🧠 Mental Models

Mental models are intellectual tools and frameworks, similar to algorithms, allowing us to make sense of a situation or solve a problem.

Daniel Jarjoura
Daniel Jarjoura

Let’s talk about mental models.

💡
Mental models are intellectual tools and frameworks, similar to algorithms, allowing us to make sense of a situation or solve a problem.

🤔 Why you should care about it

The first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back […]. You’ve got to have models in your head.” - Charlie Munger, vice chairman at Berkshire Hathaway.

Like investors, CTOs and engineering leaders have to make impactful decisions (technological choices, build vs buy, hiring, etc.) with limited information in a fast-changing environment.

😫 Problem(s)

No one taught you how to decide —> Decision-making is not a skill but the ability to use a series of tools and frameworks (models).

We’re predictably irrational —> When making decisions, we are highly subject to cognitive biases; knowledge of these biases, unfortunately, doesn’t help us make better decisions.

We trust our “experience” —> Experience is the ability to learn from past mistakes consciously. When the learning is unconscious, we’re merely making arbitrary decisions or falling into cognitive biases.

😃 Solution

The best decision-makers use and continuously update a latticework of models to help them understand situations and solve problems. Models are internal representations of reality and offer, in essence, a simplified version of complex problems. Ideally, you should use multiple models for the same problem and check their validity in the future to learn from the results and update the models.

💡 Some mental models for engineers

Systems Thinking —> the ability to deconstruct a problem into interconnected elements, stocks and flows, to produce a function or purpose.

Theory of Constraints —> any manageable system is limited in achieving more of its goals by a small number of constraints.

Second-order thinking —> the ability to go beyond the initial impact of a decision (aka “and then what”)

Sunk costs fallacy —> we are most likely to continue an endeavour if we have already invested in it, minimising downsides and new information in the process.

Root-cause analysis —> going beyond the perceived symptom of a problem to identify the real root cause (aka the “Five whys”).

😡 Detractors

I’m intuitive and like to make decisions on the fly. I don’t need mental models.

—> Mental models are not antagonists to intuition but rather a way to explain it. The danger in relying only on intuition, especially without measuring the results, is continuously falling for cognitive biases.

We can’t afford to lose time on too much thinking. We need to be agile and iterate quickly.

—> Beware of "pivotitis"! You can be lucky from time to time, but the absence of planning always ends up in bad decisions in the long term.

There are too many models. Which one do you use?

—> Mental models are a trial and error, and you shouldn’t use them without documenting the reasoning and the results.

📚 Top books

Amazon.fr - The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts (1) - Beaubien, Rhiannon, Parrish, Shane - Livres
Noté /5. Retrouvez The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts (1) et des millions de livres en stock sur Amazon.fr. Achetez neuf ou d’occasion

⚙️ Templates / Tools

Mental Models by Notionery
A unique collection of mental models made in Notion, by Notionery. Make it easy to apply the models to your day-to-day life.
How a Decision Journal Changed the Way I make Decisions (Template Included)
A decision journal helps you learn from your past decisions, think through current decisions, and avoid problems before they happen.

📝 Content

Mental Models: The Best Way to Make Intelligent Decisions (~100 Models Explained) - Farnam Street
The smartest people in the world use mental models to make intelligent decisions, avoid stupidity, and increase productivity. Let’s take a look at how ...
Mental models
The best way to make sense of the world and make decisions is through a latticework of mental models
Principles and Mental Models for Software Developers | Adam Waselnuk
Principles and Mental Models for software developers who are interested in personal growth. These ideas have accumulated over the course of my career in the tech industry.
Effective Mental Models for Code and Systems
A little over a month ago, Carmen Andoh gave a talk at a meetup in Copenhagen about visualizations, though it really was a talk on mental…

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Daniel Jarjoura

Helping CTOs scale their team and grow as leaders | Founder @ The Unicorn CTO | Solopreneur