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Senge's Mental Models

 

Explanations > Models > Senge's Mental Models

Description | Discussion | So what?

 

Description

Senge (1990) describes mental models thus:

“Mental models are deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior”

Not only do we all create mental models, we also share them. In this way, entire organizations have shared mental models which shape their strategies and internal ways of working.

Discussion

Senge's work is largely in the business context rather than the psychological and academic landscape of other systems of models.

Senge's mental models are one of five disciplines, based around a holistic systems theory, that make up a core set of skills that are important for guiding organizations (Senge et al., 1990). These are:

  1. Systems thinking
  2. Personal mastery
  3. Mental models
  4. Building shared vision
  5. Team learning

Models are not perfect. They are lenses through which we  see reality. In this way, the model, for us is reality.

One of the pernicious effects of models is that they block and distort information, resulting in opportunities being missed and threats ignored. This is a key reason why successful businesses inexorably fail as they attribute their success to models that exaggerate innate skills and downplay environmental factors.

So what?

Understand not only your models but also those of people around you, including the entire organization. Look for blind spots and attribution of success that point to skill and ignore luck. Note how the models may once have been valid but have now been invalidated by changing environmental factors such as technology and new competition.

See also

How Successful Businesses Fail, Attribution Theory

 

Senge, P.M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, NY: Doubleday Currency

Senge, P. et. al. (1994) The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization, NY: Doubleday Currency

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