I haven’t been busy much with mental models lately – too immersed in witnessing the subtle shifts in my own energy metabolism and engaging dialogically with the world. But I’ve been reminded twice already this month (and it’s only mid-April as I write) of what great ways they are to play the kosmic game.
NLP, for starters. I was really into NLP 20 years ago, spent my holidays doing 20-day intensives all around the world, felt I’d found my tribe at last. At that time, I undertook (together with my boss at the time) a modelling project to explore the inner workings of the translator at work. Nothing ever came of the project, because the context just wasn’t ready for it. My NLP was most profitably consigned to my inner toolbox, where it has stood me in excellent stead ever since, especially in my 7-year foray into Buddhism. Having a language of subtle distinctions for one’s inner experience is something that no kosmic evolutionary agent should be without. And then, just a few weeks ago, I discovered that some key members of my hierarchy were deeply immersed in learning NLP, and had this great idea of a modelling project! Hahahahaha!!!!!!! No problems, I said: it’s already been done. And handed over a 6-inch pile of yellowing papers that was so old (last one dated 2000) that I couldn’t even convert the electronic files in my current word-processing program. All this to say, that NLP is now the flavour of the month in progressive circles where I work, and I am being sought after for my mastery in the field – 20 years after the time it would have turned me on!
Next up, Spiral Dynamics Integral. A reasonably intuitive way to learn about social and individual development through value structures (known in the jargon as vMEMEs), Spiral Dynamics can really help to explain why communication can be so hard sometimes, when people and groups totally fail to understand one another, no matter how hard they try. Underneath the relatively easy-to-understand spiral of emerging colour-coded ‘memes’, is a great deal of complexity and some really great insights about how societies and other complex human systems change over time. I first discovered Spiral Dynamics back in about 1997, but haven’t been explicitly busy with it in recent years, other than as an integral part of my overall body of cognitive baggage that follows wherever I go, and gets drawn upon when useful or relevant. I follow some conversations on the rather prolific list serve, and then, every year for the past 5 years or so, I have attended the Spiral Dynamics integral EuroConfab – a gathering of SDi practitioners and ‘integral’ change agents working more or less intensively, and always with great enthusiasm, with Spiral Dynamics and the Integral Model.
This year, part of the EuroConfab programme was explicitly dedicated to an exploration of the most recent level to emerge on the Spiral – the Turquoise vMEME – as part of an ongoing research conducted by the host organisation – the Dutch Center for Human Emergence. This is a research experiment that I can contribute to, because Turquoise keeps showing up as a really useful label in the collective explorations I’ve been engaged in with Ria Baeck, Judy Wallace and others under the umbrella of the Women Moving the Edge inquiry. Since it is also a label that has meaning to other communities of interest, I intend to dedicate the next few posts in this blog to some of my mullings on Turquoise.
Indeed, this post started out as the first in that series. But then it morphed, as it came to me that both the models I have mentioned here – as you will appreciate if you follow the first links referring to them – are not without detractors. In fact, both could be considered to be quite contentious: NLP for its reputation as a manipulative tool that makes unfounded claims, Spiral dynamics as being an elitist apology for a new movement to create the Übermensch (a great response to that concern here by Peter Merry: a colourful theory). Both these caveats remind us of the danger of identifying with mental models and holding them to be true. But let us not thereby forget their benefits – a few that occur to me off the top of my head:
- Mental models are like adventure playgrounds – they’re even more fun when you’re with your friends, and they help to keep you fit. There is great scope for creativity as soon as you get over using them for what they were designed for and start experimenting with all the possible permutations…
- It’s great to discover a water cooler that many interesting and like-minded people are gathered around in a spirit of inquiry.
- There are moments of collective chaos where a mental model can act as a life-saver, something around which some shared meaning-making can arise to take us forward in a useful direction.
- There is beauty in discerning new patterns in the otherwise seemingly random occurrences of life and the unimaginable complexity of the living systems we are embedded in.
- There’s nothing like embracing a satisfying mental model to give us the experience of how powerfully our mind shapes our reality and makes meaning from our perceptions. Exchange one model for another one, and watch as the world morphs to accommodate the new set of assumptions. Then identify with your cognition at your peril!