• Pranav Patvardhan

Understanding (and possibly memorising) maps and flags may be more important than you think

Updated: Jul 10, 2021

While this may seem like an unusual and ludicrous thing to suggest for businesses and business leaders, there are several ways it could change the way you see and understand the world:

  1. The world is increasingly data driven and heavily visualisation focused. Maps are a commonly used tool to showcase business presence globally. If you do not understand what is where, you are incredibly handicapped from the beginning

  2. Most infographics we see today do not have any labels for countries, often leaving the viewer to assess the map purely by the silhouette of the country, rendering the data for the less aware essentially redundant

  3. A lot of flags in the world look uncannily similar and can leave ample room for public gaffes that can be both offensive and damaging for your business and personal reputation (Indonesia-Monaco-Poland-Singapore, USA-Liberia-Malaysia, Netherlands-Luxembourg, Russia-slavic nation flags etc.). Calling a Japanese peer Korean and vice-versa by misinterpreting seemingly similar flags and cultures can be incredibly offensive and can lose you more than a potential partnership

  4. Businesses that are spread over a globe and a country are often impacted very directly by geography - physical topography can affect supply chains, product demand, culture, water supply, resource availability and consumer behaviour. It helps to connect the dots and understand how consumer demand is linked and can be predicted more accurately

  5. Geography determines health, nutrition and development. Why is it that the world's richest and most developed nations are generally away from the equator and more so in the northern hemisphere? Climate breeds disease and favours vectors like mosquitos which plague the health of locals, reducing their productivity and keeping the entire country from deploying more energy and resources on education and infrastructure that improve quality of life and incomes. The kind of crops that can be grown also varies by geography, determining nutrition and therefore population growth and size (Vast areas of fertile, arable land made China and India the most populous nations over Russia that is far larger but has largely frozen territory)

  6. As I say repeatedly, geopolitics is fast becoming the mother of business as we head into Cold War 2.0 (American/Western bloc with Asian democracies vs China/Russia bloc). Geopolitics will be the main driver of national allegiances in the coming decade, which will heavily dictate business decisions. Understanding geography and the corresponding politics can help you uncover the strategic importance of something as seemingly unrelated as Taiwan’s semiconductor industry to world/regional peace

Understanding what goes where and therefore understanding geopolitics is like learning a new language; it takes years to determine which string pulls what chord. Some simple ways to build geographical awareness slowly are:

  1. Read maps for the sake of it, just out of curiosity or leisure to know where each city or country is located

  2. Be mindful when you travel, taking note of where the place you are visiting is on the map and what physical features surround it

  3. Observe air routes when you are flying - it is much more educational than it seems

  4. Pay close attention to what elements set a flag apart from another similar looking one. For eg., the shade of red in an Indonesian vs Monegasque flag

  5. Pay special attention to geopolitical flash points like the Nine Dash Line (South China Sea), Korean Peninsula and Indian borders with Pakistan and China. They too are products of geography and history. Understanding where they are can help you piece together what is happening there and why

Geography has been a driver of human history from the very beginning, determining where and why civilisations cropped up and why some prospered more than others, why some countries where ideal invasion targets and why some parts of the world continue to struggle with development to this day.

We all have google maps and navigation software, but none of them will be running your business or making strategic decisions for you. There is no substitute to awareness.

A puzzle can’t be completed without having all the pieces (in your head).

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