Mental Model Traps

Mental Model Traps result from an erroneous representation of how something works.

A Curiously French Complaint

Kirby, E. (2008). “ A Curiously French Complaint,” BBC News.  Retrieved on 2008/12/13. Summary: This article focuses on the cultural differences between the French and British populations in regards to their medical care. Each culture has their own script of understanding, which people rely to set their expectations during a medical crisis. The author Emma experienced a cultural ‘shock’ during her first encounter with a French doctor due to her vastly different set of expectations. She visits a doctor in France due to the severity of a sore throat, where she is “diagnosed with a severe lung infection, mild asthma and had in my hand a prescription for six different types of medicine, an appointment at the local hospital’s radiology department and an emergency referral to a specialist in pulmonary disease (article).” Upon her return to Britain a few days later, she visits her family physician, who within a few minutes diagnoses her with only a ‘common cold.’ Her article then explains how the French expect a much more sever diagnosis to support their physical suffering. France is also the leading country of consumers who take prescription medications. While in England, there’s a more ‘keep a stiff upper lip’…

Working Memory Limitations vs. the Size of Problem

Three BLind Men and an Elephant Proverb

The illustration above comes from Wikipedia, which has a complete entry on the Asian proverb about blind monks who examine an elephant and generate multiple hypotheses of what it could be. In product design speak, these monks are doing collaborative problem solving with a shared goal of identifying a mysterious object—the elephant. The monks, the story goes, all come from different backgrounds: an old tailor touching an elephant’s ear describes it as cloth; an aging gardner hugging the leg imagines a tree trunk; an elephant’s tusk is envisioned as a weapon by an arms master. Each monk brings his own life’s worth of experience to bear on the problem, but each has very limited access to the whole. It’s easy to see how this story can be used to explain the pains of collaborative and cooperative group projects in which individuals focus on product design. Each person brings their own expertise to the table, hopefully contributing positively to the whole process. But this story is also a good metaphor for understanding problem solving in context of our very limited working memory capacity. Unlike elementary school math problems that we all calculated, real world problems are messy and don’t come with…