How to build your Mindset Toolbox.

In 2010 Miguel McKelvey, Adam Neumann and Rebekah Neumann created a company based on 3 ideas: People are becoming more mobile and more work-independent, but there is a bigger need than ever to belong to a community.

Driven by this idea, they launched a few coworking spaces in New York and named the company WeWork. Valued at over 20 billion dollars, today WeWork has more than 120,000 members in 156 offices around the world.

What are the skills needed to create a company like WeWork?

I believe that it is actually less about human capabilities and more about what people see: Some call it mental models, others call it mindsets. It’s the operating system of our life.

A mental model is an explanation of how something works. It is a concept, framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind. Mental models can help shape behaviour and set an approach to solving problems (similar to a personal algorithm) and doing tasks) wikipedia

These mental models are shortcuts used by our brain to conserve the body’s energy, one of the brain’s most important directives. In his book Business Transformation Strategies: The Strategic Leader as Innovation Manager, Oswald A J Mascarenhas explains:

We have mental models for our institutions, organizations, work, families, relationships, and politics. We are bound by them, select what we see and condition how we see it. Because they work below the level of awareness, they are often untested and hence, they could be flawed. And as the world keeps on changing, the distance between reality and our mental models widens leading to counter-intuitive decisions and actions.

In the case of the founders of WeWork, their mindset allowed them to see a very different world: One where renting a desk next to other entrepreneurs (potential competitors) was a benefit, not a challenge. A world where stability wasn’t necessarily an asset. And they saw a world where a group of strangers working for different companies and different industries could become a strong community.

They were able to see what others couldn’t because they were able to use and connect a diverse set of ideas to create a new and original one.

Charlie Munger considers this same type of approach his biggest asset and the key ingredient to his success:

“It's like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that's the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that's a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you've got to have multiple models.

And the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.”

Sam Harris argues that these Mindsets are so critically responsible for our actions that he challenges our ability to even express free will in his book by the same name:

“Yes, you can make conscious choices, but everything that makes up those conscious choices (your thoughts, your wants, your desires) is determined by your Mental Models”

A good example of a Mental Model predominant across corporations and business cultures is “Knowledge is power”. Once you see the world through this filter, it dictates your behavior and beliefs about collaboration, leadership, and social dynamics.

Consider this example from biologist Robert Sapolsky. He asks, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Then, he provides answers from different experts.

If you ask an evolutionary biologist, they might say, “The chicken crossed the road because they saw a potential mate on the other side.”

If you ask a kinesiologist, they might say, “The chicken crossed the road because the muscles in the leg contracted and pulled the leg bone forward during each step.”

If you ask a neuroscientist, they might say, “The chicken crossed the road because the neurons in the chicken’s brain fired and triggered the movement.”

None of these answers are wrong. But each individual mental model is just one view of reality. The challenges and situations we face in life cannot be entirely explained by one field, worldview or industry perspective.

In order to unleash your full potential or that of your business, you too have to collect a diverse range of mental models. You have to build out your own toolbox. The secret to great thinking – and indeed great doing –  is to learn and employ a variety of mental models.

What can you do today to add new mental models?

  • Create a habit of learning from a wide range of topics. Read a lot.
  • Inquire into other’s ways of thinking and allow them to challenge your own thinking.
  • Reflect daily on your feelings, thoughts and behaviors and the effects they have on others and the world.
  • Understand why: Question everything from a curiosity standpoint. Why is the calendar divided in 12 months? Why are the Galapagos Islands special? Why do we have royalty? etc…
  • At your company; identify the shift happening in the market and in the behavior of people. Frame it as in: From - To.

For example: Due to a higher awareness about food quality and its impact on our health, things are moving from supermarkets for the masses to hyper-personalized options. (like UberEATS, Shipt, BlueApron or Seamless)

  • In your organization; Change the context! Dan Ariely explains:

“One of the big lessons from social science in the last 40 years is that environment matters. If you go to a buffet and the buffet is organized in one way, you will eat one thing. If it’s organized in a different way, you’ll eat different things. We think that we make decisions on our own but the environment influences us to a great degree. Because of that, we need to think about how to change our environment.”

Interested in building your skills, confidence and mindset toolbox to drive organizational change?

The exploration and adoption of a diverse set of Mindsets are at the core of the program Driving Transformation. Join a global group of change leaders working hands-on with their business transformation. Work on your own change case with feedback, coaching, and peer-collaboration. This intensive 6-week online program will equip you to accelerate change in your business.

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Iñaki Escudero is an obsessive learner who explores daily the edges of culture and its effect on people and corporations. A long time Hyper Island collaborator and father of 5 intrepid kids.