Conference Innovation Through Paradigm Busting

H comme ... Heurter

A strong driving force lies just beneath what you do on a daily basis.

It is the unspoken, unrecognized, and unquestioned assumptions that steer your thinking, decisions and actions. These views developed over time and through education, experiences and interactions with others. These mental models are deeply embedded in our conference planning and management practices.

We often become prisoners to our mental models. They cage our thinking and doom us to experience our own personal looped Groundhog Day. We are constantly repeating the past, identifying the same challenges and constructing the same solutions. Hence, we also get the same results that we got the last time.

Savvy conference organizers realize that their mental models have much more influence over their outcomes than their decisions and actions. To be successful in the future, conference organizers must become paradigm busters–examining, challenging and changing their conventional mental models.

Our Mental Model Lens

We see what our mental models permit us to see.

Consequently, we can only do what our mental models permit us to do. When the way we view planning and managing our conferences changes, we can then change our actions and get very different results.

The problems with mental models arise when they become implicit – when they exist below the level of our awareness…because we remain unaware of our mental models, the models remain unexamined. Because they are unexamined, the models remain unchanged. As the world changes, the gap widens between our mental models and reality, leading to increasingly counterproductive actions. Peter Senge.

Our Mental Models Resist Change

I think, therefore I am resistant to change says professor and change agent expert Frank Duffy.

We do not easily dismiss our mental models.

This is especially true of our conference mental frameworks. We swear by them as long as they seem to produce reasonable results.

People tend to hold onto their theories until incontrovertible evidence, usually in the form of failures, convinces them to accept new paradigms. ~ Henry Petroski.

Becoming Paradigm Busters

Our conference success depends upon us stepping outside of our preconceived mental models. We must become paradigm-busters.

To bust our conference paradigms, we have to turn our mirrors inward and identify our mental models says authors and thought leaders Peter Senge and Ruhi Beri.

The process of conference paradigm busting* involves:

1. Surfacing our cognitive conference constructs.

Identifying our conference cognitive beliefs is the first step. We have to bring our mental models to the surface. This is often a difficult and onerous step.

2. Examining, challenging and testing these models.

Once we bring our conference mental models to the surface we can examine them rigorously in the light. We use data from past events to see if there is any evidence to back our beliefs.

3. Reframing and improving our models of how our conferences work.

Once we uncover and examine incorrect conference paradigms, we should reframe them. We create new conference frameworks with data and evidence serving as our foundation. We can also use scenario planning to consider how these new mental models will guide our future conferences.

It is only after we bust our conference paradigms that can we imagine new ways to understand the conference world. It is only then that we can expect different results.

* Ruth Beri’s Mental Models, Masa Magna’s Mental Models for Leadership Effectiveness, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization and The Systems Leadership Institute.

What are some conference mental models that need to be busted? How can we help others recognize and reframe their conference paradigms?

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