Abstraction, perception, and the human mind: hidden challenges in business modelling
The individual perceptions, culture and value orientations, either consciously or unconsciously, might be responsible for fictitious and problematic elements included in a Business Process Models. In this article we are
borrowing a study developed for information systems modeling, that we believe can put new perspectives in our field of study.
Abstraction and mental representation are crucial stages in the process of modeling. Schichl and Pidd concur that a model is a representation of the interpretation and conception of an analyst mind. Yes, an sequence of action that no human being can see, track, and barely understand.In FRISCO report (a framework of information system concepts), "Information systems are more than just pure technical artifacts. FRISCO introduces an interdisciplinary, socio-technical view of information systems". In the report, Falkenberg et al. have represented the modeling process as a sequence of actions; first, the act of perception focuses on an object.
Subsequently, the mental actions of selection, memorization, conception, and decision-making manipulate the object into the analyst’s interpretation of it. The analyst presents part of the study object in a formalized model. By expanding this sequence of action for two individuals working together on a modeling project, it is possible to establish an interrelated chain of actions.
The figure represents the main steps of a modeling interaction involving two actors. Stages 1, 5 and 9 are explicit and can be observed from the outside. On the other hand, Stages 2, 3 and 4 are performed internally in the minds of each one of the two analysts. Although these implicit steps can be considered core stages in the conception of a model, they represent hidden actions that are not accessible to the outside world.
Falkenberg et al. and Pidd use several keywords to define the modeling process abstraction, interpretation, intention, perception, conception, and representation. All of these keywords can be related to cognitive and normative aspects as well as to the cultural identities of the analysts (see a previous post on System Thinking).
Abstraction and mental representation are crucial stages in the process of modeling. Schichl and Pidd concur that a model is a representation of the interpretation and conception of an analyst. Similarly, Falkenberg et al. have represented the modeling process as a sequence of actions; first, the act of perception focuses on an object.
Technical and operational disagreements among project stakeholders are very common, and the professionals involved are used to dealing with such conflicts. However, many business professionals, analysts, and engineers are unfamiliar with discrepancies that are rooted in personal interpretation of the reality, usually hidden within human minds. They struggle to resolve these disagreements because they are not in the pages of a technical textbook.
M. Pidd, Tools for Thinking: Modelling in Management Science. New York, NY: Wiley, 2003.
H. Schichl, “Models and History of Modeling” in Modeling Languages in Mathematical Optimization, ch. 2, pp. 25-36. J. Kallrath, Ed. Boston: Kluwer, 2004 [Online]. http://www.mat.univie.ac.at/~herman/papers/modtheoc.pdf
E. D. Falkenberg et al., "A Framework of Information System Concepts - The FRISCO Report (Web edition)," IFIP - International Federation for Information Processing, 1998.