A map is not the territory – How we create our reality 2


MasterTux / Pixabay


A map is not the territory.


Critique of a map

Recently I am finding myself in discussions that raise the concern of putting people in categories through pre-defined assessment tools. One voice stated that this is despising humans, disrespectful. In particular the matter of discussion is the ego development stages of Integral theory, building on spiral dynamics and the research of several researchers, which probably received most attention when put forward in Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations.


Why it is relevant for me

As HumanBusiness is using the Reinventing Organizations map for its listening to the pulse of an organization service and operates based on the values consciousness and respect, I feel drawn to take a closer look at the arguments and provide my humble perspective.


What is the core argument?

Let’s first of all have a closer look at what the exact critique is and what the underlying argument for it is. The critique of a priori defined thought model or theory goes along the following lines: We as leaders, managers, consultants or facilitators, in short humans, should not put other humans into categories. The argumentation for this is because it limits the possibilities of what can happen when looking through a fixed lens and therefore limits the ability and potential of people. Basically we are reducing the potential of possibilities to what the theory suggests and do not leave room for behavior that is beyond a defined category. Thereby, we are creating the perception that there is only ‘one’ direction possible, that we have already figured out.


I believe this is a valid point and left many integral practitioners with the image of placing themselves ‘above’ other people, especially when arguing that other people are on a less complex development stage. In line with this is the claim that Integral theory is a pseudo-science and that Ken Wilber is a cult builder.


At the core of this argumentation I sense the perspective that we should believe everyone has an unlimited potential, instead of already limiting that and not allowing us to see it in other people because we use a theory that does not allow it to present. That means, we should use approaches in for example personal and organizational change and transformation that steam for a perspective where every person is capable of creating outstanding achievements and should be given the free choice and space to explore and express it. If we believe, we and others are self-directed and intrinsically motivated, then we will also see and experience it.


Again a perspective that I would fully support. I am arguing myself that every person has all the requirements for change, thriving and flourishing already inside of us. In addition, if we truly believe in oneness, that we are all connected vibrationally, why should we only claim the possibility of creating outstanding achievements for myself and doubt that ability in others? If I allow myself to believe that I am the intentional creator of my life, then I need give that same possibility as well to other people.


Human potential

At the same time we are all aware of situations where people could have done more and realized more of their potential, or is that just what we are seeing in the situation? Perhaps it is as well discriminating to speak about potential of people and again imposing certain expectations on them. Expectations that we hold, as an observer of the situation. We cannot ignore that humans have biological predetermined possibilities, but that realizing those potentials are dependent on our socio-cultural, economical, environmental, technological and political context. And that does not even take into account the personal beliefs an individual develops based on social conditioning. That means the possibilities of a person’s behavior are basically infinite.


Based on the free will and choice that we attribute to ourselves, and therefore also others, don’t we need to come to the conclusion that everybody is always trying their best? Maybe there are things we are not conscious of and that is where we are driven from our unconsciousness. Here we can learn and grow personally. Wake up and grow up, taking the responsibility of our own choices and actions.


Taking the stand that we are always experiencing our constructed ‘reality’ from our unique perspective, would it then not be helpful to ask ourselves what we can learn from a certain situation? Why does it matter for us that someone else is not living up to their (our perceived) potential? What does it say about me that this triggers me?


And still we are able to see common patterns emerging, which is why we end up with maps that describe our behaviors and patterns. We need to keep in mind that those maps, or theories, are descriptive. That means they have evolved from observing people’s behavior in the past. Can a past pattern predict how people will act in the future?


Entering the discussion

We humans always judge and put people into categories, most of the times subconsciously. This means we are not even aware of it, which is called bias. We do that in order to deal with complexity. It allows us to reach conclusions faster. However, exactly in jumping to conclusions we might skip a step, missing out important details, leading to a biased conclusion. It is essential to raise awareness and make ourselves conscious of this process, so that we do not judge people on their ethnicity, gender, or level of consciousness. I have not met a person that is without judgement, which would probably be an enlightened status, where we are consciously aware of every thought, feeling or movement, as well as how we are creating our context with it and how this in return affects our perception.


That means, if we judge, then, I believe, we should have a theory that comes closest to how we collectively perceive reality. As I stated before, I have been using integral theory in my own work and it has helped me to understand some of my experiences more clearly and allowed me to put words on them. For example in Radio Medvetna Val I talked about my story, different value systems and how to make sense of them. I also believe there is an evolutionary aspect in us humans. So does that mean this or any other theory is the holy grail? This would be fanatic to believe, which is why we need to question the existing. This discussion, providing different viewpoints and questioning will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of the universe and our existence in it, and for that we need every perspective. Are we questioning to prove our own point or are we questioning to understand, so that we can improve what is?


