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MENTAL MODELS

Tathagat Varma

WHAT IS A MENTAL
MODEL?

Mental models are deeply ingrained


assumptions, generalizations, or even
pictures or images that influence how we
understand the worlds and how we take action.
Very often, we are not consciously aware of our
mental models or the effect they have on our
behavior .
- The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge,

MENTAL MODELS

an explanation of someone's thought process


about how something works in the real world. It
is a representation of the surrounding world, the
relationships between its various parts and a
person's intuitive perception about their own acts
and their consequences. Our mental models help
shape our behaviorand define our approach to
solving problems (akin to a personal algorithm)
and carrying out tasks
- Wikipedia

MENTAL MODELS

Mental models are subtle but powerful. Subtle,


because we usually are unaware of their effect.
Powerful, because they determine what we pay
attention to, and therefore what we do.
Mental models are strongly conservative: left
unchallenged, they will cause us to see what we have
always seen: the same needs, the same opportunities,
the same results. And because we see what our
mental models permit us to see, we do what our
mental models permit us to do.

ARE MENTAL MODELS


REAL?

What is real? How do you define real? If you're talking about


what you can hear, what you can smell, taste and feel then real is
simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain
Morpheus, Matrix (1999)

ARE MENTAL MODELS


RIGHT OR WRONG?
Essentially all models are wrong, but some are useful
George Box
The problems with mental models lie not in whether they
are right or wrong by definition, all models are
simplifications. The problems with mental models arise when
they become implicit when they exist below the level of our
awarenessbecause we remain unaware of our mental models,
the models remain unexamined. Because they are unexamined,
the models remain unchanged. As the world changes, the gap
widens between our mental models and reality, leading to
increasingly counterproductive actions The Fifth Discipline

CAN MENTAL MODELS IMPACT


ORGANIZATIONAL PRACTICES?

Mental models of what can or cannot be done


in different management settings are no less
deeply entrenched. Many insights into new
markets or outmoded organizational practices fail
to get put into practice because they conflict with
powerful, tacit mental models The Fifth
Discipline
the most crucial mental models are those
shared by key decision-makers. Those models, if
unexamined, limit an organization's range of
actions to what is familiar and comfortable.

LET EXAMINE SOME


MENTAL MODELS

OSTRICH SYNDROME: THE PROBLEM


WILL GO AWAY IF I IGNORE IT

ITS OK TO REACH LATE


FOR MEETINGS

BABY ELEPHANT SYNDROME:


I CANT BREAK FREE

BOSS SHOULD HAVE


MORE EXPERIENCE

GUESS THE COLORS

Is BLUE a color?

WORK SHOULD BE
SERIOUS

THEY ALL WANT TO BE


MANAGERS

WE WILL MAKE UP FOR


THIS DELAY BY

Working overtime
Adding more people
New tools
Re-architecture
New programming
language
New Silver Bullet!

LETS EXPLORE MORE


MENTAL MODELS

Customers who complain are just troublemakers


People leave jobs for higher salary
The Customer is always right
Sitting late in office shows commitment
Gen Y is irresponsible

CAN MENTAL MODELS KILL


INNOVATION?

ALL PROBLEMS ARE THE SAME

I KNOW WHAT MOTIVATES MY


TEAM MEMBERS

I KNOW HOW TO LEAD MY TEAM


MEMBERS

LONG-STANDING AND
UNQUESTIONED MENTAL
MODELS AT GM

GM is in the business of making money, not cars


Cars are primarily status symbols. Styling is therefore
more important than quality
American car market is isolated from rest of the
world
Workers dont have an important impact on
productivity or product quality
Everyone connected with the system has no need for
more than a fragmented, compartmentalized
understanding of the business

LADDER OF INFERENCE
The "ladder of inference - a term coined by Professor Chris Argyris - is a
metaphor that shows how rapidly we can leap to knee-jerk conclusions with little
data and no intermediate thought process, as if rapidly climbing up a ladder in
our minds.

