Bad mental models held by management is a root cause of bad business performance.
The “not invented here” syndrome is an example of a bad mental model in business. This syndrome prevents management from adopting the practices of outside competitors because they don’t want to copy success, they want to create their own. The fallacy here is that competitors can have good ideas.
Not my idea syndrome is a sub-variant of the “not invented here” syndrome. This is when managers will only support their own pet projects and give no credence to ideas that come from others in their organization. The flaw here is that others can have good ideas.
The manager’s job is to try the best ideas, not just his or her ideas.
Credentialing syndrome is when managers hire, promote and reward folks based on college degrees from certain institutions, or have specific degrees, certifications or licenses. A great example of this is K-12 teachers. School districts often pay their teachers based on the certifications they receive. The fundamental flaw here is that there’s usually not a great deal of relation between effectiveness and certification level. Not as much as there is between prior results and effectiveness.
Input management syndrome occurs when managers hire, promote and reward based on how people carry out their work, rather than the results they produce. The fundamental flaw here is in managing the inputs rather than outputs. This is also called micromanaging. My father-in-law was a capable foreman for his crew and produced good results. But, he said one of his bosses would always tell him that he was too easy on his men. That boss didn’t look at the results.
The manager’s job is to hire and reward the people who produce the best results. It’s not to get the people who have best credentials or do things a specific way.
The fatal conceit syndrome, inspired by F.A. Hayek, is when managers believe their job is to control how things are done in far flung organizations. Rather than hiring people who can produce good results, they hire people who do what they are told to do. Two fundamental flaws exist in this bad mental model. First, managers rarely have the information they need to control things effectively in far flung organizations, aka the knowledge problem. Second, innovation is suppressed and limited to few ideas of the managers and they are soon overrun by the many ideas of their competitors.
The manager’s job is to develop an organization that can function.
I’ll explore more bad mental models in the future.
Unfortunately, bad mental models are tough to change. I’ve seen many leaders go down with the ship and get fired for producing bad results without giving consideration that they may be wrong. I’ve seen them take their bad mental models to other organizations and eventually get fired from them as well.
But, one way I like to plant the seed of doubt is to simply ask what evidence folks have that their way of doing things is right. They usually haven’t tested that evidence as well as they think they have.
- Some thoughts on “Mental model risk” (nicholasjdavis.wordpress.com)
- We are all mental (digitaria.com)
- mental models (jl10ll.wordpress.com)