Learn to Adapt More Flexibly to Developing Situations [Mental Models]

Learn to Adapt More Flexibly to Developing Situations

As humans, we are each a product of our habits. Much of our behavior is automated. This behavior—often reflexive and natural—is usually shaped by our mental models. These models or “behavioral scripts” that are ingrained in our minds influence how we process stimuli and act. As a result, our mental models influence not only our actions but also how we perceive and interpret various situations.

Mental models are very convenient: they simplify our comprehension of the world around us, streamline decision-making and help us get things done efficiently. At the same time, our reliance on these scripts comes at a cost: we tend to generalize into the future what has worked in the past. This dependence can compel us to overlook important information from the current environment. In addition, our biases often prevent us from considering factors that contradict these models. Mental models sometimes lead us to cling stubbornly to the “this is how I have always done it” mindset, which overlooks the realities of a new situation. We make mistakes when we rely on a model that doesn’t account for real-world situations.

Those mental models and behavioral scripts that we’ve grown so dependent on are the antithesis of adaptability: the characteristic of being adaptable, of being flexible under the influence of rapidly changing external conditions.

Idea for Impact: Learn to sharpen your ‘social antennae.’ Make every effort to read the circumstances and adapt more flexibly to a developing situation.

Parable: “Don’t Become Somebody”

Occasionally, it pays to feign ignorance, as exemplified by the following parable.

Once upon a time, there was a master and his pupil. The master was renowned for his esoteric teaching style. As part of a discussion regarding the self and ego development, the master advised, “Never become somebody.”

The master and pupil set out on a pilgrimage. After an exhausting trek, they stumbled upon a wilderness camp. There were no occupants or attendants around. The master and disciple assumed they could rest there. The master entered one of the cottages and immediately went to sleep. The pupil, emulating his teacher, stepped into an adjacent cottage and fell asleep.

After some time, a royal entourage returned to the camp fatigued from a hunting expedition. The monarch was furious when he glimpsed two strangers sleeping peacefully in his cottages. He dashed to the pupil, roused him and demanded, “Who are you? How dare you rest in my camp?” The pupil rose and noticed the king’s fuming countenance. Bowing respectfully, the pupil exclaimed, “I am a hermetic monk!” Incensed, the monarch ordered that the pupil be beaten up and thrown out.

Next the monarch approached the master, demanding his identity. The master quickly realized he had mistakenly helped himself to the royal cottage. Reading the monarch’s fury, the master did not answer. He feigned cluelessness, babbling, “Hmmmm.” The monarch was livid: “Can’t you understand? I want to know. Who are you?” Yet again, the master did not speak and babbled, “Hmmmm.” The monarch concluded, “He is clearly a dimwit. Take him out of here.”

Soon thereafter, the master and pupil reunited. The pupil was groaning in pain and lamented his stay in the royal camp. The master reiterated, “I told you, don’t become somebody. You ignored my advice, became somebody and suffered for it. You became a monk in that royal lodge and were punished. I did not become anybody and escaped unscathed.”

Recommended Reading

Feed the Right Wolf: An American Indian Parable on Cultivating the Right Attitudes

The two wolves inside us

A traditional American Indian story features a young Cherokee boy who once became annoyed that another boy had done him some injustice. After returning home, the young boy expressed his frustration to his grandfather.

The old Cherokee chief said to his grandson, “I too, at times, have felt a great hatred for those who have taken so much with no sorrow for what they do.

“Hatred wears you down, and hatred does not hurt your enemy. Hatred is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these emotions many times.

“It’s as though a fight is continuously going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One wolf is good and does no harm. He is filled with joy, humility, and kindness. He lives in harmony with everyone around and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so and in the right way.

“The other wolf is full of anger, envy, regret, greed, and self-pity. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone all the time and for no reason. When blinded by his anger and hatred, he does not have a sound mind. It is helpless anger, because his anger will change nothing.

“It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me. These two wolves are constantly fighting to control my spirit.

“Young man, the same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person on this earth.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win inside you, grandpa?”

The old Cherokee chief smiled and replied, “The one I feed.”

Dear readers, which wolf inside are you feeding?

The Right attitudes beget the right attitudes.

The only thing that matters: The Relevant Results

New York City Taxicab

Consider the following parable.

In New York City, a taxi driver and a priest die on the same day and knock on Heaven’s door.

At the pearly gates, St. Peter receives them and shows the taxi driver and priest around. The taxi driver’s eternal home is a lavish new castle equipped with butlers and fancy stuff. The priest’s new home is a meager hut of a dwelling with neither electricity nor water.

The priest complains to St. Peter: “It’s I, not him, who dedicated my life to faith. I sacrificed much in life, worked hard, and delivered thousands of sermons to the faithful in New York. All I get is a mere hut when this taxi driver gets a castle?” St. Peter responds: “Yes, but when you did your work—when you preached—people slept. When the taxi driver worked—when he drove people around New York, people prayed hard.”

Idea for Impact: Your strategies, vision and mission statements, business plans, purposes, determination, ambitions, intents, ideas, resolutions, goals, hard work, sleepless nights—none of these matter if you don’t deliver the results that are relevant to your boss, your customers, and your stakeholders.

