Go See:  The Map is Not The Territory

Go See: The Map is Not The Territory

86 years ago, Alfred Korzybski gave this reminder to an audience of scientists:  the map is not the territory.

Of course, even detailed maps are always a simplification, a model, of the territory.   Maps and models are useful to the extent they enable the user to predict next steps and results.   This is the meaning of George Box’s aphorism, “All models are wrong; some are useful.”

People like me who spend a lot of time with reports and data may be particularly prone to believing an abstract summary is the same as the real-world phenomenon that the summary is supposed to represent.

Alfred North Whitehead coined a grand name for this logical error, “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, several years before Korzybski.

The Lean advice to Go See aims to shatter the fallacy.   Financial and quality reports and work procedures cannot substitute for the reality of the work place.  

As I argued here, while visual impressions might dominate, the observer should use all her senses in the workplace to understand how well people can do their job and the problems that get in their way.

In an oral health collaborative this past year, we asked every participating team to practice “Go See”—to observe an aspect of work that they believed was done reliably well for each patient.

The teams I coached told me their mental model never matched their Go See experience.    The contrast between predicted experience and actual experience is the essence of scientific observation, what we mean by the Study step in the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle.

Go See is a great way to build PDSA skills.   You don’t need to have an improvement project, you can start with any current work that cycles repeatedly: 

·         Plan:  what is the plan (standard) for the work?  

·         Do:  what happens when you do the work or observe others doing the work?    

·         Study:  what is the contrast between plan and actual?  

·         Act: what actions should you take if the plan and actual work don’t match well? 

Repeat the cycle, get better at PDSA. 


Model for Improvement as Inquiry Guide

Model for Improvement as Inquiry Guide

Sand Castle Maintenance

Sand Castle Maintenance