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Mental Models: How Do YOU Perceive the World…and Why?

February 25, 2018

Mental Models

Each of us carries our own sets of assumptions, views and prejudices that affect how we interact with others. While we often attempt to deny certain views or prejudices we hold, it’s difficult to maintain this stance when our actions are not consistent with our words. Chris Argyris explains: “Although people do not always behave congruently with their espoused theories (what they say), they do behave congruently with their theories-in-use (their mental models).”

Our mental models strongly affect what we do because they affect what we see. As Albert Einstein put it: “Our theories determine what we measure.”

From a management perspective, mental models are extremely important because of the associated consequences, whether good or bad. Therefore, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to develop systems thinking if one’s mental models are ingrained in past experiences and beliefs.

For example, how can a manager deal effectively with an interpersonal problem in her work unit if she has certain opinions about an individual?

Or, how can a manager bring his followers on board with a major change in the organization if he’s unwilling to understand the underlying causes for the change and the many interdependencies involved?

To be an effective systems thinker requires the discipline of mental models. These two disciplines fit together naturally. Systems thinking concentrates on how to modify assumptions in order to show the true causes of problems. Mental models, in contrast, look at revealing our hidden assumptions.

For managers, it becomes essential that they take the time to reflect on their existing mental models until their assumptions and beliefs are brought out into the open. Until then, their mental models will not change and it’s pointless to attempt to engage in systems thinking.

To be a successful manager in the 21st century…calls for a new mental model of manager, one suited to a world of chaos.
- Toby Tetenbaum

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