How Learning Organizations Use Mental Models

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  • 0:04 Mental Models
  • 1:10 Learning Organizations
  • 2:01 Understanding Mental Models
  • 2:50 Creating a New Mental Model
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Madison

Joseph received his Doctorate from UMUC in Management. He retired from the Army after 23 years of service, working in intelligence, behavioral health, and entertainment.

This lesson explains how learning organizations continually discard or revise obsolete and sometimes treasured beliefs and embrace new and unfamiliar mental models and why that's important to the development of a learning organization.

Mental Models

Kara, a young manager at Softshoes Inc., leads a team of ten in the advertising department. She's new to managing but has been in advertising for a decade. She was promoted to the management position because she had new ideas that would market the business' products not only internationally but also change the designs to adapt to cultural needs and norms.

Up to this point, Softshoes Inc. had stayed with their original design, but Kara has pushed them beyond this in order to reach different markets. She's been very successful in collaborating with management to create changes and an advertising campaign to match. However, she has struggled to motivate her employees, as they have more experience than her, so she doesn't feel awkward telling them what to do. This is Kara's mental model.

A mental model is how someone behaves and makes decisions in the day-to-day world. This model is based on internal and external forces that have affected how someone sees the world. Kara feels empowered to talk to management but struggles in leading her own people. This is where Kara should change or discard her mental models to move forward and be successful.

Learning Organizations

A learning organization is one that uses the process of learning as a core practice, meaning that a business will focus on providing training, supporting education, and generating options to grow and learn. This type of organization is constantly progressing and changing in order to adapt to environmental needs, product changes, and workforce evolution. However, in the process of change, mental models can become a stumbling block.

For example, take Kara's situation. She was helping to move Softshoes Inc. into new exciting markets. She asks for and receives culturally-intelligent training for the organization. However, her team is doing four different projects, and nothing is cohesive because Kara cannot manage to lead her team effectively. This is where Kara needs to discard her personal mental models and create new ones that believe in her ability to lead seasoned advertisers.

Understanding Mental Models

So, how can an organization acknowledge, change, or discard mental models that are sometimes treasured? And, how can your business learn to embrace new mental models? First, you must understand how these mental models work in order to change or discard them.

First, you observe the world around you. You start to gather bits of information that appear important to you. You start to input your own meanings (culturally and personally) into the information, whether that information had those meanings or not. Now, with your meaning attached to the information, you'll assume things based on those ideas.

  • Drawing conclusions: You'll decide how to think about something. Next, you'll start to create and develop belief systems based on your observations, assumptions, and conclusions. In the final step, you act and make decisions based on the belief systems that you've created.

Creating a New Mental Model

Now that you have a framework of the process, you can start to break it down and work on creating a new model. To do so, you should:

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