By Dip Patel, CTO at Soluna
My whole life, I’ve had gut feelings that hit me which were remarkably accurate. I knew my brain was going through some sort of thought process and coming up with correlations that felt unstructured and gave me a primal reaction. These feelings would come on when I played poker, when I was sniffing out problems in production lines or radar, and when I was building my first company.
Around 10 months ago, my mentor and current CEO John Belizaire shared this incredible article that talked about mental models — recurring concepts that help us explain, predict, or approach seemingly disparate subjects. This article specifically, taught of a model called the “Circle of Competence,” which has been used over and over by one Warren Buffet — a cowboy in Omaha.
This article brought me down a rabbit hole of mental models. The thing is, the more models you can learn, and start to employ as instinct, the deeper you will understand the world. I learned that if I can develop a framework of mental models, I would effectively unlock a superpower of decision making.
It all clicked, what I used to attribute to my “gut” feeling was actually my brain exercising these mental models instinctively.
A few months later, John gifted me what would turn into one of my favorite books of all time: Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models. This book is co-authored by a bad-ass husband and wife team (Gabriel and Lauden), who graduated from MIT. (Side note, Gabriel is the founder of privacy-centric search engine Duckduckgo.com, my favorite). They have found a way to pack a lot of material in a dense, but fun narrative.
Super Thinking walks you through more than 100 different mental models, and it does so quickly — with no fluff — while still keeping the narrative interesting. Literally. every page is dense with information. So much so that you can’t just sit and read this book like a novel — you almost need to treat it like a reference textbook. After reading it more than once, my suggestion would be to read it, learn and understand the mental models and then try to integrate each one into your daily routine. The more you can relate these models to everyday life, the more powerful the book becomes.
Turns out I was already familiar with a few of them (Occam’s Razor, Murphy’s Law, Compound Interest, to name a few) — but for everyone model I knew, there were probably 10 that I didn’t.
I’ve been studying this book over the past several months, while slowly trying to incorporate the mental models into my day-to-day life. Here are some of my favorites that were new to me from just the first few chapters alone! (The descriptions below are shamelessly taken from the book):
- Tragedy of the Commons — “A class of unintended consequences that arise when a lot of people choose what they think is best for them individually, but the sum total of the decisions creates a worse outcome for everyone.”₁
- Fundamental attribution error — “…where you frequently make errors by attributing others’ behaviors to their internal, or fundamental, motivations rather than external factors. You are guilty of the fundamental attribution error when you think someone was mean because he/she is mean, rather than thinking he/she was having a bad day.”²
- Semmelweis Reflex — “Obvious and empirical truths that should have been investigated by other scientists but were reflexively rejected by these scientists because the suggested explanations were not in line with the conventional thinking of the time.”³ (Think about the fact that Galileo went to prison for publishing that he believed in a heliocentric universe.)
I could keep going! While there are hundreds of mental models out there, this book has done a great job of curating the best ones and does an even better job of showing the relationship between them all.
I think of this book as a cheat code book for life. When I was a kid, there was no (public) internet — and so the way I would learn about cheat codes in video games was through books and magazines.
This book is just like that.
On every page, I learn something new that I can apply to my professional and personal life almost instantly, and it helps me cope with difficult situations.
One example is when I am advising companies on fundraising strategies, I use a combination of mental models such as “third story” to help remove emotion from a discussion and formulate an effective strategy.
Seriously, you should get this book! I’m sure your local library has it. Give it a shot.
Spend a year learning it and please let me know how it works out for you! 🙂
₁Gabriel Weinberg, Lauden McCann, Super Thinking The Big Book of Mental Models (USA: Portfolio, 2019), 37.
₂Gabriel Weinberg, Lauden McCann, Super Thinking The Big Book of Mental Models (USA: Portfolio, 2019), 20–21.
₃Gabriel Weinberg, Lauden McCann, Super Thinking The Big Book of Mental Models (USA: Portfolio, 2019), 26.