One common misunderstanding about MBM (and about philosophies in general) is that it is a bunch of mental exercises, theory – not practice. So you’re probably not surprised to hear that I often get questions and comments that have an underlying tone which says, “Why even bother with all the theory?” Usually, these come from well-meaning people who are very action oriented (which is a good thing).
Ideas Matter: Movements in History
I believe there is a reason movies like Inception and The Matrix strike a chord with so many people: they are built on the premise that what happens in someone’s mind can be powerful. Moreover, shared ideas have great potential. Think about the major triumphs and failures throughout history: they are all rooted in ideas. For instance, the US was built upon ideas about the proper role of government and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People risked (and lost) much to bring these ideas to fruition.
Point to any number of turning points in history, and they are built upon ideas. From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Arab Spring to the fall of Apartheid, great changes (both positive and negative) can be traced back to ideas. It is a rare thing indeed for humans to rise up and change without a grand idea — a vision of a better state.
Ideas Matter: Everyday Stuff
It can be interesting to look at the big ideas that caused the great shifts of history. However, ideas matter for everyday stuff and everyday people. Mental models (ideas, theories, beliefs, etc.) impact the way we behave and the way we interpret the world around us. Many of our mental models are built subconsciously, so we don’t even know we have them until something happens we can’t explain.
What’s even better is that we can train our brains to learn new mental models and let go of old mental models. Usually the process goes something like this: unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, and unconsciously competent. Think about a skill you’ve learned in the past like riding a bike. Most people fit this general pattern. Until you try riding the bike, you don’t realize how hard it is. Then, you keep trying and practicing until you reach a point where you can ride without training wheels, but it takes concentration. Eventually, you just hop on your bike and ride. Once you hit the last stage (unconsciously competent), you just do it without even thinking.
Why Bother with Theory?
One of the many reasons there are people dedicated to studying, advancing and growing the theoretical side of MBM is because of the unconsciously incompetent stage. Instead of having everyone discover what works best by trail and error, the mental models (theory) in MBM helps to move one toward being unconsciously competent by starting with useful ideas.
For instance, I could try to figure out how to create value. I could go through a trial and error process or just do whatever without a plan. Alternatively, I could turn to a body of thought, like MBM or any number of management philosophies to get me started. It’s still up to me to learn the ideas, practice and apply. In MBM, we have a distinct view of how to develop a vision (the vision development process), which was developed over decades of business experience AND it is consistent with the rest of MBM.
The theory part of MBM should enable better results because it gives us the benefit of learning from decades of business experience. It’s up to each person to practice and use the mental models that are most pertinent to what they do until they become unconsciously competent at applying them.
Sound theory leads to sound actions. Now imagine for second how if shared ideas can change a society for the better what shared mental models can do for an organization.