Topographical intelligence is ultimately a mechanism of communication and learning, but what makes a good map? The first thing a map has to be is visual and context specific.
Figure 1 - Visual & Context Specific.
But then any box and wire diagram is visual and context specific. However that isn't enough to learn. In order to understand a context and to learn from it (whether with a chess board or a geographical map) then you need to have position and movement of the pieces on the map. Position is relative to something e.g. position on the board or this piece is north of that piece. That something is the anchor of a map.
In the maps that I've used for the last decade, the anchor has been the user, position is visibility to the user and movement is evolution (i.e. how things change).
Figure 2 - Position and Movement.
With a visual system that is context specific and has position and movement, you finally have something which I would consider is worthy of being called a map. Without position and movement then you have a nice diagram which is not much use for learning, communication or strategic play. However, this is just a starting point. The components of a map don't have to be the same type of thing i.e. there's no reason to limit yourself to activities as you can map practices, data and even knowledge.
Figure 3 - Components and Type
Also within a map, you have flows of risk, information and money. These are also worth investigating. Be careful here, you need a map otherwise it becomes trivially easy to make efficient the most ineffective of things.
Figure 4 - Flow
Finally, with a map you can start to learn climate patterns (the rules of the game), context specific forms of gameplay (strategy) and universally useful patterns (doctrine). The point of a map is you should be able to add on climatic patterns and discuss strategic play around this. You should be able to communicate and challenge assumptions.
Figure 5 - Climate
You are now in a state in which you can organise with structures like pioneers, settlers and town planners and apply appropriate methods. You can also work out where to attack and from that strategy.
Strategy is all about the why of movement and this starts with where do you attack? The strategy bit is determining why here over there. This is different from the why of purpose as in "be the best tea shop in Kent". Acting upon your strategic choices (the why of movement) can also ultimately change your goal (the why of purpose) ... and there was I thinking there was something called permanent "core" (circa 2005). It's an iterative loop known as the strategy cycle.
Figure 6 - The Strategy Cycle
Of course, navigating and learning effectively without some form of map is almost impossible. Instead we find ourselves unable to distinguish between that which is context specific and that which is universal. We become the archetypal Themistocles with a SWOT.
There's an awful lot to a simple diagram like a Wardley map. Most of which we don't mark on the map as it becomes intuitive i.e. we don't have to remind people that the anchor is the user or that you have position & movement, that is taken for granted.
Figure 7 - A Wardley Map
However, topographical intelligence in business, the art of strategy based upon situational awareness remains one of those topics which are barely covered in business literature. The overwhelming majority depends upon alchemist tools such a story telling, meme copying and magic frameworks like SWOTs. It is slowly changing though and every day I come across encouraging signs.
So does mapping make an impact? It certainly seems to on a personal level and there exists a tentative link between situational awareness and success at the corporate level. However, all models are wrong but some are useful. It's a tool that I've found useful is the only claim I'll make.
Figure 8 - Personal Impact
Figure 9 - Corporate Impact
If you are completely new to this form of mapping then I've provided a basic introduction.