Tradeoffs: The Currency of Decision Making and The Map Is Not the Territory

Alessio Frateily

Alessio Frateily

Jul 13, 20233 min read


Tradeoffs: The Currency of Decision Making and The Map Is Not the Territory

Every decision we make carries an opportunity cost. If we don't budget wisely, we end up wasting time and energy on things that don't matter. It's not always that we need to do more, but rather that we need to focus on less. This concept, beautifully expressed by Nathan W. Morris, highlights the importance of tradeoffs in our decision-making process.

But what exactly are tradeoffs? Tradeoffs are the sacrifices we make when we choose one option over another. They are the compromises we have to accept, understanding that we cannot have it all. Tradeoffs are inherent in every decision we make, and recognizing them is crucial for making informed choices.

Interestingly, the idea of tradeoffs is closely related to the concept of "The Map Is Not the Territory." This notion, popularized by D.H. Lawrence and further developed by Korzybski, suggests that the map of reality is not reality itself. In other words, the representations we create in our minds, or the maps we use to navigate the world, are only a simplified version of the actual territory.

Korzybski's framework expands on this idea by stating that a map may have a structure similar or dissimilar to the structure of the territory. If a correct map places Dresden between Paris and Warsaw, there is a similar relation in the actual territory. However, it's important to note that a map is not the actual territory. It is merely a representation, a tool we use to navigate and understand the world around us.

The connection between tradeoffs and the map analogy lies in the fact that both require us to make choices and accept that our understanding is limited. When we make decisions, we are essentially choosing one map over another, knowing that each map has its own limitations and biases. Similarly, when we navigate the world, we must recognize that our mental maps are incomplete and can never fully capture the complexity of reality.

So, how can we apply these insights to our daily lives? Here are three actionable pieces of advice to help us make better decisions and navigate the world more effectively:

  • 1. Prioritize ruthlessly: Recognize that you cannot do everything, and trying to do so will only lead to inefficiency and burnout. Take the time to identify what truly matters to you and focus your energy and resources on those areas. Embrace the tradeoffs that come with prioritization, knowing that by saying no to certain things, you are creating space for the things that truly align with your values and goals.
  • 2. Embrace uncertainty: Just as a map can never fully capture the complexity of the territory, our understanding of the world will always be limited. Embrace the unknown and be open to new information and perspectives. Recognize that your mental maps are constantly evolving, and be willing to adjust your course when necessary. By staying curious and adaptable, you can navigate uncertainty with more confidence and resilience.
  • 3. Reflect on past tradeoffs: Take the time to reflect on the tradeoffs you have made in the past. Consider the outcomes of your decisions and the opportunities you may have missed. Use this reflection as a learning opportunity to make more informed choices in the future. By understanding the tradeoffs you have made and their impact, you can become more intentional and strategic in your decision-making process.

In conclusion, tradeoffs are an inherent part of decision making, and recognizing them is crucial for making informed choices. Just as the map is not the territory, our mental maps are limited representations of reality. By embracing the concept of tradeoffs and understanding the limitations of our maps, we can make better decisions and navigate the world more effectively. Prioritize ruthlessly, embrace uncertainty, and reflect on past tradeoffs to make the most of every decision you make.


  1. "Tradeoffs: The Currency of Decision Making", (Glasp)
  2. "The Map Is Not the Territory", (Glasp)

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