Anytime you think about anything you’re using a mental model. Your understanding of how the public transit works? A mental model. It’s a simplified abstraction which your mind creates to plot the most relevant data points to create optimized understanding without wasting brain power. Sort of like the equilibrium point in an economy of complexity, and compression of information.
Since our brains do this anyways with every piece of sensory information in the world, it makes sense to adopt better mental models that others have created based on research. Let’s take a look at the Myers-Briggs personality profiling tool.
I personally know about 100 people in enough detail that I could “type” them (for instance I’m an ENTP whereas my brother’s an ISTJ). Using this framework I can get incredible insights into how to communicate with my brother, how he perceives the world, what he values and so on. Whereas if I was relying on my own mental model before I’d learned the Myers-Briggs model. I’d have amongst my 100 people, 100 data points which I could use to create some simple abstractions like “oh they’re people persons” or “she doesn’t like going out much” (An extrovert vs introvert comparison using common language).
The point is our personal heuristics lack the complexity and depth of research-backed models. They also have a lot more irrelevant “noise” which isn’t important to understand but which gets in the way because our brains can’t parse out what’s important and what isn’t. Basically, we can’t be an expert on everything so by applying science-backed models to areas like these we can view the world through a much more sophisticated, efficient lense without wasting any extra brain power.
Some other models I love using are;
- Business Models Canvas’s (for highlighting the important components of a business)
- Hofstede’s 6 Cultural Dimensions (understanding differences between cultures)
- Enneagrams (understanding personality and values)
- Classical and Operant Conditioning (behavior and motivation)
- CQPPRT (tool for assigning tasks)
- PESTEL (tool for understanding implications in the macro business environment)
- Lean Startup (process for efficiently ideating, prototyping, and scaling a new venture)
And so on. You may disagree with my classification of what constitutes a “mental model” vs a “tool” or have some interesting models or tools yourself you love using in your life and profession. Comment in either case and let’s start a master list people can use to better understand the world!
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Andrew is a design graduate student in Toronto who writes about leadership, design, and startups. Visit his blog Lead Boldly for exclusive content. Or say hey on Quora | Instagram | FaceBook | Twitter | LinkedIn.