So, What Are Mental Models?

Have you thought that the image you have of the world is just a model? It’s impossible to “see” things exactly as they are. Nobody can. And, do you know what your mental models are?

So, What Are Mental Models?

A mental model is a representation you see in your mind when you’re thinking about something.

If I tell you that I ordered a steak at a restaurant, you assume that a host met me at the door, seated, and presented me with a menu. You assume the details, because you have a mental model of how a “steak” restaurant operates.  

Another example is the picture you have when you think about a year divided into months. What do you see when you think about it? Is it a row of months? A circle? A calendar? I see a bunch of pages with rows of squares stapled together.

It may surprise you to know that everyone has a slightly different mental model for everything. What I perceive may not be what you do. Both our models will be enough to use for problem solving and planning.

All mental models have a few key characteristics:

  • Include what a you think is true, not what is true.
  • Are similar in structure to the thing they represent.
  • Allow a you to predict the results of your actions.
  • Are simpler than the thing they represent. They include just enough information to allow semi-accurate predictions.

An error in your mental model causes dissonance in your brain.

So, What?

When you’re down on yourself, you’re not seeing the reality of your situation. You’re seeing the situation based on your assumptions based on your experience.

The biggest thing that mental models do is to stop you taking risks. They stop you from changing your behavior. On a deeper level, they distort your perception of your own successes and failures.

I found myself talking to my son, Rob, last week.

Three weeks ago, he was in an accident that totaled his car. Then last week, something hit the windshield of his brand-new car and cracked the windshield. He went: “Woe is me! … Just kidding Mom!” I know that there was a small part of him that was feeling that.

So, I challenged his feelings. I’ve done this too. It’s much harder to see it in ourselves.

Mental Models vs. Business Models

A business model is a “thing.” It has actionable parts to it. The mental model you have of it is a set of beliefs about the “thing.”

The mental model reflects your core beliefs around the design of your business… like:

What is your business purpose?
What makes you different from others doing the same thing?
How can you configure your resources best?
What core competencies are important to you?
What core processes are critical?
How do you market?
What kind of information you need to serve customers?
What is the kind of relationship you want with your customers?
How do you price your products and services?
What is the benefit bundling you deliver?

Are You Locked In?

Business owners like you often get locked into a mindset.

Why? You tend to filter out information that doesn’t fit your current mental image of reality.

To avoid this, you need to break free. You need to step outside your mental models. It’s the only way to keep pace with reality. 

Only by breaking free can you imagine innovative ways to understand a world that doesn’t follow past beliefs. You must challenge your mental models. If not, the only thing you will see is what we’ve always seen:  the same results, the same needs, the same opportunities.

That’s not good. You will never achieve the results you’re dreaming of.

And, because you see only what your mental models permit you to see, you can only do what your mental models allow you to do. 

To break free, you must discover what your internal assumptions are first. Then, you unlearn what you think you know.

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