Mental Models

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My talk on Mental Model at CGI's annual QA leadership event

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Mental Models

  1. 1. MENTAL MODELS Tathagat Varma
  2. 2. 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,
  3. 3. 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 behavior and define our approach to solving problems (akin to a personal algorithm) and carrying out tasks” - Wikipedia
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. 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)
  6. 6. 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 awareness…because 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
  7. 7. 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.”
  8. 8. LET’ EXAMINE SOME MENTAL MODELS
  9. 9. OSTRICH SYNDROME: “THE PROBLEM WILL GO AWAY IF I IGNORE IT”
  10. 10. IT’S OK TO REACH LATE FOR MEETINGS
  11. 11. BABY ELEPHANT SYNDROME: “I CAN’T BREAK FREE”
  12. 12. BOSS SHOULD HAVE MORE EXPERIENCE
  13. 13. GUESS THE COLORS Is BLUE a color?
  14. 14. WORK SHOULD BE SERIOUS
  15. 15. THEY ALL WANT TO BE MANAGERS
  16. 16. WE WILL MAKE UP FOR THIS DELAY BY … •  •  •  •  •  Working overtime Adding more people New tools Re-architecture New programming language •  …New Silver Bullet!
  17. 17. LET’S 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 …
  18. 18. CAN MENTAL MODELS KILL INNOVATION?
  19. 19. ALL PROBLEMS ARE THE SAME
  20. 20. I KNOW WHAT MOTIVATES MY TEAM MEMBERS
  21. 21. I KNOW HOW TO LEAD MY TEAM MEMBERS
  22. 22. 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 don’t 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
  23. 23. 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.
  24. 24. 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
  25. 25. EXAMPLES http://lifeiseducation.blog21.fc2.com/blog-entry-241.html
  26. 26. 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
  27. 27. HOW CAN WE USE MENTAL MODELS FOR POSITIVE RESULTS? If mental models can impede learning – freezing companies and industries in outmoded practices – why can’t they also help accelerate learning?
  28. 28. 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.
  29. 29. 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)
  30. 30. 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.
  31. 31. EXAMPLE •  Me: How did the presentation go? •  Bill: Well, I don’t know. It’s really too early to tell. Besides, we’re 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. Let’s just wait and see what happens. •  Me: You may be right, but I think we may need to do more than just wait.
  32. 32. 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 don’t know. It’s really too early to tell. Besides, we’re 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 can’t 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. Let’s just wait and see what happens. I’ve 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.
  33. 33. 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.
  34. 34. WHEN ADVOCATING YOUR VIEWS… •  Make your own reasoning explicit •  Encourage others to explore your view •  Encourage others to provide different views •  Actively inquire into other’s views that differ from your own
  35. 35. WHEN INQUIRING INTO OTHERS’ VIEWS… •  If you are making assumptions about other’s views, state your assumptions clearly and acknowledge that they are assumptions •  State the ‘data’ upon which your assumptions are based •  Don’t bother asking questions if you are not genuinely interested in other’s response
  36. 36. 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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