Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Coping with the Unknown

Try a thought experiment.

Imagine yourself in a new world, one very different from the one you are familiar with. Where do you begin? How do you cope?

You have no mental model of this world, no image of how it works, no idea of what it offers or unfolds… Can you deal with the challenge? The stretch it means from the familiar comfort?

Sounds intimidating, but that is precisely what we have all done at least when we were born! Many of us live through such challenges many times over since that day we came on to the world that we grew so familiar with! Those of us who are more adventurous, or have simply retained our childhood ability to learn, actually seek out stretches from our comfort worlds, exploring the unknown.

As new-borns we explored the world we find ourselves in, experienced breathtaking stretches from the comfort of our mothers womb. Every act that resulted in a recognized repeat formed the basis of reinforcing our understanding, building a cause-effect model in our minds.

But how often have we looked at the very way we learn, the way we unlearn, and the way we form our mental models?

What if a Martian landed in your world, where should she begin? How will she cope?

Let’s simplify our thought experiment a bit. If our Martian found herself looking at a game of chess, what would be the learning? What would be the mental model of our world?

Oh, she may say, here is a world that is flat with pieces that move and disappear in almost a compounding pattern with every few moves a piece makes! Maybe they are collectively integrated in some way!

Then of course she notices the colors and talks of two species which seem to compete with each other for some invisible resource and declining their population with every few moves in search for the resource…

Perhaps as she grows more observant she notices 6 kinds of pieces, each with a different probability of disappearing in the next move. Yes, it is possible to bet, based on the rules of thumb, about which piece will disappear next.

Oh, there is a pattern about the disappearing piece; it is always replaced by a piece of the other color. As moves proceed the movements that cause replacement, or avoid replacement, seem most likely! So this seems to be some kind of a war dance? A battle?

But then each kind of piece seems to have a different movement pattern. Some move straight, a step at a time, others diagonally, yet others in more complex steps. Then there is a rhythm, first the white ones move, then the black. There is still a randomness about which one of the white or which one of the black will move.

Then she notices the two players who actually move the pieces! Now that is like god’s hand? Or are these two larger pieces? Are there larger ones? Looks like these two large pieces move things in a pattern and sometimes show some expression unlike the smaller pieces…

But then what is the purpose of these smaller or larger pieces? What would it be to survive in this world?

Do you have additional models our Martian visitor may have?

Is it any surprise that the ability of our Martian friend to cope with the chess world with different mental models is radically different? How can the Martian decide on the model that would make her most effective? Is there any other way? What makes the most effective model effective?

Like your Martian visitor, how do you make your stretch to cope with the new world unfolding today?

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Making a World Open to Possibilities

Modeling, the process of generating models, alerts us to our mental-models.

Without modeling our mental-model is absolute. There can be no other way the world works, outcomes result, or change happens. Our world is closed of possibilities, choices and alternate designs that unfold alternate worlds.

The next best thing to modeling by ourselves is to have someone produce alternate models for us.

Either way, just as an outstanding artist is one who can paint the world as it could be, and not as it is, the outstanding modeler models the world as it could be, not as it is. Naturally, like the artist, or the designer, the modeler is open to a world of possibilities, an open world. The world is not a closed, deterministic space, but full of opportunities of what you can make it to be.

Just like the designer of spacecrafts creates something that could be, not a copy of something that is out there, the outstanding modeler creates designs of systems. Like the designers of spacecrafts take on the responsibility of the flying the astronauts safely, the outstanding modelers need to “fly” safely millions who are affected by the systems they model.

Outstanding modeling is therefore agile to perspectives, perceptions and a world of alternate possibilities. Like a play that opens the artists to bring out alternate performances together, modeling opens up colleagues to build teams that can unfold a world of possibilities.

Modeling creates a role, a script, acts and organizes the play. It bounds the performances, the possibilities or unleashes them. It defines and shapes the system that will be influenced and designed and the real world that, as a consequence, will be altered.

The absence of modeling is anarchy; a failure of governance.

Like Maxwell’s daemon, a being allowing only fast-moving molecules in a container to pass in one direction, is a violation of the second law of thermodynamics, the absence of modeling is the very violation of civilization.

Our models or mental models are after all the bias and basis of the world we create. It is our means to live up to our responsibility to the millions who participate in the systems we design. It is our basis to identify our roles, play our scripts in the worlds we participate. If we have no way to model these, what else but anarchy can exist?

Do we have a shared mission to create civilization? What possibilities do you want to open up to your world today?