Many of the best ideas never get put into practice because:
They conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world
works. (e.g. Anger)
These images limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting.
Mom: Son, it is 7 'o clock already. Get up! You are getting late for
Son: I don't want to go to school Ma.. The teachers don't like me
and all the students laugh at me.
Mom: Son.. that is no reason to skip school. You have to go to
school -- besides, you are the Principal of the school!!
Our mental models determine what we see and what we do not see.
They are the symbols that we use to mentally process the
environment in which we function.
Mental models can be simple generalizations such as "people are
untrustworthy," or they can be complex theories, such as my
assumptions about why members of my family interact as they do.
But what is most important to grasp is that mental models are
active; they shape how we act.
These are the mental constructs that dictate:
The decisions that we take.
The actions that we engage in.
THE SECOND DISCIPLINE
The second discipline in the art of building learning organizations is
the discipline of “MENTAL MODELS”.
Discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the
mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world,
to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny.
Surfacing these models
Testing these models
Improving our internal pictures of how the world works
It promises to be a major breakthrough for building Learning Org.
POWER OF MENTAL MODELS ON OUR
The inherent power of the Mental Models on our actions lie in the
They become the cognitive lens through which we view the world
Two people with different Mental Models can see the same
situation and describe it differently.
Therefore, it can be said that people observe selectively, based on
their Mental Models, and act accordingly. (e.g. Argument)
MENTAL MODELS SHAPE OUR
An Example of Detroit Auto Executives:
Japan was steadily gaining market and profit share in automobile
US automakers felt that the reason behind their success might be
attributed to their management (apart from cheap labour and
protected home markets)
Detroit Executives visited their factories but were unimpressed as
they felt that the manufacturing operations were all staged for their
tour and they were not shown the real plants because of the absence
MENTAL MODELS SHAPE OUR
THE REAL PROBLEM WITH MENTAL
Mental Models are simplifications which may be true for a
particular set of conditions, which are good for a limited time.
So the problem is not whether these mental models are right or
wrong, the real problem arises when they become implicit- when
they exist below the level of our awareness.
We don’t realize that our behavior is being dictated by a certain
mental model that we have bought into deeply
HOW IT WORKS???
Unawareness > Unexamined > Unchanged
*This gap between the reality and our mental models lead to
MENTAL MODELS AND SYSTEMS
Failure to appreciate Mental Models has undermined many efforts to
foster systems thinking.
Example of an American Industrial Goods Manufacturer :
A leading player was continuously losing market share
A team of MIT system dynamics specialists was brought in
Post analysis, it was concluded that the production managers held
inventories as low as possible for the purpose of cost control. They
also aggressively cutback production when orders turned down.
This resulted in unreliable and slow delivery, even when production
capacity was adequate.
The specialists also predicted that deliveries would lag further
during business downturns than during booms. (counter to
conventional wisdom, but was true).
The recommendations were thus implemented, production rates
were maintained and delivery performance was improved.
This experiment gave results beyond expectations, as was seen in
the next downturn. Market share increased due to prompter
deliveries and repeated buying from satisfied customers.
Internal systems group was set up but the new policies were not
taken to heart ,as was seen in the recovery period when managers
stopped worrying about delivery service again.
Four years later when another recession occurred, the firm went
back to their original low inventories and began losing market share
Reason for the system to drift back to the original state:
The inertia of deeply entrenched mental models which
overwhelmed even the best systemic insights.
Mental Models deeply embedded in firm’s management
traditions: Importance of inventory control and the
responsibility of every production manger to avoid stockpiling.
INCUBATING A NEW BUSINESS
Preparing for Future
WORKING WITH MENTAL MODELS IN
Three facets to developing an organization’s capacity to surface and
test Mental models:
Tools that promote personal awareness and reflective skills.
“Infrastructures” that try to institutionalize regular practice with
A culture that promotes inquiry and challenging our thinking.
OVERCOMING “THE BASIC DISEASES OF
For traditional authoritarian organizations the dogma is “Manage,
For learning organizations, the dogma is “Vision, Values, and
Healthy firms are the ones that bring people together to develop
the best possible Mental Models for facing any situation at hand.
The core values to overcome the basic diseases of the hierarchy:
OVERCOMING “THE BASIC DISEASES OF
• Antidote to the
behavior in face-to-
• Antidote to the
in decision making by
considering the best
interests of the
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS IN
PRACTISING THESE VALUES?
Chris Argyris’s “Action Science” offers theory and method for
examining “the reasoning that underlies our actions”.
• Insulate our Mental
• Highly skillful at
from pain and threat
posed by learning
Incompetence • Failure to learn lead to
achievement of results
we really want.
TOOLS AND SKILLS
Two major skills required to work with Mental Models:
Skills of Reflection: concerns with slowing down our thinking
process so that we can become more aware of how we form our
mental models and the ways they influence our actions.
