The Mental Model in Complex Business Systems

The role of mental models is to offer a framework through which complex data, observation, and inferences can be interpreted. The power of each explanatory model is dependent on the scope and breadth of the data leveraged to build it. The reduction of complex datasets into a model amplifies the risks and distortions inherent within the original inputs. A standardized approach to model development is necessary if the results are to prove useful.

Factors Influencing Model Development Quality

Mental Models for leadership, business performance, identifying research & development opportunities, and resolving misalignment are significantly influenced by the environment. This is the case for effective as well as ineffective models where proactive adaptation is sought or avoided. The quality of the models original inputs  determines whether the goals can be achieved with the model’s use.

Despite best intentions most mental models are essentially built-in a vacuum. Vision, strategy, and goals are implemented with unintended consequences. Competing mechanisms are reinforced as system wide performance is slowed. What started out as good intentions has now become an effort to stay afloat.

Corrective actions are taken to realign with the original vision but without changing the underlying assumptions, priorities, and other model development vectors that contributed to the slowing in performance that set the business on this path. Burnout results as employee development & retention, customer satisfaction, and product/ service quality are affected.

Why does your business exist? 

It is often not a question of ‘how’ but a question of ‘why’ the business model exists that determines whether it is successful. Execution (the ‘how’) remains crucial to implementing the strategic will of the business but the values (the ‘why’) of the business decide whether the business model ecosystem is:

  • Aligned,
  • Quality is sustained, and
  • The business product/ service offerings are competitive.

Execution competencies remain a competitive advantage but the brand, vision, and values of the business remain a key differentiator that can persuade customers (internal and external) to keep coming back. Primary inputs into the development of the business’ explanatory model begins with human resources and leadership. The resulting vision determines the strategy, training, and competencies needed to deploy the business’ product/ service offerings.

Questions to consider when deciding on the business mental model for performance:

Context: Where are the product/service offerings going to be used? What is the problem being solved? Why is this business’ offerings the best solution?

Priorities: How are conflicts priorities and evaluated?

Risk Tolerance: How committed is the team to being authentic and pursuing the vision?

Values: How will the business balance constraints, customer changing needs, and the company’s current commitments?

Assumptions & Beliefs: How will the business support ongoing learning and the challenging of assumptions & beliefs that limit growth?

Culture: How will the business cultivate a culture that is aligned with the environment?

Resources: How will the business support the intersection of human, technical, and physical resources and assets?

Constraints: How will constraints be constructively acknowledged in the business’ explanatory model?

Considering these factors at the beginning of the business’ mental model development process can help avoid misalignment, confusion, and conflict in the future. The business brand, the quality of its product/ service offerings, and the value of its network are dependent on such a thoughtful approach that considers how to keep business systems relevant.

How is your team evaluating business’ mental model inputs? Share your comments below.


Travis Barker, MPA GCPM

Innovate Vancouver

[email protected]


Innovate Vancouver is a business development & consulting service and technology startup located in Vancouver, BC. Contact Innovate Vancouver to help with your new project. Innovate Vancouver also gives back to the community through business consulting services. Contact us for more details.



Krogue, K. (2015, July 09). Simon Sinek Says ‘Start With Why,’ But Sales Experts Disagree. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from