Mental Models

Expanding mental schemes to learn.

Polanyi (1996) classified human knowledge into two categories: tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge is that which is difficult to express in any language. Explicit knowledge refers to knowledge that may be expressed through words, drawings or any other mechanism of articulation. While tacit knowledge may be possessed as it is, explicit knowledge has to rely on being understood and applied tacitly. In any case, all knowledge is either tacit in itself or is based on knowledge that is tacit. And this can only be indirectly expressed and transferred using a metaphor. Just as Michael Polanyi emphasises, we often express ourselves and transfer our knowledge only indirectly, using metaphorical explanations.

The source of organisational knowledge lies in the tacit knowledge of its individual members. However, organisational knowledge is not a simple accumulation of personal knowledge. Individual members’ knowledge needs to be shared and legitimated before it becomes organisational knowledge. (Tsuchiya, 1993)
The only way to reform interpretive environments is by creating new knowledge, free of the restrictions of existing knowledge, then carrying out new actions and decisions based on that new knowledge, and interpreting the results (Tsuchiya, 1996).

Using games and simulation, members of organisations can generate metaphors using words, data, graphs and images. These metaphors make it possible to create knowledge which is free of the restrictions imposed by existing interpretive models. This new knowledge changes the members’ decisions and actions and, through interpretation of the results of the new actions and decisions, they develop new interpretive environments.

These new interpretive environments possess the advantage of having been generated by the participants themselves, through a natural, fluid process, so they are automatically integrated and legitimated as valid. Gaming/simulation permits the legitimation of knowledge by providing it with the necessary processes, legitimacy often depending more on the adequacy of the processes than on the results (March & Olsen, 1976). At the same time, gaming/simulation allows for the creation of new cause maps. A causal map is a summary of the suppositions that people make about a certain structure (Weick, 1979). With the causal map, the new interpretive environment acquires rationality and foundation, thereby consolidating its validation.

Modification of mental models has particular relevance for learning, as it permits what is known as Level 2, or double loop learning, in contrast to the technical learning of Level 1, or the single loop. In the latter, what we do varies by analysis of the results of our previous actions. We modify our ways, working the content within our schematic, reinforcing the governing mental model. In Level 2 however, it is the very way of thinking, the way we do things, which is changed.

For the organisation to be capable of evolving and learning, it becomes necessary to incorporate these new mental models that will enable it to experiment and go beyond its existing limits.

If an organisation should starve or suffocate some types of mental structures, these will probably undergo some form of modification, or remain in the shade. In a company, the longest-serving supervisors and employees show newcomers what to do and what not to do, and how to proceed. This is called “socialisation”. New employees may, in some cases, be indoctrinated with company philosophy, any deviation from which could result in their not being promoted, or not assigned an exciting job, which is known as “marginalisation”. Or they could be ignored and excluded, which is “ostracism”. (Maruyama, 1998)

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Polanyi, M (1996) The tacit Dimension, Routledge and Kegan Paul, LondonMarch, J.G.& Olsen, J.P. (1976). Ambiguity and choice in Organizations. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget.
Maruyama, M (1998), Esquemas Mentales: Gestión en un medio multicultural. España. Dolmen.Polanyi, M (1996) The tacit Dimension, Routledge and Kegan Paul, LondonTsuchiya, S (1993). Improving Knowledge Creation Ability through Organizational Learning. IIIA, Proceedings of International Symposium on the Management of Industrial and Corporate Knowledge 93, 87-95.

Ricardo Zamora
Training Games
Managing Director

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