Mental models as filters? LO13010

Ragnar S. Johansen (
25 Mar 1997 15:25:51 +0100

Replying to LO13000 --

On March, 24. Stephen Wehrenberg wrote:

>I encounter repeated comparisons of mental models to "filters" and to
>"panes of glass that distort reality," etc. The implication (or
>explication, in some cases) is that there is an objective reality (in a
>Platonic sense) and our belief systems tend to present us less than
>reality, or some imperfect (read "dysfunctional") perception of

>I wonder if it's possible that a mental model, to carry the pane of
>glass analogy along, might actually serve as a lens that focuses
>perception to something that is even clearer than reality? After all,
>observed facts are just data, and until imbued with context and
>understood in the richness of relationships, have little meaning. Is
>it possible that some mental models, in some situations, for some
>people, are actually beneficial?

>Perhaps I have a mental model that, once in a while, my model is
>correct. Seems possible, no? And is this one of those times?

I believe noboy to ever be entirely correct, but "your model" may just be
the most valuable aproximation at this time!

To me, the dicothomy of positivism vs. constructivism/relativism as two
oposing philosophies of science, is the foundation for relating to your

You make the essential point that the "mental models as filters" analogy
implies an objective reality that "lies out there to be discovered". The
oposite case, would be the notion that there are no objective reality. To
me, this is linked closely with the concept of socialy constructed
realities (Since all transfereable knowledge is related in the form of
language, it is constructed out of concepts that at some point in time was
agreed upon in a social context. All our cognitive representations of
reality is made out of these concepts. Hence, reality as we are able to
define it, is a sum of social constructs.)

Now, this is all of academic interest, but what difference does it make in
"the real world"?

To me, the constructivist paradigm, as described above, serves as a
reminder that I can never be 100% rigth in any situation. No single person
can ever "discover the true reality", as there are none to discover.
Hence, the only way to improve my understanding of reality is by
continuous dialogue (like participating in this mailing list), and
scrutinizing alternative viewpoints. By doing this, I may not achieve a
"corect" understanding of reality, but I _can_ achieve the most valuable
understanding, given the relevant context, etc.

Next follows, that the best way to achieve change in an organization is to
build a _shared_ understanding of reality, and make then make sure that
strategic desiccions are based on that shared reality.

This effectively undermines any notion of a "single rational actor, who is
able to make the rigth (strategic) desiccions" in any organization.

To bring the argument back full circle: The analogy of mental models as
filters may be incorrect, but I stil believe it to be most valuable. I use
it frequently in non-academic settings, where going into a paradigm-debate
would be to elaborative. It helps people to start asking questions instead
of pushing answers.

(Allso, multi perspective text-books in organization theory, like Gareth
Morgans "Images of Organizations" can give valuable innsigths into
different perspectives on reality without going into the ontologigcal

Wel, this made for a long posting, and it's heavy stuff indeed, but to me,
these insigths are fundamental in understanding LOs.

Best Regards, and a happy easter holiday to y'all!

Ragnar Johansen


"Ragnar S. Johansen" <>

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