Mental Model and Biases


I had the chance to have a dinner in the dark few weeks ago. We arrived in an old waterhouse transformed into a restaurant, no light could penetrate the room. The principle is to eat a normal meal with “entrée, plat, dessert” without knowing what we are about to eat. All the meal takes place in total darkness. You cannot see your hands in front of your face.

The owner of the restaurant explained that this experience will change the way we look at our food and more precisely its taste. It also gave me a good insight on organizational life. Let me develop my thoughts. In the dark, the only information you have about the food you eat are its smell, consistency and taste. Your eyes are useless. Here are the most stunning revelations I got from this dinner.

Break mental models to develop innovation:


Because of the temporal blindness you start to act weirdly. You become totally aware of what is happening around you. You think that the waiter is next to you when you feel a fresh breeze or when the floor starts to vibrates. But in fact, you have no idea… You make comments on anything you feel. “Oh, there is a plate in front of me and it is warm!”
In organizational life, they are many interactions that seem simple and normal but are you really paying attention to them? We get used to our surroundings, rituals, habits and so on. We call those mental models. The blindness makes us aware of the existence of those mental models which guide us in our daily life.
Blindness allows us to perceive what could be improved in an organization. This permits to innovate and solve issues that are not visible as they are integrated into the mental models we have.

Your first memory influence future reactions when reinforced:


Are you eating lamb or pork? Well, after few exchanges with your neighbors you are not really sure. You are even more confused. Are you having the same meal?

The role of our eyes in our approach to food is phenomenal. Once, we tried carrots for the first time. We registered its taste, consistency, and color and were able to determine if we liked it or not. In the dark, some participants liked carrots when they swore they hated them since they are seven years old. Their eyes were not able to alarm them of the presence of carrots in the dish. What does that mean? The first time we eat something we register all information about it. Then, when we have it again the “souvenir” of the first time comes back to our mind and we taste the carrots that we ate the first time in our life.

Translated to organizational management the first experience impacts the way we perceive future experiences. It is useful to understand this bias when it comes to customers and employees retention. You want the first experience to be the best one and the second one to reinforce it so that even if people taste may change they will keep coming back.

This dinner in the dark opened my eyes to a world that was invisible to me before and I hope that you enjoyed it too.

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