Episode 3: Mental Models & Orientation

Mental models are the stories we construct to understand how things work. They mirror the events or system they are modeling, but they capture only a limited aspect of those events or that system. We form mental models from the way we understand causes.

The mental models of experts include more knowledge and also enable the experts to see more connections. These--knowledge and connections--are two defining features of complexity. The mental models of experts are more complex than of other people.


Expertise gives rise to errors. With more experience, we learn more patterns. 


skilled performance depends on the way we look and listen. it depends on what we can notice and what kinds of discriminations we can make.



Our mindsets frame the cues in front of us and the events that are unfolding so we can make sense of everything. 

Two conditions are necessary for reliable intuitions to develop.

  1. Situation must be reasonably predictable, and
  2. People must have opportunities to learn.

Low predictability situations make it unlikely that people can develop expertise because it is so hard to identify reliable cues.

Boyd's concept of Orientation is similar to Gary Klein's concept of Mental Models. Mental Models are comprised of you 

  • Individual experiences
  • Cultural experiences
  • Institutional/Organizational experiences

Boyd's Orientation includes

  • Cultural traditions
  • Analysis and Synthesis
  • Previous Experience
  • New Information
  • Genetic Heritage

Both Orientation and Mental Models inform our Values. Values, as you may recall from Episode One:  What is Judgment? are one of three elements to judgment.

  1. Action Judgments (What is to be done?)
  2. Reality Judgments (What is going on?)
  3. Value Judgments (What difference does it make?)

As you can now see, our value judgments are informed by who we are. If you cannot answer this question, your value judgments will be inconsistent; your observations will be inconsistent; and finally, your mental models will remain simplistic and lack the sophistication developed with the acquisition of expertise.  

To improve Performance we need to do two)things.:The down arrow is what we have to reduce, errors. The up arrow is what we have to increase, insights. Performance improvement depends on these two things. 

Insights shift us toward a new story, a new set of beliefs that are more accurate, more comprehensive and more useful. Which thereby sophisticates our mental models, sophistication and complexity are two defining characteristics of the mental models of experts.

Our insights transform us in several ways. They change how we understand, act, see, feel, and desire. They change how we understand. They transform our thinking; our new story gives us a different viewpoint. They change how we act. In some cases insights transform our abilities as well as our understanding. Insights change our notions of what we can do. These shifts go beyond a richer story about how the world works. Insights transform how we see; we look for different things in keeping with our new story. Insights transform how we feel--what excites us or makes us nervous. Finally, insights change our desires; the new stories shift our goals, leading us to give up some ambitions and pursue others.

"Insight is when it happens, everything that happens afterward is different." Hilary Mantel made the same observation in Wolf Hall: "Insight cannot be taken back. YOu cannot return to the moment you were in before."