Wednesday, January 7, 2009


In uncertain times, everyone seems to want a “roadmap to success.”

Possibly the most famous (and still newsworthy, for unfortunate reasons) is the Roadmap for Peace. Developed by the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States, it was presented in 2003 to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in an effort to lead toward “a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

The term has really caught on since then as an optimistic buzzword. The Salvation Army is backing a “sustainable clothing roadmap” to boost the recycling and reuse of garments. An aide to Pope Benedict XVI reports the pontiff has a “roadmap for hope.” The South China Morning Post suggests Hong Kong “needs to work out a viable road map to achieve full democracy.”

These are plans, however, not maps at all. This is where the metaphor breaks down.

A map is a representation of the arrangement of geographical features or other attributes of the physical environment. It offers expansive and detailed information to assist its users in making decisions, but it does not make decisions for them.

A plan, on the other hand, gives specific directions for going from A to B. It is not like a true road map at all, but akin to a party host telling his friends how to get to his home. Such directions may certainly complement the use of a road map, but they are not the map itself.

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