You start at
the bottom
with the
observable
data,

which is so
self-evident and within the
that it would space of a few
show up on a seconds, leap
up to
videotape
recorder (Larry assumptions
has yawned at a (Larry is bored),
meeting),

to more
generic
conclusions
(Larry doesn't
care about this
project).

Since most of
these
conclusions
are never
discussed
openly, there is
no way to
check them.

LADDER OF INFERENCE

The ladder of
inference
explains why
most people
don't usually
remember where
their deepest
attitudes came
from. The data is
long since lost to
memory, after
years of
inferential leap

EXAMPLES

http://lifeiseducation.blog21.fc2.com/blog-entry-241.html

HOW TO USE LADDER OF


INFERENCE?

Reflection: Becoming more aware of


your own thinking and reasoning
Advocacy: Making your thinking and
reasoning more visible to others
Inquiry: Inquiring into others'
thinking and reasoning

HOW CAN WE USE MENTAL


MODELS FOR POSITIVE RESULTS?

If mental models can impede


learning freezing companies
and industries in outmoded
practices why cant they also
help accelerate learning?

SKILLS

Skills of reflection concern slowing down


our own thinking processes so that we can
become more aware of how we form our
mental models and the ways they influence
our actions
Inquiry skills concern how we operate in
face-to-face interactions with others,
especially in dealing with complex and
conflict issues.

TOOLS

Facing up to distinctions between espoused theories


(what we say) and theories-in-use (the implied theory
in what we do)
Recognizing leaps of abstractions (noticing our
jumps from observing to generalization)
Exposing the left-hand column (articulating what
we normally do not say)
Balancing inquiry and advocacy skills (skills for
effective collaborative learning)

LEFT-HAND COLUMN

Powerful technique for beginning to see how


our mental models operate in particular
situations.
It reveals ways that we manipulate situations to
avoid dealing with how we actually think and
feel, and thereby prevent a counterproductive
situation from improving.

EXAMPLE

Me: How did the presentation go?


Bill: Well, I dont know. Its really too early to tell.
Besides, were breaking new ground here.
Me: well, what do you think we should do? I believe
the issues you were raising are important.
Bill: I am not sure. Lets just wait and see what
happens.
Me: You may be right, but I think we may need to do
more than just wait.

EXAMPLE WITH LEFT-HAND


COLUMN
What I am thinking

What is said

Everyone says the presentation was a


bomb!
Does he really not know how bad it was?
Or is he not willing to face up to it?

Me: How did the presentation go?


Bill: Well, I dont know. Its really too
early to tell. Besides, were breaking new
ground here.

He really is afraid to see the truth. If


only he had more confidence, he could
probably learn from a situation like this. I
cant believe how disastrous that
presentation was to our moving ahead.

Me: well, what do you think we should


do? I believe the issues you were raising
are important.
Bill: I am not sure. Lets just wait and see
what happens.

Ive got to find a way to light a fire under


this guy.
Me: You may be right, but I think we
may need to do more than just wait.

BALANCING INQUIRY
AND ADVOCACY

When operating in pure advocacy, the


goal is to win the argument.
Pure inquiry is also limited.
When inquiry and advocacy are
combined, the goal is no longer to win
the argument but to find the best
argument.

WHEN ADVOCATING
YOUR VIEWS

Make your own reasoning explicit


Encourage others to explore your
view
Encourage others to provide
different views
Actively inquire into others views
that differ from your own

WHEN INQUIRING INTO


OTHERS VIEWS

If you are making assumptions about


others views, state your assumptions clearly
and acknowledge that they are assumptions
State the data upon which your
assumptions are based
Dont bother asking questions if you are
not genuinely interested in others response

WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT


AN IMPASSE

As what data or logic might change


their views
Ask if there is any way you might
together design and experiment (or
some other inquiry) that might
provide new information

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