Mental Models

“Professional Defects” Fallacy

We perceive and interpret the world also through the knowledge and beliefs of our profession as many of the mental models we’ve acquired derive or relate to it. These mental models can help us make better sense of the quotidian life, however they can become a burden when they make us start ignoring or misinterpreting some (important) aspects of it.

This typically happens when the mental models derived from our profession lose their validity or accuracy when translated automatically from one environment to another, especially when we aren’t aware of the implications of this extension and the effect it has on us. When this happens, we can talk about a fallacy I arrived to know as a ‘professional defect’.

For example, a mathematician or somebody with strong mathematical background arrives to think of the world around him in terms of probability for an event to happen. On one side this can prove as a powerful tool to quantify and predict certain events, and evaluate complex situations, though might make the person ignore the area of impossible, expressed maybe in opportunities with small chances to happen, opportunities that when considered could have a huge impact on his live.

Not far from the previous example, a philosopher builds in his mind a world of ideas, and sooner or later arrives to evaluate the world around and his personal interactions with the world based on the philosophical currents he adheres to. No matter how complete and well-established a philosophy is, it’s a human based system of beliefs and models, with its loops and wholes. Sooner or later the philosopher will find himself trapped in the threads of his own philosophy as long he applies it too deep und unaware into his personal life. From this perspective it will be hard for a philosopher to be happy and content with his life.

A psychologist or somebody with a similar background may arrive to judge the people outside his praxis based on the traits they reveal. A doctor may start to see in people the predispositions to or existence of a given disease, arriving maybe to judge people based on certain health predispositions. A dentist might start evaluating people based on the denture they have. An artist may treat as inferior people those who don’t exhibit any artistic skills. Each profession comes with its own type of similar fallacies.

We spend an important part of our lives at work or thinking about work. For sure, models’ transition from professional to personal life may seem natural as the professional life extends itself sometimes beyond the borders of our profession — some coworkers become our friends, we spend more and more time in communities related to our profession. Moreover, we meet same type or similar situations in which the models we learned seem to apply naturally.

The problem comes usually when we ignore that we deal with a different type of environment with its own characteristics, with different groups of people having higher diversity reflected in their beliefs, skillset, hobbies, expectations and other characteristics than the ones we typically meet in professional life. An environmental change implies also changes of assumptions, setups, behavior, rules, aims, etc. When we are not aware of these nuances, then more likely we don’t adapt our models to the new situations derived from such changes.

It’s important to identify the professional defects we hold, especially those that have a considerable impact on our lives, become aware of them and address the feedback we receive accordingly. It’s up to us to do the work, to challenge and adapt our models as the environment changes.

IT professional/blogger with more than 19 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management

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IT professional/blogger with more than 19 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management

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