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Matthew de Lange

by Matthew de Lange

One of the issues at the centre of our work is Mental Models – pictures we all carry around in our heads of “how things are”.  They can be models about people and what they think of us, or processes such as the “right” way to do things. One of the hardest things in changing behaviour is enabling people to look afresh at people, processes and ideas to see that actually their mental model may be out of date or not-aligned with current reality.

I was reminded of the power of mental models when I recently wrote to my local MP about the campaign to change the clocks so we have lighter evenings.  I won’t go over all the arguments which appear to me absolutely compelling – particularly huge savings in energy and CO2 emissions, greatly improved health for kids and adults- with no obvious downside. But whether you agree with the idea or not what really struck me in his response was that although he replied courteously and at great length he did not comment on any of the potential benefits. Instead his answer came deep from his mental models citing

·         “ it is better to have hours of light evenly balanced...12 noon is not called “midday” by accident”

·         A road traffic accident involving the death of children walking to school  in the dark in the 1960s.

In the 1960s almost all children walked to school now it is rare. In the 1960s global warming was not a major issue, nor was obesity. He has got the mental model that changing the clocks is a bad idea and simply replays the arguments linked in his head to the mental model without challenging them or being able to hold them up for inspection.

Invariably in our change workshops we encounter people who carry similarly “blocked” models in their heads holding them back from seeing themselves and their potential in a new light. The toughest part of our work is helping people to find a way of holding these mental models up for inspection. Only when they are able to say “ actually maybe I need to look at this differently” can you begin to get personal change.

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