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This chapter is from the book


We live in a world of great risk and great possibilities. We have unprecedented opportunities to blend the best of the old and new, to open up new perspectives and connect to different fields of knowledge, like sampling from a buffet. Yet it is a risky business to abandon our old views of the world. We have seen the traditional views of religion, family, institutions and belief in capitalism eroded in recent years, with some positive consequences but also some degree of chaos rushing into the vacuum. When we depart from the dry land in business or personal life, we are subject to the crosswinds and crosscurrents of whatever crackpot ideas and fads come toward us. If we can navigate this passage to new mindsets, we will have opportunities to discover new worlds with rich potential.

Our true work, as John Seely Brown points out in the quote that opens this chapter, is making sense. It is not just for managers in business but for everyone in business, politics and personal life. As in a detective story, we are in a race against time, against clever rivals who deliberately or inadvertently create decoy trails to throw us off the scent. In a world of deep complexity and extensive information, this work of making sense has never been harder—or more important. Unlike most detective stories, this one does not have a simple (The butler did it!) answer at the end, unless we discover it or create it. It does not even have an ending.

The world we see today could undergo a gestalt flip tomorrow. We can get better at this process of making sense—and the first step is recognizing that there is a process at all.

Some will argue that the world is already far too complicated for us to make sense of it. They act as if we need to just keep our heads down, focus on the track in front of our feet and keep moving. That may work for a limited time (until some freight train comes barreling down the track we're walking on). But our strength as human beings is our power to make sense, adapt to a fabulously complex world and quickly decide on a practical course of action. This is how we have survived and progressed since the age of the sabertooth tiger. It is how we can succeed in today's complex world.

In today's complicated and uncertain environment, the greatest dangers are not from beasts prowling around outside. More often than not they are in our own minds, our inability to see our own limits and to see things differently. It is these internal beasts that we seek to better understand—and learn to live with, if not to tame—in the pages of this book.


  • What are your mental models that shape your thinking? How are your models different from those of others?

  • What are a few recent decisions, personal or professional, in which you can identify the role of mental models in how you framed the problem or developed your solution?

  • How has your own education and experience affected your mental models?

  • What are the potential blindspots of your models and experience?

  • How can you seek out new perspectives and experience to help challenge or change your current models?

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