Common wisdom coined the phrase, "What you see is what you get," and it turns out that science is in hearty agreement with this perception. Research validates that we all pay selective attention to the whirling buzzing hum of daily life. And, the more complex and complicated our lives are, the more it is natural to yearn for mental and emotional structures and attitudes that simplify our situation and make it easier to choose between options for action.
Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, refers to our habitual ways of making sense out of the world, i.e., for coding and classifying the data of experience, as our "mental models." It is as though we all have internal theories about the world and how we should operate within it. Usually, these mental models function outside of conscious awareness and consist of a bundle of assumptions, recollections and meaning making activities we don't think about. Frequently, our mental models are highly functional, and there is no reason to inspect them. For example, when we're approaching a red light, we don't have to give much thought to the assumption that the people who have the green light have the right of way and that we should come to a stop.
However, there are plenty of times when our mental models and our mindsets (i.e., consistent points of view that we have about the world and people in it) are either out of date, incomplete or inaccurate in some way. Furthermore, the more ambiguous and complicated reality truly is, the more likely it is that one's mental models will be imperfect or incomplete in a way that obstructs thoughtful and creative problem solving. So, as Marcel Proust said, we often see things not as they are but as we are. We have learned to see situations and people in a particular kind of way that is limited and limiting.
Not paying attention to our own thought processes or having an uncritical point of view about our mental models invites trouble, especially in organizational and social life where it is almost certain that we'll be dealing with people who don't share our own point of view.
Not Your Old Mental Model? is a program for in-tact teams that combines experiential exercises, group discussion and self-reflection to help participants become aware of unintended and self-limiting thoughts and behaviors. The specifics of each program may vary. In some instances, for example, the program may run for several days and utilize a range of creative thinking tools such as group construction projects and "mind mapping". In others, the process may be more time delimited.
What follows is a description of a one day version of this program that was designed by Michael Sales and Grady McGonagill for the leadership team of an international pharmaceutical company that has responsibility for over 1,200 employees and manages a market of over $2B for its products:
This program was well-received by participants and several reported making significant changes in their mindsets during follow up phone consultations.