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Mental models

In his fascinating book Smarter, Faster, Better the author Charles Duhigg explains the power of mental models and how they improve productivity. What are mental models? Mental models are created by human beings within themselves based on their experiences and interactions with the world. These models have been speculated to assist in how humans reason. As Charles explains in the video below, mental models are simply stories that we tell ourselves as things are unfolding. In the same book Charles explains the story of Qantas Airways 32 and how the plane with critical engine failures was safely landed only because the pilot, Richard de Crespigny took control of the failed plane, blocked the information overload that informed him on how the plane is ill-fated and modelled his mind to operating the plane as an oversized Cessna. He safely landed the plane in Singapore saving countless lives. You can read more about that here.

Mental models are a fascinating tool at one’s disposal before embarking on any venture, making decisions or even conflict resolution. As I mentioned in my earlier post on Decision-making using stories, I tried to explain this technique in lieu of making critical decisions by simply imagining them as stories. Ask yourself first, what is the story here and what is my role in this story? Stories are often said as what we tell others. Can we change that and imagine ourself as being part of the story? A story where we are able to influence the outcome by taking charge.

As part of my job as a Process Safety Engineer, one of the tools that we use commonly is something known as a BowTie process. Shaped in the model of a BowTie, this process creates a pictorial representation of an incident and the ‘barriers’ that prevent the causation of or the escalation from a loss of control scenario. The objective is to tell a story of how things can go wrong and how do you prevent it and also how you would recover from it. People who partake in this exercise knows beforehand based on their experience and reasoning the entire story before it even happens. This trains them or the organization to behave proactively and avoid complacency.

I believe this approach should be used extensively as a habit in our lives. It helps us to think more and better, prepare us for any scenarios, since we have already modelled the story in our head. Now what if something different happens. Does this approach fail? Nope. It gets calibrated to new data points and thereby continuously learns. We should feed the model by consistently exposing ourselves to newer experiences in lieu of reading books, travelling and meeting up with new people. This helps the model to be predictive and help us in lasting success.

unsplash-logoDan DeAlmeida

“We all have mental models: the lens through which we see the world that drive our responses to everything we experience. Being aware of your mental models is key to being objective.”

https://nesslabs.com/mental-models

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