Our Mindset, Metal Models and the Human Condition

For the last few years I have been learning more and more about the human condition, our mental models and the mindsets that shape our behaviour and decisions.

Chris Corrigan provides a very nice description of ‘mental models’ in his paper on Participatory Engagement

“Mental models are those frames of reference that define our thinking and how we view the world. They are frames that we take for granted, and to view our own mental models is a bit like trying to see the color of our own eyes without a mirror.”

Because our own models of world are so obscured, we are pretty good at leaving them unexamined … to us they speak the truth. However, for transformational change to occur, the process of questioning our mental models (and underlying assumptions) is a critical step. It’s a process and a conversation we need to engage in more honestly, with ourselves and in groups.

Lessons from Castlemaine 500

Between 2006 and 2008 I lead a community, behaviour change project called Castlemaine 50. You can read about it here.

Because we failed to reach the project energy reduction targets, my own mental models and assumptions about human behaviour change we challenged! For a while the results turned my world upside down, but with wise people around me, I began to ask questions and look for new ways of understanding human behaviour and how stuff spreads and changes through communities.

It’s our mental models and underlying assumptions that need to be challenged and focusing on the behaviour change tools will only produce more the same. So, our project report included a whole section on mental models and mindsets and the headings looked like this …

In this chapter we introduced the concept of ‘Complexity’ by using Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework. We explored a different model of change in viewing people as a social species driven to connect and be influenced by those around us – often subconsciously.

3 years on, I am still learning. I am continuing to challenge my own worldviews, which has re shaped the way I facilitate, the way I parent and has increased my ability to pay attention and notice what is happening in the moment. In my consulting work I am challenging clients to explore their own mental models, assumptions and principles. I am supported in this journey by those around including Viv McWaters, Chris Corrigan, Anne Pattillo and Johnnie Moore.

Here are some of the latest videos that have reshaped my own view of the world around me …

1. The 2 Loops Model of How Systems Change from the Berkana Institute

Chris Corrigan introduced me to this model and we ran a session together at the 2010 Show Me The Change conference on this and complexity models. Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze have also written a great paper that explores ‘Emergence’ through Networks, Communities of Practice and Systems of Influence – Titled: The Lifecycle of Emergence

Two Loops: How Systems Change from The Berkana Institute on Vimeo.

2. TED Talk by Brene Browne on The Power of Vulnerability

I loved this presentation and it opens up so many questions about ourselves, our teams and the way we lead.

3. TED Talk by David Brooks on the Social Animal
David explores new insights into human nature from the cognitive sciences with massive implications for economics and politics as well as our own self.

4. Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz on Using our Practical Wisdom
A classic on why ‘Principles and Practices’ are needed in the complex space, rather than the ‘Tools and Rules’ which are effective in simple and complicated spaces.

5. Matthew Taylor explores 21st Century Enlightenment

The focus on our collective ’empathic’ capacity stood out for me in this animated lecture. How do we nurture this capacity in ourselves and in others?


  1. […] written about Vulnerability before, in the context of change and mental models. In this post titled Our Mindset, Mental Models and the Human Condition, I pointed to a great TEDx talk be Brene Brown on Vulnerability. I invite you to watch it if you […]

Leave a Reply