Definition: The internal belief structure and thought process we use to make sense of the world.
Also referenced as: Mental Models (noun)
When faced with a problem, you reference your mental model and try to organize the aspects and complexities of what you see into recognizable patterns. Your ongoing experience changes your mental model. This book is changing it right now.
As an example, it’s much easier to teach someone about the inner-workings of a car engine with a picture, animation, diagram, or working model.
Maggie is the creative director for a small agency. She has a new client, and doesnt understand their business.
She reads their website, annual reports, and printed brochures, and still can’t pinpoint what they do. She’s not the only one. It turns out that no one on her team can figure out what the client’s business does either. Maggie knows she has to clear this up before overseeing work for the client.
Even if Maggie is the most talented creative director in the world, her work won’t matter much until she faces the reality that she doesn’t understand her client’s business. She needs to get a clearer mental model out of her client’s head and into her team’s hands.
In an attempt to face reality, Maggie asks her client to describe the business in the simplest way possible. “Like you would at a grade school career day,” she says.
With that as a basic model, she can ask better questions and compare her client’s mental model with her own. She uses a mind map to capture thoughts as they talk. After talking with her client, Maggie has a clearer understanding of their business and much more confidence that her team can support their needs.
In my experience, a list of things you don’t say can be even more powerful than a list of things you do. I’ve been known to wear a whistle and blow it in meetings when someone uses a term from the don’t list.
If you owned an online grocery service, would you dare to only list tomatoes as fruit?
But what if I told you that squash, olives, cucumbers, avocados, eggplant, peppers, and okra are also fruits that are commonly mistaken as vegetables?
It’s totally normal for fear, anxiety, and linguistic insecurity to get in the way of progress. Learning to work with others while they’re experiencing these not-so-pleasant realities is the hardest part of making sense of a mess.
Tension can lead to arguments. Arguments can cause resentment. Resentment can kill momentum. And when momentum stalls, messes grow larger and meaner.