Skills of Inquiry: concerns how we operate in face-to-face
interactions with others, especially in dealing with complex and
The tools and methods constituting the core of the discipline of
Facing up to distinctions between espoused theories (what we say)
and theories-in-use (the implied theory in what we do)
Recognizing “leaps of abstraction” (noticing our jumps from
observation to generalization)
Exposing the “left-hand column” (articulating what we normally do
Balancing inquiry and advocacy (skills for effective collaborative
ESPOUSED THEORY VERSUS THEORY-
One basic reflective skill involves using gaps between what we say
and what we do as a vehicle for becoming more aware.
The awareness about this gap holds the potential for creative
change. (e.g. Honesty)
Where a gap does exist, the questions to ponder over are :
Do I really value the espoused theory?
Is it really part of my vision?
If there is no commitment to the espoused theory, then the gap does
not represent a tension between reality and the view I advance.
*To discover the theories-in-use, a “ruthlessly compassionate”
partner is needed.
LEAPS OF ABSTRACTION
Leaps of Abstraction occur when we move from direct observation
(concrete “data”) to generalizations without testing.
They impede learning because unexamined assumptions are
treated as facts.
The way out:
Ask yourself, what you belief about the way the world works-the
nature of business, people in general, and specific individuals.
Ask “What is the ‘data’ on which this generalization is based?”
Then ask, “Am I willing to consider that this generalization may be
inaccurate or misleading?
In case you are willing, separate the generalization from the data
which led to it and inquire into the reasons of one another’s actions.
This is a powerful technique to see how our mental models operate
in particular situations.
It reveal ways that we manipulate situations to avoid dealing with
how we actually think and feel, and thereby prevent a
counterproductive situation from improving.
Choosing a Problem
The Right-Hand Column (What Was Said)
The Left-Hand Column (What You Were Thinking)
Reflection: Using Your Left-Hand Column as a Resource
A SAMPLE CASE
An R&D project manager (Jim) assumes his supervisor (Todd) feels
harshly about him. In the right-hand column, Jim writes down his last
conversation with Todd. In the left, Jim recalls his own thoughts.
What I was thinking What we said
We're two months late, and I didn't think he
knew. I was hoping we could catch up.
TODD: Jim, I'd like to come down there next
week. We're a few weeks behind, and I think
we might all benefit from a meeting at your
I need to make it clear that I'm willing to take
responsibility for this, but I don't want to
volunteer for more work.
ME: I've been very concerned about these
deadlines. As you know, we've had some
tough luck here, and we're working around
the clock. But of course, we'll squeeze in a
meeting at your convenience.
He never offers this help in the planning
stages, when I could really use it. It's too late
now to bring that up.
TODD: Well, it's occurred to me that we could
use better coordination between us. There
are probably some ways I could help.
The changes he keeps making are the real
reason we're late. He must have another
ME: Well, I'm happy to talk through any
changes you have in mind.
TODD: I don't have anything specific in mind.
It's a shame I can't tell him that he's the
cause of the delays. If I can hold him off two
more weeks, I think we'll be ready.
ME: I'd like to have a prototype finished to
show you before you come down. What if we
set up something for the twenty-seventh?
As you reflect, ask yourself:
What has really led me to think and feel this way?
What was your intention? What were you trying to accomplish?
Did you achieve the results you intended?
How might your comments have contributed to the difficulties?
Why didn't you say what was in your left-hand column?
What assumptions are you making about the other person or
What were the costs of operating this way? What were the
What prevented you from acting differently?
How can I use my left-hand column as a resource to improve our
BALANCING INQUIRY AND ADVOCACY
one’s own views
Goal is to
Confirming data is
Goal is to
find the best
data are revealed
BALANCING INQUIRY AND ADVOCACY
Reciprocal inquiry can be used in the following manner:
Revealing your views and assumptions, alongwith the reasoning or
the data in support of it.
Inviting others to inquire into them.
Inquiring into other’s views and assumptions.
Requesting for additional reasoning or data in support of their
*If practised with commitment, this would lead to collaborative
MENTAL MODELS AND THE FIFTH
Mental Models’ effect on Systems Thinking:
Entrenched mental models can lead to failure of system thinking
If managers “believe” their views as facts rather than assumptions,
they will not be open to challenging those views.
If they lack skills in inquiring into their and other’s ways of thinking,
they will be limited in experimenting with new ways of thinking.
Systems thinking is equally important to work with mental models
effectively. It helps to uncover the flaws in mental models due to the
flaws in system and structure. Thus, both these disciplines go hand-
Just as “linear thinking” dominates most mental models used for
critical decisions today, the learning organizations of the future will
make key decisions based on shared understandings of
interrelationships and patterns of change.
It is high time to
belief systems and
new horizons of
BBy: Harun Yahya