Mental Models are embedded assumptions, generalizations, or even images. These models shape our worldview and, in turn, impact our behavior. Consequently, two people may witness exactly the same event yet have vastly different perceptions because they have different mental models. In a sense, mental models are like eye glasses, critically changing the way we see the world around us.
Chris Argyris developed a “Ladder of Inference” to describe how people form and sustain mental models. According to Mr. Argyris, we all make assumptions in their daily lives. They are necessary. For example, when we buy a bottle of milk, we assume the milk is drinkable. This said, we must acknowledge that our assumptions could be wrong, especially when we make assumptions about the intentions or beliefs of others.
Ladder of Inference:
Advocacy versus Investigation:
Healthy inquiry is a blend of advocacy (what we believe and want) and investigation (what the data is telling us). When leaders and organizations balance the two forces, they learn from experiences, constantly improving their services and products. This is the cycle of self-sustaining growth (Senge, 2006, pp. 113-125).
In fact, the ‘Ladder of Inference” is equivalent to a cycle of growth. Quality improves, with each new cycle, based on learning:
Unfortunately, it is easy for leaders to let their beliefs and biases color their mental models. This is common when people, and organizations, have entrenched beliefs and practices. Read More
We never really know how we appear to others, nor do we know if they truly understand what we are trying to say. This is a universal challenge of communication. The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery summarized it perfectly: “Language is the source of misunderstandings”.
The gap betweenour intentions and how others perceive us is a ‘blind spot”. It is a major obstacle to effective communication. Fortunately, there are ways of shrinking the ‘blind spot’. Let’s look at one of those methods:
Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham built the Johari Window (Joe and Harry) in 1955. The model differentiates between our own perception, and the perception of others. The Johari is built on a four-paned window (see below).
The two columns show the ‘Self”, including things ‘Known to self’ and things ‘Not known to self’. The two rows represent the perception of ‘Others’. This contains things ‘Known to others” and things ‘Not known to others’. The intersection of the columns and rows creates four quadrants; namely: Shared, Blind, Hidden, and Unknown. Let’s look at those zones:
The ‘Shared’ zone contains information that I know about myself, which is shared with people in my group. This zone is increases as people share information about themselves in trusting work places. The more personal information is shared, the bigger the shared zone.
The ‘Blind” zone includes information known by others, but not known by me. Over half human communication is non-verbal, so this zone includes the messages I communicate with my body language, habits, mannerism, voice, tone and style.
My ‘Hidden Area’ holds information known to me but not shared with others. Included in this quadrant are feelings, opinions, prejudices, and even past history. Everyone has secrets. Why? Because people fear full disclosure will provoke rejection or ridicule. Others withhold information so that they can manipulate people, in the future. Or, people are simply modest about their accomplishments and talent.
The ‘Unknown’ is the ultimate blind spot. It includes stuff unknown to me, and unknown to others. Some of this information is deeply embedded in what Freud called the ‘unconscious’. It is only accessible through hypnosis, or psychoanalytic study. Nevertheless, some unknown data is discovered when we work with others to make sense of our individual feelings and behavior. Read More
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as others see us! (Scottish dialect)” — Robert Burns
“Oh would some Power the gift give us, To see ourselves as others see us. (Modern English)” — Robert Burns
Feedback is not merely someone’s opinion. Rather, feedback tells you how you are doing. It is the cornerstone of leadership because it steers improvement. True, most of us dislike unfavorable feedback, especially if it is unjustified. Nevertheless, if we treat feedback as information, rather than judgement, it is the foundation of our own transformation. The goal is learning. And improvement means adjusting our behavior, and techniques, based on performance.
Theory-U and Prescencing
Otto Scharmer’s book, Theory U, outlines a perceptual model for boosting creativity in individuals and teams. Graphically, the model is presented as a U-shape:
How does this work, in practice?
At the outset, we must suspend our assumptions (upper left-hand) part of the “U”. Even if we are entering a situation, where we have experience, we give ourselves permission to look at the scenario with totally fresh eyes. By suspending our assumptions, we avoid projecting any personal bias on the situation. This is opening the mind. Read More
Even when we develop solid action plans, with support from all stakeholders, we must implement those ideas. Otherwise, our plans are only dreams. In this regard, Steven Covey described four execution disciplines; namely:
1. FOCUS ON A WILDLY IMPORTANT GOAL: Select a single overarching goal. Define the finish line. What does success look like? What are the steps? Goals motivate people. Deadlines create urgency. (When you reach that goal, move to another.)
2. ACT ON THE LEAD MEASURES: Identify lead measures (levers) you will use to achieve the goal. What tools will we use? For example, if someone wanted to lose weight, he would adopt specific exercise and diet programs. We select lead measures, and they propel us towards our goal.
3. KEEP A COMPELLING SCOREBOARD: It must be simple and visual. The scoreboard shows the lead measures you will use to attain your goal. Team mates can see if they are winning, or losing, by consulting the score board. It is compelling to win. Moreover, people are always more effective when they keep score.
4. CREATE A CADENCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY: Create a weekly rhythm of accountability. The project manager must report to someone (mentor or coach) every week, even if it is for a few minutes. Reporting includes an accounting of what was done the previous week, the progress, and what will be done going forward.
Finally, the leader and his team must have SMART goals. These goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.