Get the map out of your bag

I was doing an online navigation course aimed at those racing mountain marathons but the parallels with business and personal life were clear.

“Lots of people keep their map in their bag and only get it out after they are lost. Elites always keep their map to hand.”

Any map, be it an Ordnance Survey 1:25k or a personal/business/product roadmap, needs to be immediately available at the point of wayfinding decisions.


Any amount of availability friction increases the likelihood that you’ll press on regardless – when short on time – without checking your course and therefore make directional errors.

It can of course be a bit of a flow killer to consult the map when you are making fast progress; running down a mountain or otherwise.

But, anyone who has mistakenly descended 250 metres in the mountains before realising they have to regain that height on tired legs – or made a similar business/personal decision that’s taken them in the wrong direction – wasting valuable energy and momentum knows how quickly directional errors can compound.

The guidance from the world of elite mountain marathon winners is instructive:

  1. Print and laminate just the portion of the map you need for the particular race so you can keep it handy in all weathers.
  2. Check your position on the map regularly.
  3. Practice checking so it becomes super quick and second nature.

Ok, that’s great for running in the mountains but what about business/personal maps?

In the pre-COVID-19 face-to-face world, the formula was simple; print and display a massive version of the roadmap prominently in the office, take hard copies to all meetings, and evangelise relentlessly.

The formula for the remote working world needs some tweaks – here’s what I’ve found works so far:

  1. Print a copy and stick it on a wall in your home office – this is your ‘in any weather’ copy that will survive wifi outages, laptops overheating, kids messing with your router, and those digital overload moments when you crave something analogue to just scribble on.
  2. Pin the latest version somewhere digital with high organisational visibility e.g. internal wiki. Searchers can self serve with zero friction and casual passers by may take an interest.
  3. Always keep the file open on your computer so you can easily share your screen during video calls.
  4. Mercilessly include a copy in the appendix of any remotely related presentations! (no one’s printing those packs anymore so there’s no wasted paper).
  5. Schedule regular time to deliberately review your/teams’ direction and progress; cadence will vary but I’ve found 15-30 mins weekly works well.

Your map will be well and truly out of your bag and you can course correct before you get lost.

Personal Best

StravaCycling to work through London. 8 miles each way and plenty to take in. Cyclists leaving the train station starting from cold. Balancing the desire for a brisk tempo to generate some warmth with eyes and brain that adjust slowly to the early morning darkness..

Traffic is sparse and good tempered at 7am – no-one is late yet.

The park is full of runners, fitness clubs, walkers. Cycle lanes busy with the sounds of derailleurs, chains, sharp intakes of icy morning air and occasional bells warning errant pedestrians.

It’s the traffic lights where you notice it. Cyclists are not immune. The jostling for prime position, ignoring a red, taking a shortcut on the pavement. To gain an advantage. Over whom? Or what?

I know my PB. 34:03 in the morning and 40:19 in the evening. I know my average speed. The app on my phone tells me when I have set a PB for the ride or for one of the segments. Sometimes it tells me I am “King of the Mountain”. Ha! In London.

I can’t help wondering how many of the daily commuters I pass are also watching the clock. And how this alters our behaviour in subtle ways. The tight overtake, squeezing through a gap, the token indication manoeuvre.

Personal Best – it feels like a misnomer. Personal fastest – yes. But what about personal safest? Personal happiest? Most enjoyable? Most scenic? Smoothest? Fewest lights? Least traffic? Most variety? Most smiles from taxi drivers?

What you measure is what you get. Be careful out there.

Learning to fall

Wandering along the river at the weekend we saw a small boy take a spill on his bike.

It was enough of a fall to draw a sharp intake of breath from both my wife and me but no real damage was done.

The boy instinctively dusted off his hands and winced at the bits of gravel embedded in the palms of his hands.

His Dad, walking behind us shouted, “That’s alright. Just dust yourself off. It won’t hurt as much if you ride on the grass.”


My mum insisted my brother and I learn how to fall when we were little, “Tuck your elbow in and land on your hip and shoulder”. Good advice for adventurous boys.


Over the years, I’ve introduced a handful of people to rock climbing; encouraging them as they take their first nervous steps up from the safety of the ground into the unknown.

The pattern of a first climb is pretty common: grip tightly to the holds, head up using mostly arm not leg strength, get to the top, clutch onto the largest object at the top, look down nervously, eventually release death-grip on the wall to be lowered down, grip the rope tightly on descent, kiss the floor with relief/sense of achievement, stare with wonder at forearms which appear to be pumped and burning, realise that you arms are now too tired to climb again for a long time.


Until you reach the top of the climb and release your weight onto the rope, you haven’t tested the system. You have no real trust in it. No experience of how it feels to sit in the harness, deliberately or otherwise, until you are in an exposed position.

So why not learn to fall when the stakes aren’t as high?

That’s how I teach. On terra firma I tie the person into their harness, show them the basics of my belay device, take up the slack in the rope, then I just fall down into my harness next to them. “I trust the system”, I’m saying. “You can too.”


I’ve laboured the analogy; forgive me.

My point is that being comfortable and familiar with falling allows us to ride and climb better. We’ve reduced the cost of failure.

This doesn’t just apply to the great outdoors.  Learning to fall in our personal and work lives gives us the confidence to push our experimentation & creativity further.

So why isn’t learning to fall an integral part of every new undertaking?


Travelling and the internet

It’s another rainy windy day in El Chalten, Argentinian Patagonia. The crowd-pulling peaks of Cerro Torre and Fitzroy are hidden by thick cloud. Hikers and climbers pass by the hostel window looking drenched and miserable. Our legs welcome a rest day but cabin fever soon sets in…

What to do? Laundry, journal, trip planning, playing card options all now exhausted. Internet access is patchy as usual, prompting a reflection on our (over?) reliance on internet connections. Continue reading Travelling and the internet

In Perspective

It’s easy to over-complicate decisions in business and in life.

Too much information. Too many choices. Too many stakeholder voices. No clear winner.

How to strip away all the noise? How to create time and space for sense-making so that the end decision is sound?

A trip to the great outdoors always helps me get things in perspective. I’m not really sure why… Maybe because being surrounded by the forces of nature reminds me of how short life is. Being at sea or up a mountain is humbling because I am at the mercy of mother nature.

The great outdoors energises me and helps me see things more simply, more intuitively.

I probably knew the right decision from the start but now the choice is obvious.

I’m interested; how do you create time and space to get things in perspective? Does location play a part?


PS – If you haven’t already heard Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford then I highly recommend it; “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” (VIDEO from 9:00 minutes)