Iceberg model – systems thinking

Iceberg model – link

Systems thinking studies how seemingly uncorrelated variables are in fact correlated and single events might be better approached not by reacting to its obvious effects but to its underlying causes. For example, if someone tells me that they have too much work, and they must work late. That’s just an event and so a normal reply might be ‘well, then work late and compensate in the next days’. However, what if that’s a recurring pattern and the worker is already used to having a lot of ‘work late’ days? Let’s then see if there’s any underlying structure behind that pattern. Is the boss bad at assigning work on time? Does the worker lack self-esteem to ask for help? Does the worker have an annoying neighbour blasting Reggae in the morning? It might be that there’s an underlying structure that’s driving these events and for the worker. That’s pretty obvious. What’s more difficult is then for the worker to change its mental model.

What does it mean to change the mental model? In this case, it might mean to change the current mental model of ‘I’m a lousy worker, so I’m always slow’ to one that will preemptively change the worker’s behaviour and switch his reactions to actions. A better model might be ‘this is just a lousy job with a lousy boss, so I’ll always be working late here’ or ‘if I just muster the nerve to ask for help of that guy I don’t like, I’ll avoid many of these problems’.

The iceberg model is in itself a mental model and forces one to see the world around as not just random events, but as mental models and underlying structures probabilistically leading to patterns and events. If you want to help someone, it might not be wise to only help with the almost random effects of events, but to help with the understanding behind them.

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