A Whole New World
According to the National Geographic, a map is, “a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps present information about the world in a simple, visual way.” Maps are critical to how we understand and navigate the world. Today, most of society is reliant on a version of a maps app on their phone to help them navigate to even the closest of locations. While maps first appeared long before William Smith was born, Simon Winchester in The Map that Changed the World, discusses how the genius of one map revolutionized society, and subsequently the world, by his development of “the first true geographical map of anywhere in the world”. In this historical work, Winchester recounts the life of William Smith, born towards the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a genius not commonly seen, who ventured to take a risk — “just one man, doing it all by himself, imagining the unimaginable.” While his life was marked by significant challenges beginning with the death of his father at 8 years of age, Smith’s tenacity in finishing an inconceivable project led to a host of other discoveries and changed what was considered possible in the sphere of geology.
At the time Smith was growing up, the term industry was beginning to have an advanced understanding throughout society. The steam engine and water-powered cotton spinning machine were created; farming methods and education were drastically improved. Winchester writes, “in all corners of the industrial world there was change, development, innovation, the shock of the new.” While these ushered in new opportunities for individuals and families, Britain saw an “unanticipated consequence” as they realized they could not produce enough white bread or meat, two staples that were making significant contributions to the “fall in the nation’s death rate” as health improved. It is in this context that Smith understood that geology was a field that needed to be seen in three dimensions, in patterns, and one that could make the invisible underground visible. While reading this work, I was continually thinking of how the influence of growing up in the country, on a farm, and spending so much time in an isolated environment in nature developed a natural inclination towards Kahneman’s System 2 thinking. The slow and methodical mind – the patience alone – that would be needed to create the type of map that Smith did could not come from someone that lived in a System 1 mindset.
Another connection that stuck out to me was how well-differentiated Smith must have been to create this map. Specifically, I was fascinated thinking about Friedman’s understanding of sabotage considering what happened with Smith and those in the Geographical Society that copied his map as their own. Was it his “deep, obsessively felt need to be given wider recognition for what he was sure were profoundly important discoveries” that were truly the motivation or perhaps, was there a dopamine hit each time he completed another section? Was what we could define as well-differentiation actually a personality flaw that actually led towards his financial ruin and imprisonment? Was the brilliance of his curiosity and exploration of the created world influenced by the religious environment he was raised in and in effect, used by the Creator to advance society? Winchester writes:
“His genius — the unanticipated genius of this uneducated farmer’s son – was that he realized it was not simply a matter of noticing the difference. It was also possible – desirable, and perhaps important – to find out just why there was a difference in the first place.”
I can’t help but think Smith would be an expert in Bloom’s Taxonomy as he explored the world and the patterns that emerged from it. While there are many contributions to society and industry that Smith’s accurate maps had, there are a few key learnings and questions that I walk away from after reading this account:
- Our strengths can contribute to our weaknesses. Smith’s focused brilliance did not allow him to see the ruin that awaited him.
- A bad map does me no good. I need to ensure that the map I am following is as accurate as possible or I will be led astray.
- What am I thinking about that perhaps requires being able to see it from/in a new dimension?
- What challenges in my life and leadership do I need to see from a different perspective?
 National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/map/#:~:text=Maps%20present%20information%20about%20the,Earth%2C%20such%20as%20settlement%20patterns.
 Winchester, xviii.
 Winchester, 193.
 Winchester, 17.
 Winchester, 20.
 Winchester, 74, 78, 127.
 Winchester, 84.
16 responses to “A Whole New World”
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Kayli, I like the connections you make to Kahneman and Friedman from this week’s reading. You also mention that our strengths can contribute to our weaknesses. You give Smith’s hyper-focus as an example. Can you think of other ways that dynamics plays out for leaders? I used to think our weaknesses were the opposite of our strengths, but I now think it’s our strength on steroids – without boundaries.
Hi Roy: I think the connection between strength-weakness can play out in so many ways for leaders. The ones that are the visionaries may get too caught in the new vision that they need to be reminded that the vision isn’t always the mission. The ones that are good at bringing order to chaos may become too rigid in developing policies & procedures that the human side of organizational functioning is damaged. The ones that find their strength in Woo (Strengths Finders) may wrap themselves into performance over authenticity. I think for most, left unchecked or surrounding ourselves with a team that does not feel they have the freedom to push back, will allow the hyper-strength to become detrimental for the individual leader and/or organization.