Inner world

In my perspective this discussion points to a larger issue. How much do we accept and value our inner world? It seems to me that we reject almost every theory that tries to understand the human inner working. We do not have a theory of social science, and definitely no consensus, that explains accurately how we function as human beings. Most of the issues social sciences deal with are considered soft factors, qualitative aspects, which are harder to measure and observe than quantitative behavior. Just think about the ongoing debate about GDP or happiness as an indicator for the quality of life. Could it be that not accepting our inner world as at least equally important as our outer world, has lead to calling integral theory, or any other theory dealing with the inner workings of humans, pseudo-sciences?


Let me provide a provocative perspective here. Let’s accept for a moment that there is an inner world, based on values, beliefs and narratives, as well as an outer world, which is mainly our observable behavior and actions. What would then be their relation? How do they influence each other? Could it be possible that our intention leads to action?


Are our thoughts creating reality? Is our perception predicting our experience? Is the filter we have determining what what we are going to see?


If we accept that our inner world creates our outer world, then it means that everything has to be imagined or thought before we are able to realize it. It means the map that we are using to describe the territory is just an imagination from us, a construct that we created. If we follow that argumentation, it also means that we create the territory through our perception, narratives and embodied experiences. Isn’t then a measurement of any kind a ridiculous attempt to make sense of our constructed reality? How could we believe that measuring something effectively is possible when the map is form the same source than the territory it is supposed to measure?


How do we perceive a map

stokpic / Pixabay


Is all hope to make sense of the world lost?

Does that mean we should get rid of all measurements? What does that mean for physical measurements of temperature, weight or distance?


Apparently the advancement of science and finding a map that is describing the territory as close as possible has brought us and incredible understanding of how the world functions. It helps us to calculate how long we need to get from one place to another, when water starts boiling and how we can maneuver a spaceship through space. Keeping in mind that these measurements are based on factors that we have chosen ourselves, and they are only valid because everyone agrees to believe in them. In essence, they are a story that we choose to tell us, having forgotten that it was us that created that story in the first place and it keeps existing, because we continue to believe in it.


Joining the cult?

Lastly, I would like to address the argument that Ken Wilber, which essentially goes for anybody that puts forward a progressive map to describe the territory, is a described as cult builder. For me it simply highlights the power of a good story and that we are a social species that needs to feel belonging to a social group. Moreover, our human mind functions in an obscure way, which means that we are attracted to ideas, knowledge or stories that are in line with our own understanding and perspective. At the same time we reject a theory or description that contradicts our own worldview or that we do not understand. We will find arguments, beliefs, narratives, stories basically, that justify our own perception. Just ask yourself how you resonate with what you just read and observe what you sense? How do you feel? What do you think?


Every idea that is not fitting our perspective of how we look at the world has a hard time to make it into our range of possibilities we like to choose from. I would even go further and argue that every idea, narrative or belief, where we have not the feeling that we developed it ourselves or took part in creating it, is challenging for us to accept. There will always be a threshold for us to overcome in seeing stories of others as our own.


So it is no surprise to me that we reject a theory that was developed by someone else and which should explain and even predict what we are going to do next. Knowing this, the only question left, it seems to me, is: What do I make out of it? What can I learn from the map?


How can I evolve?

I can become conscious of my own internal filters, the perception I hold. I am the embodiment of my narratives, values, experiences and theories I encountered. What are my narratives? What are my values? What have I experienced? How does this affect my thinking? What do I know? All this is influencing how I look at any situation. My observation changes what I see. In order to not be biased, to become a non-judgemental observer, I need to understand how I make sense of the world. In order to learn how I look at the world, I need to go on an inner journey, understanding myself, my own inner world. While doing this I need to unlearn what I learned.


Ironically different maps help to gain a better understanding of the territory, because they describe the same space from different angles. So it helps to expose myself to various theories and understanding when it makes sense to apply which one. I need to understand that different contexts call for different approaches. I can learn to deal with ambiguity and hold contradictory thoughts and maps, transcending duality and formulate a narrative that allows both extremes to co-exist at the same time, finding the third path. This is when I reach evolution.


What is in it for me? – Why should you care?

Let me emphasize that I do not claim to know ‘the truth’. I most definitely do not have all the answers and I believe no one has. Personally, I believe we all see only part of the whole picture, which is why we need to engage in dialogues with each other, share our own perspectives and reach ‘our truth’ through collective sense-making. In other words, we together need to create a story where each of us can find a place in. My intention is also not to defend one theory, but to point out and thereby make us conscious of certain aspects that help us all to find common ground for improvement, an evolution of theories and understanding, as well as creating an applicable map that describes the territory as close to reality as possible, or I better say a story that we can all agree to.


What do I take away from this perspective?


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Also published on Medium.

About Businesshumanizer

My name is Jens and I write about organizational evolution to inspire a way of organizing work that is human-centric. Find me at www.humanbusiness.eu

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2 thoughts on “A map is not the territory – How we create our reality

  • philipp

    Hi Jens,

    nice work, nice thoughts.

    Hans-Peter Dürr: Das Netz des Physikers (The net of the physicist) shares your point of view form the constructivistic perspective.

    In my opinion, put the thoughts into practice, netmapping is a great approach to create and visualize common sense.

    Cheers and keep up doing what you do