The Map Is Not the Territory

Mental models are not always 100% accurate.

“The map is not the territory” is a mental model coined by Alfred Korzybski. It tells us that even the best mental models have exceptions, and we shouldn’t rely on them dogmatically.

Shane Parrish from Farnam Street does an excellent job explaining this mental model:

When we see a powerful model work well, we tend to over-apply it, using it in non-analogous situations. We have trouble delimiting its usefulness, which causes errors.

—Shane Parrish

Much like how a map does not perfectly and fully represent the territory it depicts, mental models do not fully and accurately represent every single use case. Mental models are powerful learning and decision-making tools, but very few of them apply 100% of the time. It takes wisdom, experience, and humility to identify when the rules don’t apply and it’s time to think outside the box.

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