OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS, the Rotman School’s Integrative Thinking Seminar Series has hosted a variety of renowned CEOs and thought leaders – everyone from Jack Welch to Michael Dell to A.G. Lafley. My goal when we started the Series was to try to figure out how these highly successful people think. I was looking for patterns: I wanted to know, ‘what was the thinking that led them to the doing?’ Was there a common pattern to their mental models? It turns out that there is, and the fact that their thinking patterns can be defined is good news for all of us, as it means that we, too, can learn to become integrative thinkers.
It all begins with mental models. Although we’re usually unaware of it, each of us uses models in our thinking. It’s how we make sense of the world. As MIT’s John Sterman explained early in the Series, we think that what we see is what really is; but in fact, what we ‘see’ is based on our mental models, and thus we suffer from ‘naïve realism’: our models become indistinguishable from reality, and what constitutes ‘reality’ differs from person to person. The result? Model clash – the most important challenge faced by modern managers.