Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Importance of Mental Models ...

Peter Senge wrote about them ... Many people have known about them! And yet, they are neglected.

For a very lucid discussion on The Fifth Discipline ... Check this out!

While the book pre-dates my professional life (I was still struggling with college subjects when he wrote the book), I came to recognize the importance of mental models in my working life, as an Instructor, before I read the book, though I didnt really know what I could call them! :-) When explaining a concept in class, if an instructor can give an example which relates the concept to something which the participants can relate to (I used to explain Min-Max Planning with the way Mom plans for Rice, and procures Rice based on some logic, and this goes a long way in getting the participants to understand the concept ... in fact, they remember the example for much longer than they remember the concept!), its that much easier to relate to.

In my last blog post, I had written about the accelerating rate of change ... And, the consequence of this with respect to the challenge of acquiring ever new knowledge, and editing obsolete knowledge. To my mind, what is important is that newly generated knowledge is enmeshed into the exsting mental models.

Lets look at it this way ... If you look at mental models as a network of nodes, where each node represents a knowledge "element" (an example of a knowledge element could be the famous logic from Dilbert's Mom that if you work for free to worsen a presentation for a meeting that wont happen for a project that doesnt exist, you must be working for IBM) ... This network of "knowledge nodes" represents our lifetime experiences, thoughts, pictures, and assumptions ... Any new "knowledge element" (the famous Drew Clark quote that "We are not your father's IBM") must fit somewhere into this network. Not just anywhere, but in a relationship with other, logically related "knowledge elements".

The challenge to do this, is to generate the ability to relate new knowledge to the existing Knowledge Network. This is, however, much easier said than done.

Coming to the why ... As we would agree, more and more of new knowledge generated (whether it be the mapping of the human genome, or the evolution of networking/telecommunications technology), is "disruptive", for want of a better word. What this means is that it is not an incremental growth on the previously existing body of knowledge, but rather, a departure from it.

Does that mean that we are helpless to do anything? Not at all ... The first and most important step ... Unearthing the unconscious assumptions! We all operate based on a set of assumptions even without knowing about it (this, to my mind, is a corollary of the concept of mental models), and we need a mechanism of gradually unearthing them.

Anyone out there who could give me ideas and inputs how we could work towards this? All thoughts welcome, of course ...

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