The $110,000 Slide

I often begin presentations with a particular Power Point slide. I call it my $110,000 slide. At Michigan we have a three week program for top executives. We charge $110,000 for the three week experience. The participants are exposed to many professors who make many presentations. Near the end we ask the participants to each make a presentation of their future action agenda based on what they learned in the program. We tell them they are free to use any slide from any presentation. As they make their presentations most employ the $110,000 slide.

What does the slide say? On one side of the slide is a visual with a map inside the mind of a person. On the other is a quote: “If leaders cannot change individual’s mental maps, they will not change the destinations people pursue or the paths they take to get there (Black and Gregersen, 2003).”

I ask participants to restate the sentence in their own words. They explain to me that people in organizations make assumptions and their behavior follows their assumptions. So, if you cannot change the assumptions they make, that is, their mental maps, then their behavior will not change and any proposed innovation will fail.

I click a button and a statement from Peter Drucker shows up. It reads, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

As we talk about the final sentence it becomes clear that mental maps are the essence of organizational culture. Executives tend to spend their time analyzing problems and formulating strategies. They spend little time thinking effectively about cultural change.

The participants are experienced enough to know the power of culture. I, nevertheless, push the point. I make the claim that most executives, including CEOs, do not know how to change culture and that most executives are therefore not leaders. This rankles and the senior executives want to push back.  I drown them with examples of failed change efforts. Finally I ask them to examine their own experiences in culture change. The point becomes irrefutable and we spend the rest of the time talking about how to do cultural change.  In the end they see so much value in the discussion that they include the slide in nearly every presentation.

Reflection

What is a mental map?

Why does culture eat strategy?

What mental maps keep us from making successful change?

How could we use this passage to become a more positive organization?

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