way, allowing us to keep a holistic vision of a territory while guiding all stakeholders on the road to follow. Value networks analysis, customer journey mapping, service blueprint, are some of the tools at our disposal to explore and help understanding the terra incognita that our organizations, our customers, and our cities have become. To paraphrase Paula Thornton, we don’t need to drive adoption, we need to help people understand how things are designed. We don’t need to manage change, as it is happening anywhere, at anytime; we need to guide them in embracing it. Consulting must now to step in a brand new territory.