Changing mental models

Evelyn Rodriguez reflects on Flexing Mental Muscles. Perhaps the nub is two paragraphs quoted from The Power of Impossible Thinking.

“The first kind of learning, which is far more common and more easily achieved, is to deepen our knowledge within an existing mental model or discipline.”

“The second kind of learning is focused on new mental models and shifting from one to another. It does not deepen knowledge in a specific model but rather looks at the world outside the model and adopts or develops new models to make sense of this broader world…Learning about new mental models is much more challenging and complex, but crucial in an environment of rapid change and uncertainty.”

This makes a great deal of sense to me, and I realise it’s so easy to get stuck in a mental model without noticing that you’re stuck. Just watch any political debate – or pub argument – and mostly you will see rigid mental models bouncing off each other.

David Bohm’s Dialogue proposal contains some deep thinking about ways to become aware of the mental models themselves. Here’s the key passage

To further clarify this approach, we propose that, with the aid of a little close attention, even that which we call rational thinking can be see to consist largely of responses conditioned and biased by previous thought. If we look carefully at what we generally take to be reality we begin to see that it includes a collection of concepts, memories and reflexes colored by our personal needs, fears, and desires, all of which are limited and distorted by the boundaries of language and the habits of our history, sex and culture. It is extremely difficult to disassemble this mixture or to ever be certain whether what we are perceiving – or what we may think about those perceptions – is at all accurate.

I’ve been thinking about collective intelligence and the idea of “group mind” – the sort of thing that many of us experience, albeit fleetingly, in teams and groups, when we sense a level of connection beyond the norm. Traditional models of group thinking seem based on me trying to cement my well-formed brick of thought to your well-formed brick. Increasingly, I find much more satisfaction in sharing the less-formed ideas and responses I have to conversations. I sense that by doing so, it’s possible to create some sense of joint intelligence that can get beyond existing mental models.

I suppose that my blogging process tends towards bricks, as I write down ideas and get to tweak and edit them and improve them, to make them more palatable to the outside world.

A bit like Evelyn, I’m not sure that I can really explain this in a blog, but hey, I tried. Of course, if you’d like to Skype me we could explore it together…

7 thoughts on “Changing mental models

  1. Broadband and Me

    Blogwalk 4 (and other things)

    Upstairs at the Old Crown I attended the Blogwalk 4 meeting on Friday in London, unfortunately only for the morning as need to attend another meeting. Seems like I missed some good stuff not least the lunch and the walk…

    Reply
  2. Broadband and Me

    Blogwalk 4 (and other things)

    Upstairs at the Old Crown I attended the Blogwalk 4 meeting on Friday in London, unfortunately only for the morning as need to attend another meeting. Seems like I missed some good stuff not least the lunch and the walk…

    Reply
  3. ...no straight lines...

    The stubborness, and flexibility, of memory and le

    Unfortunately, my experience has shown me that most people – and organizations – have this stubborn type of memory, which leads to the inability (or very hard time) and sometimes unwillingness to learn new things. And by new things I don’t mean new i…

    Reply
  4. ian glendinning

    Like it again.

    Someone said “A clear idea is a little idea” – I picked up from Matt Whyndham’s blog.

    If your thoughts are so well formed as to be expressable clearly to the next person in one hit, then they must be relatively trivial and an easy fit with existing “schemata” – modes of thinking.

    With something genuinely new or original dialogue allows iterative shifting of the basis of understanding as well as the understanding itself. (It’s a bit like Argyris and Schon’s “deutro-learning”)

    Reply

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