The pace and change and complexity in business continue to accelerate.

As a result, the ability to problem solve is viewed as a highly valued skill by employers.

Employers value those who can bring agility and focus to solving the issues in what is often demanding and fast paced working environments.

I believe a factor key to distinguishing yourself as a problem solver, is your ability to learn and add to your problem solving tool kit relevant and powerful mental models.

What is a Mental Model?

Mental models help shape your approach to problem solving.  They help you understand how something works in reality and how your understanding of this is represented in your day to day environment. In turn mental models influence and help shape how you respond.

Without being aware, you will be using countless mental models in day to day life.

You will be using mental models to help you understand how to make decisions based on what you encounter.

This includes:

  • Routine and expected decisions in your day-to-day working environment.
  • Decisions made in high pressured and demanding situations.
  • Decisions you may need to make due to unexpected events or at worst emergencies.

Link to productivity

Charles Duhigg in his book The Science of Productivity talks about the role of mental models.

He cites an example of a Qantas pilot, Captain Richard de Crespigny who found himself Captaining flight QF32 in an A380 who experienced a situation where things went horribly wrong.

NOTE: You need to be logged in to LinkedIn to open the link re Captain Richard de Crespigny

In summary:

  • The plane he was flying experienced multiple failures that severely impacted its ability to continue flying and land.
  • In fact, all flight simulations created post the emergency indicate the plane should have crashed on landing.
  • Not only did de Crespigny land the plane, he landed it without harm to passengers and crew.

What was the secret of his success?

Essential to his ability to land his plane safely was his clarity of his mental models.

He used his mental models to:

  1. Frame his approach to problem solving during the emergency.
  2. To facilitate focused and deliberate decisions.

Core to his success was:

  • His choice to build key mental models-maps prior to the emergency.
  • Before and when he boarded his flight he discussed the potential of things going wrong.
  • Doing so ensure he and his crew had clear expectations of his approach to problem solving during an emergency.
  • He had given content, clarity and focus to what decisions he and they would likely need to take.

Research suggests that people like de Crespigny who are practiced and adept at building and refining detailed mental models often have greater situational awareness.  They have an approach to problem solving and the models they will use that gives them access to greater resilience in decision-making.

Building mental models

There are a number of important factors important to help you be adept at building mental models.

Here are three of those factors to reflect on:

  1. Invest in learning from others.  Be a continuous learner.  Become aware, learn, understand the mental models tried and successfully used by others to solve problems.
  2. Gain experience.  Explore, experiment and solve actively.  Reflect on the problems you solve, your approached, and how to re-use your approach; and
  3. Work in a team to leverage cognitive diversity. Each of us have preferences in the way we like to think, how we define a problem, how we go about solving a problem, and the types of solutions we see/consider. Working in a team with members who have different thinking preferences to your own will supercharge your and the team’s ability to solve problems.

Wishing you success on your problem solving journey.

ciao Jan