Change Your Model, Change Your World

By Balaji Prasad

“You never change the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model
that makes the existing model obsolete."
~Buckminster Fuller

The universe is a mysterious thing. When you look at it, it appears to you in a certain way. When someone else looks at it, it may appear to him or her in a form that is different from how it appears to you. That is something. Is it this thing, or is it that thing? But wait. It gets worse. There are billions of people on this planet. Surely, there cannot be a different universe for each person? There is, after all, only one “real" thing out there, is it not? There is no way to confirm this one way or another, since we have to rely on each other to share our individual views of the universe, and somehow figure out from those descriptions whether we see things the same way. Or not. Judging by how often people disagree on even the littlest of things, though, it would seem reasonable to assume that there are billions of views of the universe. The question of whether there is an actual one outside these billions of views is a matter that will be left to some philosopher to ponder a little more productively, a few thousand years from now.

What you see is what you get

Most of us may not have the time or inclination to keep doubting the veracity of our eyes and other senses. So we end up dealing with the world as we think of it as being more or less synonymous with the world as it is, assuming, of course, that there is indeed such a thing.

But maybe it is helpful to stop, at least once in a while, to think about what if what we see is not what we get. What if many of the things we “see" are incorrectly seen? What if our convictions, if seen by an imaginary observer out there in the real world where the real world exists, are horrendously off-track? Then many of our actions would be off-target. We would be shooting in the dark, or at least working off of some faint reflection of the reality that is not the same as the actual reality.

Arjuna's challenge

In the real world, there are many challenges that come between people and their goals. It is not always easy to get selected for a job, be chosen by a life partner, and so on. And so it was, with Arjuna, in a faraway mythical land depicted in the great Indian epic, the "Mahabharata". Arjuna was a famed warrior whose prowess with the bow and arrow was legendary. The Pandava's skill served him well in gaining him the hand of Draupadi, the daughter of the king of Panchala. In what might have been an ancient version of the reality show, The Bachelorette, Arjuna was pitted against many accomplished princes and noblemen in a contest to win the hand of the winsome princess. The challenge posed to the contestants was to string a heavy bow and shoot an arrow into the eye of a fish rotating above a pool of water. The constraint imposed on the contestant was that they could not look at the fish directly; they would need to rely on the image of the wobbling fish in the pool of water. Arjuna's aim was true, of course, and he walked away with the winsome lass, along with the blessings of the impressed king.

Maybe there was a point to this story; the authors of myths and legends generally tried to make some point or the other, using the story as a vehicle to do so. Maybe the insight to be drawn from the story is that things are not easily seen as they are, that they are wobbly, difficult-to-discern and fleeting. And, that we only get a murky reflection to work with as we seek to attain the thing of interest.

How you see is how you get

The pool of water enabled Arjuna to see, even if only ever so dimly. If we relate to his difficult task as told in the legend, perhaps we can relate to ours as well. We have our very own fish-eye targets, and the corresponding pools of water that give us a hint of the direction needed.

Being a good marksman matters. Arjuna's secret was that he used to practice in the dark. In a more modern-day story, Mr. Miyagi trains his student, Julie, in the movie, The Next Karate Kid, by asking her to anticipate and block attacks while blindfolded. Maybe we would do well to follow suit, and look to hone our skills in the depths of darkness? Maybe we do! Most of our actions are, arguably, in the dark. We do things based on what we think we see. The world then responds back to us. We get our feedback. If we learn well, we clear our internal “pool of water" a little bit with the clarification power of the feedback. And again. And, yet again. As time goes on, maybe the pool becomes a bit clearer at least in places. Maybe we are able to see a tad bit better. And, maybe we are able to hit our fish somewhere, at least enough to get us what we need, even if not quite what we want.

An archer who sees well gets the fish. A diligent archer seeks to make the pool clearer.

Behind your eyes

The magical pool of water is the one that lies behind our eyes. We all have our models of the world, models shaped with or with or without our conscious awareness that we are doing so. There are many models that can be created, shaped and held. The influences that shape these models often lie outside of us – in the societies, environments and upbringing that we find ourselves in, often without our consent. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to separate the parts of our model that are shaped on the anvil of real life experience from those that are indoctrinated and breathed into us by our circumstances. We are ultimately products of the world without, and the world within. The genealogy of our model is only a historical footnote; the important thing is to realize that there is a model that is ours.

Maybe seeing that there is a model behind the madness can help us see that if we wish to change the world, we may be able to do that by simply changing the model. Some of the change can happen incrementally, but sometimes, just sometimes … can't we just flip the model on its head? And change the world, and our experience of it, instantly? May your model change. And, your world.


Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or