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InfoQ Homepage Articles The Culture Game - Extract #6

The Culture Game - Extract #6


What we commonly called assumptions are actually very strong beliefs, so changing them is a non-trivial operation. Our mental models contain all sorts of beliefs that form the overall model. Each belief in a model is essential but not sufficient in itself, as they function as a group or a set. The complete set of assumptions is what makes the model tick. A change of just one belief in the set may break the model, and then we need to question all the beliefs in the model. Since all change is belief change, this is what makes all real change genuinely hard to implement.

Personal Mastery and Belief Change

All learning is change, and all change is belief-change. When you learn, you modify (software people might say re-factor) your beliefs. People who are always learning are constantly changing their models. They have become adept at responding and adjusting to new information and knowledge as it becomes available to them.

Figure 1. The role of belief models













Note: In this model, Individual ↔ Models (Filter) ↔ The World

From Figure 6, you can see the rub: we interact with our models, not the world per se. This means we filter our experience of the world through the models - through the collection of assumptions and beliefs we currently hold. These assumptions and beliefs literally frame and contain our reality. Our models literally determine what we pay attention to and do not pay attention to, what we see and do not see, what we hear and do not hear, and what we perceive or do not perceive. The how it happens when something occurs to us is a function of how our models filter the information around us1. Teams and organizations filter their input in big ways.

We know the world through our models. When our models are working well, we feel comfortable and at home in the world. When they do not, we experience discomfort and often feel a crisis or forced awareness2. The steps work like this:

  • Some kind of change occurs in the environment that invalidates our model;
  • The actual change-event itself does not occur to us, because we are filtering the input through our now-invalid model;
  • More events occur in the environment, which we do not perceive at all, so we do not recognize their importance.
  • Eventually, the evidence of multiple events becomes overwhelming, and we notice changes. We also notice that what we currently believe is not working well anymore.
  • We experience a forced awareness or crisis that mandates our explicit examination and inspection of current results.
  • We realize that our assumptions are incorrect, that things do not work the way we thought they work. Only then, do we make changes to our assumptions and update our mental models.

Now we can see the problem; all change is belief change, and all belief change is difficult, because beliefs interconnect to form complete models. A crisis of forced awareness occurs when you realize that your model is not working. Forced awareness causes you to begin the hard work of examining your assumptions. The work is difficult because making even one small change in even one of your assumptions has ripple effects throughout the inter-connection in your mental model.

About the Author

Dan Mezick advises leaders, teams and organizations. An expert on culture design and business agility, Dan speaks frequently at industry conferences on culture change, organizational learning, and teamwork. He is an organizer of the agile CULTURE Conference, the signal event coming to Philadelphia & Boston in September of 2012. Sponsored by INFOQ, this event is keenly focused on the emerging art & science of culture design for teams and organizations. You can learn more here.

Dan's organization New Technology Solutions provides training programs, consulting & coaching to businesses of all sizes that are seeking more business agility. You can reach Dan at , by phone at 203 915 7248, via Twitter @DanMezick, or via his blog.

1 For a great practical discussion of how things occur to us, and the relationship between our language and our models, see: Zaffron, S., & Logan, D. (2009). The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life.

2 The term forced awareness is borrowed from the book The Disciplined Trader: Developing Winning Mark Douglas. (1990). Douglas describes his experience with bankruptcy, and how he subsequently lost everything, all due to a set of limiting beliefs. After the forced awareness, he embarked on journey to identify and hold new beliefs and a new, more valid model of the world he works in, which is the world of commodity trading and speculation.

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