How to Avoid Mistaking the Map for the Territory
Managers and academics frequently use models to represent real-life practices. Models and related discussions about the validity of variables, robustness tests, or the pertinence of samples flourish in peer-reviewed management journals. In the same vein, within organizations, employees’ activities and practices are now routinely represented by numbers, diagrams, charts, and figures.
As sophisticated as they may be, models nevertheless fail to represent the actual situated activity. It is an old semiotic principle that “the map is not the territory”. As Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, and Lewis Carroll have observed with humor, the only perfect map would be life-sized and would completely cover the land in question. Yet, designing and implementing such a map would evidently cause countless logistical and technical problems.
Managers and academics often seem to forget this semiotic principle, however, with models being taken so seriously that they sometimes appear to be more important...
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