Mental models of humans

Topic: kommunikation

Joakim Marias
22.01.2020

Have you ever felt like your company is going nowhere with its IT development or struggling to pick up pace? Have you had a frustrating conversation with coworkers about the topic, “Why are we not moving forward more quickly? “. Well, it might just have to do with a number of mental models that humans create in their own head to make the person more effective throughout the day. 

Thus, the known expression “It is hard to teach an old dog to sit! “.

Starting from infancy, human brains start to generalize its surroundings. A simple, but good example of that is that you do not check every morning if you can walk on the floor or not.  

Unfortunately, people bring that into everyday life and as humans you have a hard time breaking that pattern. Thus, your behaviors become routines. That is the brains way of saving energy for you but at the same time not questioning if it is bad for you or your workplace. 

One might argue that routines interfere with rapid IT development and that humans have constraints in their abilities to break out of old habits and routines. Habits and routines in form of mental models inhibits a person from coming up with new ways of thinking and acting which in turn limits the number of new and better requirements that a person can come up with and thus, hampering the speed of development. 

Then there is the notion of the different personalities within a workplace which in general is good for diversity but might be interfering with development in a number of other ways.

If you look at psychologists and their usage of the big five test to understand human personalities and the one that might interfere quite a bit within at teams’ performance is Neuroticism. People that are high in the subcategories Anxiety, Anger, Depression, Self-Consciousness, Immoderation and Vulnerability might actually have an impairment on the team’s performance. 

So, I suggest that it might be adequate to say that more emphasis needs to be on recruitment of the right personality traits to inhibit the possibility that the wrong personalities get hired since it might have an impairment on the team’s performance. 

Simply by using both performance reviews and reorganizing the existing team members to gather the vulnerable team members in teams would make the best teams according to the study Google did a few years back. 

So, does it look hopeless to move faster or is it possible through some sort of methodology to break mental models of workers and people’s minds?

Luckily there is. 

Personalities are pretty much set in stone but might be altered through therapy and self-development, but it might take years for the results to come. Usually a person needs guidance to understand and that might come through therapy. 

But I think we need to understand that it might take time since we are talking about people’s different personality traits. 

Through workshops using facilitators that understands different methods of conveying the message that questions the Status Quo mindset it can be done. Methods such as effect mapping, understanding how creativity works and that creativity is a method and not something your born with can also aid in questioning of the mental models. Using a facilitator that instills cognitive dissonance in the right way can sway any already determined group of people if done in the right way. 

Using the right methods throughout the workshops to kick in the Central Rout (logical) of cognitive decision making, in the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). We keep the participants from using the Peripheral Rout (emotions and simplest solution) which fake news and propaganda uses to win people’s minds. Thus, the witch hunt etc. 

Questioning and reminding the participants that Anchoring bias together with Peripheral Rout of decision making is a bad combination to make them question present and future mindsets.

You see, I do not think that this is a simple task. I would argue that it is quite hard and takes a present and savvy facilitator that has a good insight in how the human mind works. But it is very much possible.

So, what does this have to do with requirements? Well, as a Business Analyst you need to know about the mental models of the users. You probably need to dig a bit deeper than having an ad hoc workshop and hoping that you have masterminds attending the workshop with more than perfect memory and the capacity to fetch the right memory at the right time during the workshop. 

And do not forget that they need to present the memory in perfect context so that it can be understood perfectly for documentation. 

Sorry, but I do not think humans function that way, nor do they in reality. In the field of User Experience Design (UX) we already know that people do not tell you the truth. They tell you what they think you want to hear. And we all do that subconsciously. 

In that regard you need to understand that the only way to get the right requirements is through observations or a combination of workshops, interviews and user observation. You see the mental model hampers you when trying to tell others about the details in how things work since your own mind has made the action your performing so effective so you do it like riding a bike or typing a password or brushing your teeth. 

We often forget that it might “sound” simple that the mind works in this way, but we almost always forget it when we do practical things like gathering requirements and addressing the “right” thing. 

So, you might ask yourself if fixed mental models incorporate anything new. If we can agree that it doesn’t, it can be good to utilize a person that is not from that work environment for a different perspective and with more questions that breaks “Status Quo!” rather than upholding “Status Quo!”.

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