Why do you need a compass rather than a road map?

Or, put another way, why do you need a message architecture that drives high level strategy? Allow me to share with you a very strong, and applicable quote:

We are more in need of a vision or destination and a compass (set of principles or directions) and less in need of a road map. We often don’t know what the terrain ahead will be like or what we will need to go through it; much will depend on our judgment at the time. But an inner compass will always give us direction.

~ Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The best-​selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a wonderful book. It’s not a self-​help style book. It is a vehicle for the sharing of integral knowledge. It’s the type of thing that you can put to play in your own life — and subsequently in your business life.

The quote above demonstrates very particularly why you need to really know the values that underpin your business. So many of today’s ‘how-​to’ articles are about the tactical things you can do right now. What those articles do is give you a band-​aid solution. They don’t help you to assess whether termites have gotten into your foundations.

Road maps are fine, provided you are looking at the right map for the right territory. How do you know you are even looking at the right map? What’s the chance that you’re working off someone else’s map, which you thought would work for you because it kind of sounded like you are in the same space?

Image of compass and map Used under Flickr Creative Commons. Art by Calsidyrose
Used under Flickr Creative Commons. Art by Calsidyrose

This is why message architecture is so important. It gives you a framework for understanding your journey: Before you set out. It makes sure you have a working compass, know your direction, and understand your desired end result. Even if you lost your map, it wouldn’t matter.

The recent acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook illustrates this point in a perfect, albeit abstract way. WhatsApp has never compromised on its values. Rather than choosing notoriety, the company chose to remain true to itself. In so doing, the quality of the company’s output has been reportedly outstanding. The value propositions of WhatsApp and its founders are very strong — and statements have already been made about how the acquisition is not going to change that.

Whether the latter stands the test of time remains to be seen. But the lesson here is that WhatsApp knew its vision and direction, and didn’t seek roadmaps like many another startup.

Drilling down to your envisioned destination isn’t easy work, and nor is working out the values that will underpin your journey. However, more and more we are seeing the brutal truth of the fact that your principles and directions are more important to your business than the way in which you get there.

Ultimately, if you have a compass with you, and you know where you’re going — and the rough direction in which that is — you’ll be able to withstand far more types of weather than if you just had a map. Technologies change, markets change. If your company truly embodies its deep values, adapting will be far, far easier.

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