Time for a new pair of shades?



Time for a new pair of shades?

Earlier this month, I was dropping off a relative at the airport. As I was heading out, at the drive through parking pay station, I noticed that a person was having difficulty exiting and the attendant was assisting them. Meanwhile, at another parking station, I was attempting to pay for my parking and the payment instruction screen was blank. I assumed the issue was system-wide and similar to what the other person was experiencing. Once the attendant was done, I flagged her over. In a very serious voice, she said: “Ma’am, take off your sunglasses.”  I complied. She then pointed at the screen, and we both broke out into uproarious laughter because I could clearly see the instructions on the screen. The lenses through which I had been looking created a view that was blank even though the screen was visible all along. I told her she made my day, made my payment, and off I went!

We come to personal and professional situations with various lenses. We have what Senge (2006) calls ‘mental models’, “internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting”, p. 163. Senge (2006) goes further to say:  “Our ‘mental models’ determine not only how we make sense of the world, but how we take actions” and “they affect what we see”, p. 164.  In this case, I made an assumption that there was a system-wide issue. Therefore, instead of seeking alternatives on my own, I waited for the attendant. Had I not made that assumption, I would have tried other things on my own. “As Albert Einstein once wrote, ‘Our theories determine what we measure’” (Senge, 2006, p. 164).

When ‘mental models’ are impeding our learning and decision making, how do we flip this around so that we can create productive headway? Senge (2006) goes on to provide various organizational examples from Royal Dutch Shell, Hanover, and Harley-Davidson. The bottom line answer is to develop “skills of reflection to slow down our own thinking processes so that we can become more aware of how we form our mental models and the ways they influence our actions”, and “inquiry skills which concern how we operate in face-to-face interactions with others, especially in dealing with complex and conflictual issues”, p. 175.  … and this is the beginning.

What ‘mental models’ are you using? What one step can you take now to self reflect on them to gain more awareness? What will you do to experiment with new sets of lenses and create more clarity and truth in face-to-face situations?

Yours in learning,


Senge, P.M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Currency/Doubleday.

Source of illustration: https://kokopiecoco.com/collections/shades/products/cat-eyes-shades