Reflective Practices and Mental Models: From Peter Senge

Matthew 7:21-28
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 23Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

From Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization
On Reflective Practice and Mental Models

  • The most important mental models (our internal picture(s) of the world, i.e. our worldview) are the ones shared by the key decision makers. They must be constantly reexamined. Managers also must develop reflective and face to face learning skills. We must become “reflective practitioners”.
  • The problem with most managers is they are ultimately “pragmatic” – they are generally “reactive”, not generative. If we are going to be a true learning organization, people at every level must surface and challenge their mental models BEFORE external circumstances compel them to do so. (Proactive approach)
  • Espoused Theory vs. Theory in Use: Espoused Theory is what we say we are, what our mission statement says we are, what we profess, (the manifest culture) : Theory in Use is what we actually believe, our mental model, and dictates our actions (the latent culture)
  • My espoused view may be that people are basically trustworthy, but I may never lend friends money and jealously guard all my stuff – obviously my theory in use (my deeper mental model) differs from my espoused theory.
  • We have gaps between our espoused theories and our theories in use. This is a consequence of vision, not hypocrisy. The problem is not in the gap, but our failure to tell the truth about the gap (remember last week and dealing with the structural conflict??) The first question is: Do I really value the espoused theory? Is it really a part of my vision? Truth telling is vital here. One or two people might really value the espoused theory, but does the whole embrace it? Is the vision shared?
  • As we strive to develop our reflective skills, we need ruthlessly compassionate partners who will tell the truth.
  • Truth Telling
    o Learn to Recognize Leaps of Abstraction: these slow our learning when we jump to generalizations so quickly we never test them. For example, coworkers say Laura doesn’t care about people: she rarely offers praise, she stares into space when people talk to her, she cuts people off when they speak, she never comes to parties, THEREFORE her coworkers conclude she doesn’t care much. Without testing the generalizations, they became truth – actually Laura has a hearing impediment. While based on facts, her coworkers drew inferences and they were never tested. Key: We must test generalizations directly. Inquire the reasons behind people’s actions.
    o The Left-Hand Column: This reveals how we manipulate situations to avoid dealing with how we actually feel and think. When we are interacting with people regarding a situation and it is not working (not producing learning or moving ahead), we form a script of our conversation with two columns. In the right hand column I write down what I am saying. In the left hand column, I write what I am thinking but not saying at each stage of the exchange. It always brings forward hidden assumptions. Usually, rather than face the subject, we talk around the subject. Knowing this, how can we both learn? Key: We must honestly look at how we undermine learning opportunities by not being honest.
    o Balancing Inquiry and Advocacy: Most managers are advocates – they fight for their areas and their people! If they don’t learn to push the inquiry skills, they cut off learning. Advocacy without inquiry begats more advocacy. My way is right, my way needs to win – we push and push, while other managers push back with their advocated issues. Escalation. Rather than ask what brings one to their position? Or, Can you illustrate your point? (Questions of inquiry) We get more vehement and more threatened. Key: When we balance advocacy and inquiry, we are open to disconfirming information as well as confirming information – because we are generally interested in finding flaws in our views.
  • The Goal??
    o The best mental model on a particular issue is supported. We focus on helping that person/mental model succeed.

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