The most successful people in business have the ability to visualise and deliver their desired strategic goal without distraction. They do this by using tools known as mental models. By taking the time to properly picture what success looks like, they make the right decisions along the way and effectively map out the right path to achieving the results they need.
This doesn’t have to be a complicated process. With a greater understanding of what success looks like, you can make better informed choices. It might be taking a moment to use the 10/10/10 pulse check, a tool developed by Bloomberg Businessweek writer Suzy Welch. How will you feel about your decision in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? This prompts you to think strategically and consider the bigger picture and possible scenarios, rather than focusing on a quick fix to a pressing challenge you may be faced with.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the expression “start with the end in mind” or been asked the question “what does success look like to you?”. When we clearly understand what we are working towards we create a mental model of the optimal outcome. Sourcing information from a greater range of experiences allows us to determine the attributes of success. The more detail we have in the model, image or picture, the better we are placed to recognise success when we see it.
Clear mental models ensure all parties are working towards the same objective
Clients and candidates are sometimes surprised at the time we take in questioning and understanding the role we are filling, the person required and if the candidate we are speaking to is the right fit for the role. But we have found that by first creating a picture of success – a mental model – we are set on the right path from the start and more likely to identify the best possible candidate for your business and culture. Often our key focus is to first create in the client’s mind a mental model of their ideal outcome. When meeting with a client for a recruitment exercise, it may be to replace someone in an existing role or to recruit for an entirely new role in the organisation. The client may know what they want done, but they often haven’t thought about the attributes for success in the role or within the organisation. From this point we create a mental model for the client and ourselves. The model in both of our minds needs to match up. The more details we understand about how the company works, the strategy, what they are trying to achieve and the culture and leadership style that exists, the better we are placed to understand the organisation and the role. By creating a blueprint or mental model of what success looks like, we are halfway to creating a successful match.
Using mental models to select the right outcome when faced with multiple options
Again, using a recruitment example, the other half of the challenge is finding the right candidate for the role. Now we have our mental model we must be adept at understanding if the person we are talking to is the right fit. This can only be done by getting a thorough understanding of the candidate, their background, skills and experience. This is particularly relevant in understanding their repeating pattern of behaviour. From here we can determine if there is a match to both the mental model we have created and what we have agreed success would look like in the ideal candidate.
Mental models simplify the steps towards success
Charles Duhigg talks about the creation of mental models in his book Smarter, Better, Faster. He surmises the most successful people in business are the ones who can slow down and take stock when things get hectic, focus on the desired end result and plan their tasks accordingly. One of the strongest examples he uses is of Qantas pilot, Captain Richard de Crespigny, maintaining the mental model of flying a Cesna to keep an understanding of what was required to successfully land his damaged aircraft and thus save 440 lives. His aircraft blew out an engine shortly after taking off from Singapore airport causing significant damage to many of the systems on the aircraft, rendering them inoperable and creating countless warnings and alerts coming from instrumentation and computers. Captain Richard de Crespigny needed to maintain a clear focus on what a successful landing would look like and he did this by visualising his mental model – flying a single engine Cesna. By looking at his complex challenges in a more simplified format he was able to safely land the aircraft. Without that mental model he would have been lost.
While we are not claiming to be saving hundreds of lives, creating mental models is a way to help shape success. Mental models can’t be built immediately, they take time. That is why we feel to have the greatest success in recruitment, you need to take the time to build a model of what success looks like, in intimate detail.
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