Mental Models by Peter Senge and my thoughts

In Fifth Disciplines Peter Senge talks about “mental models.” He asks a question, “Why do the best ideas fail?”
Here my perspective and inputes:
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By:Soraya Fallah
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Mental models as one of the five disciplines of learning organization described thoroughly by Peter Senge. He compares mental models to assumptions that are deeply rooted inside of us and influences our mind and actions. Our mental models are so powerful that they can act and effect in untimely manners and these models may not allow us to transform.

I was working in a company that had a program director who had been raised under a dictatorship and her mental model was shaped during the three decades of her life before moving to America. She used to scream at the staff and believed that if she is not forceful or and act harshly staff will not do their assigned work. She would throw client charts in front of staff and speak down to her colleagues. She believed that she was the only one capable of handing the job. In her mind there were no grey areas, everything was seen as black or white. Her model was shaped by her personal life and she used her management position as a way to exert power over others. She would say that a program director should be aggressive, serious, and scary and when they walk inside an office people should stand up and listen to her regardless of what is being said. She believed that others should obey her even if her actions are fraud, unprofessional or an embarrassing act and in many cases just abusive. One of the victims of this director’s harassment decided to sue the company. Several clients also sued the company because they believed fraud had taken place.

The community center was a great place. It was one of the only places that these clients would attend outside of their homes and they enjoyed their experience there. More than 45 people worked there, some had been with the company for many years and they depended on their job to provide for their families. The company failed and no one could save it. Everyone was affected by the closing of the company even though the idea of having such a community place was a great one.

Senge asks the question: “Why do the best ideas fail?” (Senge, p. 200) In this case it was due to one person’s mental model. As Senge points out: “The way mental models shape our perceptions is no less important in management” (Senge, p175).

I saw how this program director’s mental model created the conditions for the company to fall apart.

Everyone has mental models and based on that people choose partners, the coworkers they want to associates with, the school that they choose to teach at, etc. Often one is not aware of any personal mental models that influence their judgment. Our mental model can be positive or negative. If we stereotype/overgeneralize, it can lead us to some of the”ism” such as sexism, racism, ageism, etc. Models can be adopted through interactions with other person’s ideas or instilled in us while growing up, or systematically passed down to us in a family. Models can also be dangerously taught by a religious/racist government’s policies such as haterat towards another country and/or religion. Sometimes due to the fact that mental models are deeply inside our brain, we become attached to them so it is hard to get over these mental models. The problem is that we do not realize that there is a model, bias, or an idea and barrier that we carry with us. It is not easy to work on our biases and assumptions if we are unaware of them.
Getting back to my experience; two days after the company failed, I went for an interview at another company. The program director was also from the same country of my previous program director. Suddenly all my negative experiences from the past came back to me and it contributed to a quick decision to not accept the job. The owner; however, convinced me that this program director is different from what I previously experienced and reminded me to not stereotype. Even though, due to my professional position, I have to be unbiased in my judgments, I felt that my feelings were beyond my control. Even though I did not intend to be judgmental towards the new program director, my automatic response stood in the way of a clear decision.
I knew I had two choices, one was to walk away and stay with my mental model and the other was to take the job and work on my biases one at a time. I asked myself how I can change myself. I learned that first I had to gain insight over my attitudes and emotions and then I had to be considerate about other people’s inputs without judging them. Using some tools such as awareness, being an active listener, doing meditation to investigate my own biases, and think twice before reacting helped me achieve that.
Reading Senge’s discussion of mental models was illuminating because it clearly revealed how our attitudes can affect our world view and those around us. I believe every leader should spend time being aware of their mental models so they can better interact with others and prevent failing.

 



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