Most individuals and organisations locate their anticipated success at some point in the future, based on how valuable their inner world ideas and imaginings will be when they become actual reality in the outer world. The fundamental challenge in actually making this happen for real, particularly in an organisation where large numbers of people are engaged in planning the future into reality, is that all those individuals will have different beliefs about the future and encompass a variety of perspectives on how to actually connect with it. The conventional method for dealing with this challenge is for an individual, or small group of individuals, to establish a single perspective based on their opinions and then influence or force others to adopt this viewpoint.
Establishing a single perspective does not usually take a wider context into account, and working from the limitations of this particular viewpoint can often result in an increase of tension and lack of engagement from everyone else who is involved in bringing the future into reality. Rather than attempting to limit perspectives, the Human Maps process enables a group of people to share their various points of view about the best routes for making consistent progress into the future. Human Maps are created using a language that all humans naturally share, which is our landscape, using it to draw topographic maps that illustrate our inner landscapes so we can describe our beliefs about the future to each other and to ourselves. We continually hear this topographic language in our day-to-day lives, consciously or unconsciously, when we use landscape metaphors to describe our perspectives on a particular situation such as stating that we ‘have a mountain to climb’ or are becoming ‘bogged down’.
When sharing perspectives, it can be easy to become lost in a swirl of different viewpoints and become disconnected from the firm understandings that are needed to turn these perspectives into action. When drawing Human Maps, these different viewpoints are given a solid grounding by using mountains to reflect areas where peak performance can be attained by hard work and organised effort, with the higher tops reflecting greater achievements. Fields are used to symbolise areas where valuable work has been done and continuing cultivation can provide further resources for consistently purposeful production. Marshes are used to represent areas where a firmer understanding is still evolving from a potentially rich and fertile area, and where it can be easy to come bogged down in the details. These grounding perspectives collectively symbolise what is known and familiar to you as you draw the Human Map.
Drawing known and familiar ground on an Human Map naturally enables you to see the known and unfamiliar spaces that separate them. These airy spaces often reflect how you air your views, with valleys symbolising natural flows of thinking that you use to connect a variety of concepts around the mountains of work and the efforts that you make. As you use these natural channels of communication, it often opens up the space to share new ideas and understand different viewpoints. These communication channels usually also contain the airy spaces of forests, where you find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings and can find it difficult to make decisions because you cannot see the wood for the trees. The abrupt edges of cliffs indicate areas where there may be a sudden change in the surrounding situation, and the greater the change, the more abrupt the edge.
As you draw out the shape of your inner landscape on an Human Map, you become more aware of how your learning and experience naturally flows through it. In a landscape, rivers naturally flow through the valleys between the mountains and so a river symbolises an area where powerful learning is flowing from past experience. This learning flow is often guided by an unconscious awareness of the surrounding context, whose source can appear unknown and familiar to begin with. The natural flow of rivers accumulate in areas of learning experience and these are represented by lakes, where the deeper the learning is, the greater the depth of experience. The learning flow of rivers and accumulated experience of lakes will always find its way to a place where there is a much wider and deeper awareness, and this is represented on an Human Map by an ocean, where other unknown and familiar futures can be imagined by looking beyond the horizon.
As you add more topographic features to an Human Map, you can see your inner landscape becoming more apparent as your learning flows through your thought processes and from your practical efforts. Your inner landscape is also populated by your perceptions of the people who are looking to the future with you, and so you represent these human connections on an Human Map by using houses, villages and cities. A house symbolises an individual person and indicates where you are coming from as you share your perspectives. Villages described areas where individual people coalesce around prominent situations based on their shared needs and the mutual value they can create. A city symbolises an area where there is wider awareness of differing perspectives and many opportunities to explore valuable connections between individuals, even though they may be unknown and unfamiliar to you at present.
The route that you take through the inner landscape that you have drawn on an Human Map indicates how you see yourself moving into your future, based on your current perspectives and beliefs. As you survey the map of your inner landscape that you have drawn, you often see alternative routes, that you may not have considered before, and as you compare your map with the maps of people around you, you often find that their inner landscapes provide similar perspective to your own, and that you actually share common ground in your view of your collective future. By choosing the common topographic features from your maps, you can collectively draw a larger Common Ground Human Map that you can use as a guiding reference as you navigate together into the future. What happens inside, happens outside.