Chapter 6: Part 1 – Innovation: Rebuilding Mental Models

So, what exactly is the “user experience”? Before revealing the answer, let’s go back to the source. Experience comes from our brains. Our understanding of the world is actually a mapping of the external world by our own brains. We interact with the external world based on our “minds” and make decisions. But this interaction relies on “mental models”.

In psychology, “mental models” refer to various patterns that are deeply rooted in everyone’s mind and help us think about problems. Jay Wright Forrester, the founder of system dynamics, believes: “The image of the surrounding world in our minds is just a model. No one will construct the entire world, country or government in their own minds. They just choose concepts and the connections between these concepts and use them to represent real systems.”

Our thinking and reasoning rely on various large and small “mental models”. People with different cultures, industries, and professional backgrounds have both common “mental models” and many different “mental models”. Moreover, most “mental models” are quick thinking, based on experience and completed by intuition, so there are often biases. We have mentioned before that more than 96% of people’s decisions rely on this intuitive thinking rather than slow and rational logical thinking.

Therefore, when facing new changes, using “mental models” formed based on old experiences to think about new problems often makes mistakes. But we have entered an era of accelerated technological development, so we will constantly encounter various changes both inside and outside the organization. For example, competitors launch new products and seize our market share. But we often use old “mental models” to forcibly explain these new phenomena and guide our behavior with old “mental models”. For example, we may find that market sales are declining and decide to increase advertising and promotion efforts based on past experience. These measures will be effective temporarily. But these effects may also make us ignore the real problem: a new product from a competitor is replacing our old product until things are completely out of control.

Lean manufacturing is a quality management model first proposed by Japan’s Toyota Company. It subverts the traditional assembly line production method and proposes to use “orders” to drive production. One very important method is to expose quality problems at the first time through “zero inventory” for continuous improvement. After adopting lean manufacturing methods, Toyota’s costs have decreased and quality has improved significantly. In the 1980s, they entered the American market on a large scale. The automobile industry was once a traditional advantage industry in the United States. The American automobile industry was shocked by the rise of Japanese companies. They were at a loss as to why the Japanese suddenly became so powerful. It is said that at that time an American automobile delegation visited Toyota’s automobile factory. After returning, an American expert said: “These Japanese people are very bad, they showed us a fake factory.” He said: “I have been in the automobile industry for decades and have seen countless large and small factories. Every factory will have inventory parts.” He then analyzed: “But there is no inventory in this Toyota factory. Obviously, they specially built a fake factory to deceive us.” Obviously, this expert is a smart person who discovered the key issue from a very small detail: “zero inventory”. But his “mental model” forcibly interpreted this detail as “the Japanese deliberately built a fake factory to deceive us”, without realizing that this was precisely the key to Japanese success.

This kind of problem also occurs in our users or customers. When innovative products appear, most people will be skeptical about the future prospects depicted by innovators. Think about when steam engines, cars, computers, and the Internet first appeared. How did people react to these new technologies? Did they believe that these new technologies would change the world? No, most people did not believe it. They didn’t even realize that they needed to pay attention to these new things.

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