Personal Mastery & Mental Models
When an organisation like The Difference Incubator are recruiting new staff, they are hunting for two vital qualities.
These are tough to find, because they don’t show up on most résumés.
They are Personal Mastery and Mental Models, taken from Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline:
Personal Mastery: “A discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.”
In other words, the passion for learning, combined with enough good habits to get things done. The kind of person who constantly improves themselves and their work over time.
Mental Models: “Deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”
In other words, the ability to place yourself in other’s shoes, and objectively entertain an idea even if you don’t agree with it. The skill of being able to explore both sides of an argument.
These two traits are excellent predictors of a person’s success.
If you have talent, but not personal mastery, the risk is that your energy is wasted and your projects stagnate.
If you have subject knowledge but not mental models, you risk building products that no one wanted, and solve problems that didn’t really exist.
If you have both of these qualities, we can teach you how to do the job.
We can tell you what books to read, how investment works, the challenges of poverty alleviation, what work will help to sharpen your skills, and introduce you to the rest of the industry.
All of our best interns have been the ones who have shown these qualities – irrespective of their degrees or their age. These are also the interns who got offered jobs, and are the ones who are currently doing amazing work across the world.
If you want to work in an innovative field, you need to be comfortable stepping into the unknown. I really struggled with this when I first started with Bessi and Paul at TDi, because I wanted to fall back on structure, stability and be handed the “right answer”.
To cope in this environment, you need to get good at forcing yourself to get your work done, especially when you don’t feel like it.
It also means you can’t be one-eyed; you can’t get fixated on your own perspective.
These qualities are invisible, but you can see their influence and impact.
Here are a few areas where they tend to show up:
· Self-driven projects. This could be something you did for charity, or a side project that provides some extra cash. The kind of thing you did out of your own free will, and that you persevered with even when things were difficult.
· Stories where you changed your mind. I love stories about the moments that made a person do a complete 180. It takes humility and bravery to analyse the situation, decide you were wrong, and pursue the better option.
· Predictive Empathy – where you say “I bet that person felt…and would want to…” The skill of walking in the shoes of people you barely know, and making educated guesses without judgement.
· Examples of projects that were derailed, and required creativity and discipline to get things back on track (or find a new track).
· A trial scenario: Some companies get applicants to complete a small test project. For ANZ, I was in a simulated challenge, where a team of six applicants worked on a consulting report and presentation. It was a high pressure situation, and it was effective in weeding a few people out.
That’s why résumés aren’t an effective way of assessing candidates. What’s more important is your teachability, your drive and your comfort with working in the deep end.
I have not perfected either of these, but I’ve certainly made progress, thanks to the ultra-talented people I work with, and the wisdom of some incredible authors.
Both of these skills can be taught, but not overnight.
Five good books on Personal Mastery
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Mastery – Robert Greene
Leap First – Seth Godin
The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
Show Your Work! – Austin Kleon
Five good books on Mental Models
Seeing What Others Don’t – Gary Klein
A More Beautiful Question – Warren Berger
Value Proposition Design – Alexander Osterwalder
Predatory Thinking – Dave Trott
Misbehaving – Richard Thaler