Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, beliefs, generalizations and images that influence how we understand the world, how we act and how we react to everything that happens around us. The simple act of categorizing people is a result of mental models.
Businesses all over the world have lost opportunities due to mental models, Kodak being one of many examples of failure. Royal Dutch/Shell on the other hand is an example of how how a company managed it’s way through dramatic changes and unpredictability during the fuel crises in the late 20th century. Shell learned how to challenge mental models under the leadership of Arie de Geus, and emerged as the strongest of the 7 major oil companies from being the weakest only a decade before.
The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inwards, learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world and to bring them to the surface and hold them up rigorously to scrutiny. It includes the ability to carry on “learningful” conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to influence others.
Positive mental models can then be created to guide teams through their thinking processes and daily actions to embrace their collective power in striving towards the organizations vision and goals.