I’m fascinated with our commitment to excellence, even if we do not receive the recognition we are due.
It is easy to assume that ministers know we are not in this for self-centered recognition. At the same time, the church can bulldoze over ministers with no regard for recognizing hard work. I am fearful for many ministers losing heart after this pandemic is done as they held everything together, often in solicitude, with the strength of the Spirit.
I’m the business world, bonuses are delved out for great results. In the church world, I’m not sure we have a good model of reward.
At the same time, much of our intentions and unhealthy emotions are geared toward what’s in it for me over the thriving that will come as a result of pursuing excellence in our vocational craft.
So true, Andy. While I’m not considered to be in vocational ministry in the same sense as pastors, I’m also not in full blown corporate world where the recognition comes in the form of bonuses or public appreciation. More so in the Christian higher-ed context, it’s emphasized the work we do to be part of our ‘calling’ which I think can often dismiss inadequate treatment or the reality that we each do multiple jobs for no additional pay. Ultimately, I feel like I have to decide each year if I’m genuinely still being asked to remain by the Lord and then adjust that my standard of excellence be between He and I — and ultimately for Him or I will continually be disappointed if I’m trying to do it for any other reason.
I loved this book too, Kayli. I love people in history that works solo and accomplishes great things and pushes the science forward. I hadn’t thought of the connection between him and Friedman though-nice synthesis. I thought of this book and Lieberman’s, “The Molecule of More.” Both push our understanding further along and we are all beneficiaries because of it. I wish he received his full recognition during his lifetime though.
I wonder, given all he endured, how he would have reacted had he been given full recognition while he was alive. I do agree that it was deserved though.
Hey Kayli. I really appreciated your post and the way you wove so many of our readings into your reflections on Smith’s life journey. Thank you for that! Your closing questions also capture my attention. These too especially intrigue me (and are wonderful ways of using Smith’s map as a metaphor):
* What am I thinking about that perhaps requires being able to see it from/in a new dimension?
* What challenges in my life and leadership do I need to see from a different perspective?
Do these questions lead you to think about something specific related to your NPO or work or wider societal conversations these days?
I find myself taking up these questions on the topic of capitalism and have found some interesting articles this week that challenge my own thinking on this subject.
Hi Elmarie: Yes, I think the questions I’m asking after this reading are woven into my NPO. I’m looking at a new model of global and experiential education that is accessible and equitable for all students. The ‘map’ of international education has been outdated for some time now, and especially with COVID, there are new modalities and methods that need to be considered to meet a very new reality that the student today faces.
Personally, I think continually asking myself if I’m looking at my circumstances from the correct vantagepoint has been helpful. When I reflect at the hard in the past but can now see how integral it was in shaping something it helps me understand the hard I’m walking through today also serve a purposes — if I allow it.
I’m looking forward to learning from what you develop in your NPO!
Great summary of the book. Honestly, hearing what you got out of makes me want to give it a second read! Great summary of points at the end. Very well done and great points to consider!
In full confession, this was the first book I started with over Christmas break. I got not even a few pages in and put it down 🙂 Opening it a second time was helpful!
Kayli your title had me singing the song from Aladdin!
Your said, “how well-differentiated Smith must have been to create this map.” as you reflected on the ways he experienced sabotage. This made me reflect on his journey…it took him 22 years to finish the map because by other accounts he was a procrastinator. I wonder how Friedman would weigh in on this?
Your final questions, as per usual, are so thought provoking! I wonder what would happen if you were to draw your own map instead of trying to determine if the map given you is well drawn?
“I wonder what would happen if you were to draw your own map instead of trying to determine if the map given you is well drawn?” – mic drop.
ROFL!! Thank you for making me laugh!!!
I never would have thought to connect the rural farm life with System 2 thinking, nicely done. Your comment, “well-differentiation actually a personality flaw,” made think of stubborn dogma. Where is the line between a healthy differentiated person and simple stubbornness? I might add one more question. You pulled in our current reliance on map apps. I wonder if that tendency makes us myopic and uncreative to explore the unknown on the road less traveled. Unless of course you are like me who thinks it a great game to make the GPS “recalculate.”
Kayli, I really enjoyed reading your blog and appreciated the role I play as a leader. I should be a differentiated leader so that I can overcome every sabotage and be able to understand the culture in my organization and the environment and differentiate myself. Have you faced any sabotage in the organization that you have worked in and how did you overcome it?