3 Places You Can Use a Map — ATOMs #13-5

We live in an age of GPS devices, and they can be a fantastic aid. However, a map is also an immensely powerful tool, and I think that its longevity proves its value. On the other hand, a GPS tells you which direction to go, and it usually does not give you many (or any) alternatives. Nor does it give you information to weigh alternative choices.

Maps give us options.

And they give us the information you need to weigh those alternatives. It turns out that alternatives are important. In his wildly popular best seller, EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey simply states:

A powerful element of good decision making is to have lots and lots of options.

ATOMs are basic building blocks that you can use to build solutions in many situations, like the three presented here.

Here are 3 places you can use a map to create options and collect information: 1) Planning your trip, 2) Making a detour, and 3) Finding your way (when you are lost).

1. Planning the Trip
Have these thoughts gone through your mind when planning a road trip: What’s the shortest distance? What route gives the shortest duration? Is road A susceptible to more traffic than road B?

Before the trip, maps are useful for strategic planning. What if you apply these same kinds of questions to your project or process–will they help you prepare?

Right-Arrow-Detour-Sign-X-M4-9R2. Making a Detour
Have you ever come across one of these dreaded orange signs? My fear has always been that the detour will be vey poorly marked.  These days the GPS units are getting a bit smarter about handling detours, but none compare to my ability to use a map when things get out of hand.

I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t had to make at least one detour during the execution of their plan. Is your plan ready?

3. Finding your Way (when you are lost)
What if you miss your exit? What if that detour leads you astray? Maps are good for helping us figure out where we are.

There’s an elementary process for all three of these steps–it’s the same checklist applied to each situation. It doesn’t require a GPS solution, a complicated algorithm, or an updated database.


Where Do We Go From Here

How do we find our way then, when we are exploring the unknown, blazing a trail into uncharted territory? How do we apply elementary statistical principles to transform uncertainty into decisive action? What is to prevent us from making a preposterous application of ATOMs when we deal with very complex situations, those in which our intuition fails?

These questions are not much different from those faced by Chuck Yeager before he ever broke the sound barrier or Neil Armstrong as he took that first step on the moon. Neither of these men, nor anyone around them–with hundreds or thousands of highly educated, very scientific people on these teams–knew what to expect. Or did they…?

ATOMs is a monthly column that introduces analytical tools of mathematics and statistics and illustrates their application. To read more about ATOMs, you can read Where Do We Go From Here, or view the online workbook here.

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