Origin of the Expression “You are Fired!” [Business Folklore]

Source of the Term 'You are Fired'

Origin of the expression 'You are fired!' The term ‘fired’ is a colloquial expression for dismissing a person from employment. It became more popular as a result of the NBC reality show The Apprentice where the host, American businessman Donald Trump, eliminates contestants for a high-level management job by “firing” them successively. In 2004, Trump actually filed a trademark application for the catchphrase “You’re fired!”

Some sources suggest the expression may have originated from the verb “to fire,” as in “to discharge a gun.” However, legend has it that the phrase originated in the 1910s at the National Cash Register (NCR) Company.

John Henry Patterson, founder of National Cash Register (NCR) NCR founder John Henry Patterson (1844—1922) is widely recognized as the pioneer of sales management and for developing formal methods for training and assessing salespersons. In spite of all his genius, Patterson was quirky. He sought total control of his surroundings, imposing his personal values on employees. As a food and fitness fanatic, he had employees weighed every six months. He often dismissed employees for trivial reasons just to deflate their self-confidence and, soon after, rehire them back.

Patterson’s employees and customers branded him abusive and confrontational. Patterson once dismissed an executive by asking him to visit a customer. When the executive drove back to NCR headquarters, he found his desk had been thrown out on the lawn. Right on time, his desk burst into flames. He was “fired.”

Thomas Watson Sr. was “fired” by NCR

Thomas J. Watson Sr., former President of International Business Machines (IBM) Famously, NCR’s star sales executive Thomas Watson Sr. (1874–1956) met a similar fate. In 1914, Watson argued that NCR’s dominant product, mechanical cash registers, would soon go obsolete. He proposed that NCR develop electric cash registers. Patterson resisted the idea. He warned Watson not to overstep his boundaries and demanded that Watson focus on sales only and intrude into product innovation. Following an argument at a meeting, Patterson dismissed Watson. In a fit of rage, Patterson had workers carry Watson’s desk outside and had it lit on fire. Watson Sr. was thus “fired.”

Watson Sr. still believed in the potential for electric cash registers. He joined a smaller competitor, Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR,) which soon grew into International Business Machines (IBM.) Watson Sr. led IBM for forty years and turned it into the world’s leading technology company.

Source/Source: Keynote address by Mark Hurd, then-president and COO of Teradata at Kellogg School of Management’s Digital Frontier Conference on 17- and 18-Jan-2003. Teradata was previously a division of NCR Corporation, the company Patterson founded.

Source of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Quote, ‘You Must be the Change’

Mahatma Gandhi on Change

Today, (30-Jan-08,) is the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. A few months after India secured her independence from Britain, an extremist shot Gandhi point-blank after a prayer meeting at the Birla House in Delhi. Richard Attenborough’s much-admired motion picture ‘Gandhi’ narrates this event twice: once at the start of the movie illustrating the assassin walking towards Gandhi and a second time at the end of the movie depicting Gandhi walking out from the prayer meeting and facing the assassin.

A Quote, a Fable

One of Mahatma Gandhi’s most popular quotations is, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Here is a widely believed — although unverified — story of the origin of this quotation.

During the 1930s, a young boy had become obsessed with eating sugar. His mother failed to convince him to kick the habit. She decided to take him to Gandhi. The Mahatma (Great Soul) was highly revered across the country — perhaps his instruction could convince her son to cut back on sugar.

At Gandhi’s ashram (hermitage,) the mother recounted her difficulty and requested Gandhi to direct her son. Gandhi deliberated for a minute and replied, “Please come back after a week. I will talk to your son.”

The mother and her son revisited Gandhi the following week. Gandhi smiled at the boy and directed him, “You must stop eating sugar.” The boy admitted, “Forgive me, bapu (father.) I will follow your advice.”

The mother was puzzled. She enquired, “Bapu, you could have asked my son to stop eating sugar when we visited you last week. Why did you ask us to come back this week?” Gandhi answered, “Ben (Sister,) last week, I, too, was eating a lot of sugar. … You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Effective Leaders ‘Walk the Talk’

Consider the following case. Ian joined a financial services company and assumed leadership of a group of analysts. In his first staff meeting, he declared, “Our people are our greatest asset.” He asserted that his primary objective as the manager of the organization was to keep them engaged, motivated and happy.

When one of Ian’s employees returned to work after a three-month maternity leave (she had had her first child,) Ian never enquired her about her child or her experiences. Becoming a mother was the most significant event of her life to date. The day she returned to work, Ian assigned her critical projects and demanded her full attention to these projects. Clearly, Ian’s behavior was incongruent with his stated mission of appreciating his people.

As the above example illustrates, frequently, leaders announce personal and organizational values and goals but fail to act on their words — their behaviors do not match their stated missions. Defining values and goals is often rather easy — conforming and getting others to conform to these initiatives is challenging. Leaders quickly lose their credibility by failing to ‘walk the talk.’

Call for Action

Audit yourself. At home or work, write down your objectives. Reflect on your actions. Analyze your behaviors. Do your actions uphold your objectives? Gather feedback from your people. Ask what you can do to achieve your objectives. Ask how you can walk your talk.