What's Your Mental Model? November 2021 Newsletter Article
One of my professors at Northwestern always told me that she would listen to people and think “M&M...M&M.” It was her way of being curious. She would think, “That is their mental model. I wonder where that comes from?” M&M reminded her to stop short of judgement and think about those models.
Please allow me to share a powerful mental model that has played out in my life. I am finishing my fifth year as an assistant coach on our youngest’s (Riley’s) middle school tennis team. I have asked each of the girls if they want me to help and I have been fortunate for them to always answer with an excited “YES.”
At my core, I know I have always been a teacher and a coach. I have been coaching since I was sixteen, when I got my first job (outside of EDSI) as a little league baseball/softball coach for our local parks and recreation department. And yet, I was not planning to coach our girls. I had a mental model that they would listen more to someone else. I once heard Joe Montana on the radio, sharing that he was dropping his son off at Quarterback Camp. The hosts laughed, and said, “What, you’re Joe Montana, and you’re taking him to Quarterback Camp?” He replied, “Yeah, he doesn’t want to listen to his dad.”
I assumed the same thing. It would be good to give our daughters other perspectives, different voices, and they would be more open to listening. Reflecting on that thinking, it feels more like “either/or,” when I try to live my life as an “and/both” person. That is another example of a mental model. I believe nearly all things can exist as and/both solutions. Why couldn’t I coach the girls when those opportunities were present and introduce them to other coaching whenever it was appropriate?
That updated mental model was reinforced when Lauren, our oldest, was less than a year old. I reached out to a dozen men in my life who had adult daughters who seemed happy in their pursuits. I took each of my friends to breakfast or lunch and asked them what they remembered doing, intentionally, in raising their daughters. My college golf coach joked that I should “Talk to Peg,” his wife. I said, “No, I’m now a dad. You’re a dad, and I know you had a huge influence on their lives.” He shared that I should treat them like individuals. “They are different kids. Be available for them individually and reinforce how they are unique and special.”
I went to breakfast with Casey White’s (EDSI’s Marketing Director) dad, my good friend Tim. In addition to referring Casey to EDSI more than a decade ago (thank you Tim), he had his own mental model about raising healthy, happy, daughters. Tim said, “Keep ‘em busy. It doesn’t matter what it is, just keep them engaged in sports or dance. Between that and school, they won’t have any time for nonsense.”
My close friend Ed was the one who convinced me to coach. Again, I was thinking it was better that I keep my distance and let others direct them in sports or drama. Ed told me that the time would fly by, and I would never regret spending more time around the girls. “Why would you hand them off to someone else if you have an opportunity to coach? If you believe in what you are doing, why not provide that influence for them.” Ed said that he coached as often as he was able when his kids were young.
All the men I asked for help showed up and gave me little nuggets of wisdom. Their daughters were not happy and healthy adults by accident, and they were excited to share their mental models with me. I know their input made me a better father. The collective knowledge helped to shape many of the ideas I continue to test and implement today.
Years later, I was introduced to an author and speaker, David Friedman. The other CEOs in my professional group were teasing me, because David purchased his company from his father and seemed to talk exclusively about culture and people. From my perspective, we shared a lot of mental models. I took the opportunity to connect with David, and he asked if we could go to dinner the next time he was in Detroit.
When we met, he said that his children, a son and a daughter, were now grown and both would be getting married in the upcoming year. As I asked him additional questions about their childhoods, their friends, their college choices, careers, and pursuits. It appeared that they were both happy and healthy adults. So, I asked David if he remembered what intentional decisions he and his wife made as they were raising their children. He said, “You know Kevin, we talk so much about culture, values, and work, and if I had it to do all over again, I would bring that thinking home to my family. You only have so many opportunities to influence them, and they hear so many different messages. I would be more consistent with two to three values and repeat those messages.” What a powerful mental model, born from powerful experience and reflection. Author’s note: That is another mental model. I value experience and reflection. You will be spotting people’s mental models everywhere now.
I appreciated David’s message and took Show Up, Smile, Support, home to our girls many years ago. Our Daily Ways are different, and we needed to design a family logo (photo below). What else would I put on the back of the gratitude coins they receive? To this day, we discuss a Daily Way on Monday at the dinner table. This week, we are focused on FIO (figure it out). We talk about resilience and share stories about how we zigged and zagged, whenever we felt stuck. I still love leaving gratitude coins on their desk, or on their bed, when I catch them doing something right. They get little post-it notes, a card, or a letter, that describes why they are getting the coin and thanks them for showing up, being positive, and supporting others.
Hopefully, you will be spotting people’s mental models now. It is a wonderful way to stay kind and curious throughout these challenging times. I like to imagine people’s story. Where did that mental model come from? Why do they value that trait or behavior over something else? I love people, and I am constantly curious.
We get a chance to influence others with our mental models. That is never more obvious than when we are raising children. I hope every opportunity we get can be grounded in values like Show Up, Smile and Support. I hope we always lead with gratitude for others and give them (and ourselves) great grace. I hope we can be kind and curious in our interactions. I know we are doing that at EDSI, and it makes me so proud to be part of this effort with you. May all your mental models help you, those you love, and those you serve, live positive lives, full of powerful possibilities.
Please take care of yourselves and one another. I am always here to support you.