Mental models

I’ve been on a bit of a marathon of facilitating meetings these past few weeks and have now had a few days off to reflect. Geoff Brown’s new post really made sense to me this morning: Our Mindset, Metal Models and the Human Condition. Geoff comments:

Because our own models of world are so obscured, we are pretty good at leaving them unexamined … to us they speak the truth. However, for transformational change to occur, the process of questioning our mental models (and underlying assumptions) is a critical step. It’s a process and a conversation we need to engage in more honestly, with ourselves and in groups.

Many of the frustrations experienced in groups can probably be traced back to unexamined mental models, and the speed with which we humans make meanings, often different ones, from any given stimulus.

I sometimes play an improv game called 1 to 20. A small group has to count from 1 to 20, with the rule that no individual can say two consecutive numbers, and if two people speak at once, the group has to go back to 1 and start again. Different things happen each time, but generally groups struggle for a period of time, and eventually succeed. Success is often greeted with great whoops of celebration. It’s a fun game, and for me the most interesting part is the debrief.

Often, someone will say something along the lines of: “It was difficult to begin with, but in the end everyone figured out the strategy.” Then this person evinces the supposed common strategy. Which is followed by a pause. After which several other group members reveal that they weren’t following that strategy, but some other one. This seems to perplex people, and I think it points to a some unconscious mental models.

Those models often relate to abstract concepts like leadership. Sometimes, this can be the gateway to some interesting explorations. And sometimes, I get the feeling that dwelling on the differences is quite uncomfortable for people. In my own work, I’m getting more interested in sticking with the discomfort and finding out more about what’s going on.

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