By: Chuck Frey
Jerry Wind and Colin Crook, in their book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, make a strong case for the power of mental models in our personal and business lives. According to the authors, your mental models can either limit you or can spur you to feats of seemingly impossible thinking. But how do you know if it’s time to rethink your mental model? Wind and Crook provide these valuable tips that can help you to decide when to abandon your current mental model.
Jerry Wind and Colin Crook, in their book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, make a strong case for the power of mental models in our personal and business lives. According to the authors, your mental models can either limit you or can spur you to feats of seemingly impossible thinking. But how do you know if it’s time to rethink your mental model? Wind and Crook provide these valuable tips that can help you to decide when to abandon your current mental model:
When the old model dies you have no choice: “The clearest sign that you need to shoot your old model is when the old nag stumbles and breaks a leg. When you face a serious crisis or failure of the old model, there’s no question that you need to find a new one.”
Pay attention to outliers and just-noticeable differences: “In psychology, there is a concept of a ‘just-noticeable difference.’ It is a change that could be noticed but is absorbed by the process of normalizing variance. Most of the time, people normalize the variations they see, and this can get them into trouble.” Instead, the authors recommend that you watch for the barely perceptible variations that could signal a major change. “If you systematically pay attention to (these small variations), you can recognize when they should make you reconsider your mental models.”
Avoid cognitive lock: Cognitive lock is when people become fixed on a single view of the world, which causes them to filter out all information that conflicts with this model, and which renders them unable to see another possible explanation. “If your education is in marketing, you’ll tend to see problems as marketing problems. If your education is in finance, you’ll see everything in terms of ROI and cash flow.”
Create an early warning system: “One way to recognize small differences and avoid cognitive lock is to create systems for identifying specific changes in your environment. You need to develop early warning system so you know when to look more closely at your models. By systematically identifying and making sense of… near misses, companies can achieve higher levels of learning and correct potential problems without the pain of very serious mistakes. Early warning systems should be based on real-time feedback and have trip wires for action or more intense investigation.”
Recognize fads: “When people decide to abandon their old mental models, they become much more susceptible to the crosswinds of fads, pursuing mirages that appear just beyond the horizon. In assessing potential new models, you need to be rigorous in your analysis. Can the model really deliver on its promise? In what ways does this new mental model create a new set of blind spots and how can you protect yourself against these?”
Know yourself: “Depending on your own experience, you can face different kinds of pitfalls and shifting models. Very inexperienced people, in general, will tend to jump too quickly to embrace a new model. Most experienced people, in general, have a tendency to stick too long with the old model. By understanding ourselves, we can better avoid being blinded by either maturity or inexperience.”
Beware of the midlife crisis from postponing change: Some organizations avoid changes for a long time and then make a dramatic leap, often with negative consequences. If your firm has been postponing change for a long time, don’t be too quick to leap to a new strategy or mental model.
Use experimentation to avoid a leap in the dark: “One way to avoid the midlife crisis and minimize the need for dramatic leaps is to engage in continuous adaptive experimentation.” Often, our perception of decision points is that they are either/or, a “fork in the road.” In reality, the authors point out, there are usually many more options available to us. Experimentation enables you to discover the strengths and weaknesses of alternate mental models without making a potentially disastrous large leap to an entirely new model.