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Rollercoasting

Mental models affect our lives, careers and relationships, the prosperity of our businesses and the quality of life in society. Yet ...

By Tony Cram 01 March 2005

Mental models affect our lives, careers and relationships, the prosperity of our businesses and the quality of life in society.
Rollercoasting

Yet, until we reflect on our own mindsets, the models themselves are often invisible to us. Seeing an opportunity depends on the lens we view it through, say Jerry Wind and Colin Crook in The Power of Impossible Thinking. Tony Cram boards a rollercoaster.


Life, business, society is a rollercoaster. You begin by learning the context, seeing the pattern and getting a picture of where you are. Soon you find momentum is gathering. You have some ups and things go well, you take a dive and things are less rosy. Finally you take stock and find that on that ride, there were some great sections. Jerry Wind and Colin Crook have written a book explaining why this happens and how to make more of the ride. And their book itself is a rollercoaster with its own ups, downs and some great sections.

“The Pewor of Isspomilbe Thniiknng” begins with some visual demonstrations – like the missequenced letters at the beginning of this sentence which are nevertheless comprehensible. These demonstrations show that we see what we expect to see. Our minds choose to ignore things that do not appear to fit and we make sense of life through mindsets or models. Recognising the power and limitations of our mental models is at the heart of The Power of Impossible Thinking.

The authors make a strong and convincing case that these mental models can affect our lives, careers and relationships, the prosperity of our businesses and the quality of life in society. Our models reveal or conceal opportunities and constraints. Yet, until we reflect on our own mindsets, the models themselves are often invisible to us. One individual has a mindset which interprets the inner-city area as a crowded, low income zone with little retail potential; another person with a different mindset sees high density of population as an opportunity to capture high spend per acre. Is it a danger zone or an emerging market? Seeing an opportunity depends on the lens we view it through.

Telling examples – like the failure to recognise the danger signs before the September 11th assault on the World Trade Center – illustrate the need to understand and update mental models. Seeing a new peril depends on the ability to challenge an existing model.

Having grasped the context, I was anticipating an exploration into how to map your own model or how to discern the corporate DNA of your organisation. Instead we raced on the rollercoaster towards section two of the book. So I put the book down and made my own list of questions to establish and challenge your firm’s model:


  • How do we describe the industry we are in? Are there other ways? What expressions do newcomers use?
  • Who are our best customers today? Who might be our best customers in three years?
  • What exactly are our customers buying? What else would they value or pay for?
  • Why do our customers choose to buy from us today? How might their mental model evolve and what new benefits could they seek?
  • Which competitors do we talk about most? If these are the sharks, who are the piranhas?
  • Who are our best suppliers? Who might be the vibrant suppliers of the future?

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