Life Challenges Trigger Stage Growth Vertical Development

Recoding Our “Internal Model of Reality”

When reflecting upon the words of Dee W. Hock, the founder and CEO of the VISA credit card association who passed away last year, it becomes evidently apparent to me that what’s missing in our world today is a concerted effort to communicate and explain what we are feeling right now (i.e. fear, stress, anxiety) and how it relates to the psychology of change. In effect, to change our world around us, we need to begin by changing our world(view) within us. And even to consider that means realizing that we’re not seeing reality directly in the first place but rather just a construct of it.

At a much deeper level, usually without awareness, we inevitably construct a concept of reality—a world view, an internal model of reality— against which we compare current experience in order to create meaning. It is how we make sense of the external world, our place in it, ourselves, and our actions. It is, or at least ought to be, the home of wisdom.

When there is an explosion in the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform, and transmit information, the external world changes at a rate enormously greater than the rate at which our internal model evolves. Nothing behaves as we think it should. Nothing makes sense. At times the world appears to be staging a madhouse. It is never a madhouse. It is merely the great tide of evolution in temporary flood, moving this way and that, piling up against that which obstructs its flow, trying to break loose and sweep away that which opposes it. At such times, we experience extreme dissonance and stress.

At the heart of that dissonance and stress is paradox. The more powerful and entrenched our internal model of reality, the more difficult it is to perceive and understand the fundamental nature of the changed world we experience. Yet without such perception, it is extremely difficult to understand and change our internal model.

This is precisely where we are today, and it is rapidly getting worse. Deep in most of us, below our awareness, indelibly implanted there by three centuries of the Industrial Age, is the mechanistic, separatist, cause-and-effect, command-and-control, machine model of reality.

Dee W. Hock, Internal Model of Reality

When it becomes necessary to develop a new perception of things, a new internal model of reality, the problem is never to get new ideas in, the problem is to get old ideas out. Every mind is filled with old furniture. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. We hate to throw it out. The old maxim so often applied to the physical world, “nature abhors a vacuum”, is much more applicable to the mental world. Clear any room in your mind of old perspectives, and new perceptions will rush in. Yet, there is nothing we fear more. It is our individual perspective, the view from our internal temple of reality, that constantly discolors and distorts our perception, blinding us to how things might become, or conceiving of how they ought to be. Perspective is the Achilles heel of the mind.

In a very real sense, we are our ideas, concepts and perceptions. Giving up any part of our internal model of reality is as bad as losing a finger or an eye. Part of us no longer exists. Fortunately, unlike most organs of the physical body, internal concepts of reality can be regenerated, although never as they were. It is a joyful and enervating in the end, but frightening and painful in the process. I was a long time realizing I had one. Even longer realizing how mechanistic it was and how archaic it had become. Oh, how I hated to give it up.

Dee W. Hock, Perception and Perspective

Note his emphasis on the primary problem being “getting old ideas out” which resonates closely with what Alvin Toffler said below. And again, note Alvin is not referring to technological skills here (as some people might believe) but rather the ability to transform our perception and worldview (so more about unlearning deeply engrained beliefs and organizational cultures).

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler

I think this is why even though my initial passion emerged around The Future of Work, social innovation, and creativity (because work wasn’t working for me at the time), vertical development became all consuming for me when I encountered it and began to understand it because it was the foundational core that unified all of these things together into a larger, relational narrative. It also helps to explain why after two decades of people trying to transform and change business mindsets, very little headway has been made.