Challenging Your Mental Models

While on holiday break, I watched a documentary that compared the leave policies of several Western European companies to that of the United States. These companies were attributing their success to a policy backed by a law that required employees to receive a minimum of up to eight weeks of paid leave each year. During interviews, the European CEOs praised the passing of these laws because they were believed to result in a more “productive and happier” workforce — and not just for the company but for the European economy. 

After some research, I found that Finland, Germany, and Iceland were among the top three countries maintaining similar statutory paid leave policies. Those countries quoted low turnover, employee loyalty and increased productivity as direct incentives for making the health and well-being of their employees a priority. The articles I found on the American economy, told a different story.

First of all, in order for America to successfully implement policies similar to our European counterparts, we would have to overcome our work ethic which “drives Americans to work longer hours each week and more weeks each year than any of our economic peers.” In the United States, we believe that productivity comes from hard work and we often ridicule and criticize those who don’t follow that mantra. Our history books still suggest that America was built on the “hard work” of its forefathers and our historians are able to maintain this storyline “without making any direct reference to the indentured or free labor derived from enslaved people.”

Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, refers to these deeply ingrained assumptions as mental models and believes the only way to be aware of them is “to surface and test them.” Bringing mental models such as these to the surface requires engaging in conversations and exposing oneself to environments where deeply held beliefs might be tested. 

This often does not happen for reasons that Senge says have to do with our discomfort with anything that challenges our individualistic notions that we are responsible for our own destiny — except when the information suggests we are complicit in our own failure. As a result, “new insights often fail to get put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting.” In other words, those who believe that time off is needed for self-preservation and overall well-being would also sabotage any effort that does not support the image derived from a “strong work ethic.” 

Challenging mental models is not about changing what you do as much as it is about changing how you think (or giving yourself permission to think).

In what ways will you surface and test your deeply held beliefs this year?

References:

Covert, Bryce. “The American Worth Ethic.” Longreads, 8 Apr. 2019, https://longreads.com/2019/04/08/the-american-worth-ethic/.

Gerasimova, Kate. “How to Challenge Your Mental Models and Think Differently.” GothamCulture, 23 Mar. 2017, https://gothamculture.com/2017/03/23/challenge-mental-models-think-differently/

Romig, Kathleen, and Kathleen Bryant. “A National Paid Leave Program Would Help Workers, Families.” A National Paid Leave Program Would Help Workers, Families, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 27 Apr. 2021, https://www.cbpp.org/research/economy/a-national-paid-leave-program-would-help-workers-families

Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline. Random House Business, 2006. 

Published by Dee Dial

I blogged anonymously for many years, mostly about subjects that were difficult to discuss but where there was a critical for understanding including on topics of race, religion and social justice. It seems that everyone does that these days but my topics have always tried to be heart-centered but authentic, provocative yet thoughtful. Even before “safe spaces” were being discussed, I sensed the need and always tried to project that in my writing and social interactions. (There is enough negativity in the world; we don’t endorse that behavior here). But there is definitely remains the need for facilitated spaces where we can have civil conversations about really tough subjects. Disclaimer: I am also a Staff Director with over 30 years of consulting, business management, finance, accounting, auditing and systems experience. I am a working mother and wife who has owned her own business since 1993. Some of my business ventures include teaching, professional writing, consulting and managing retail establishments. This results in life, business and other lived experiences in a number of areas but views of any material written by me are mine. They are not reflective of the views of any of my current or previous employers.

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