Have you ever questioned why two heads are better than one, and three heads are better than two? It’s because our own experiences, biases, and areas of expertise limit us all.
These areas of knowledge provide “mental models,” which we use all the time but may not be aware of.
Your coworker in marketing comes from a different background than you, so she can offer new perspectives to the table. You might spend the majority of your day developing content, giving you a unique insight into your brand’s position and voice in the industry. Whereas your coworker may spend most of her day engaging with clients, providing her with insight into what your industry’s current needs are.
Your combined knowledge can solve a difficult problem when you put your marketing-oriented teammate in the same room.
However, hosting a roundtable discussion every time you need to make a major decision is simply not viable. Instead, every time we face a new difficulty in our organization, we need to look at it from different perspectives.
Mental models can help you hack the decision-making process and reap the “two heads” benefits on your own.
A mental model is a cognitive process that you use to explore a problem. There are many different types of mental models, and each one takes a different approach to a foreign concept in order to simplify it. Basically, it’s the mind’s attempt to make sense of something.
Supply and demand, for example, is a mental model that can help you understand how the economy works. Game theory is a mental model that explains how trust and relationships work. And entropy is a mental model that explains how disorder and decay function.
Mental models also influence your perception and behavior. They are the mental skills you apply to understand life, make decisions, and solve issues. Learning a new mental model allows you to see the world from a new perspective.
There is no such thing as a perfect mental model. In reality, you’ll need a collection of models to assess reach, originality, and mental availability. To identify good metrics and eliminate bad ones, you’ll need a latticework of mental models.
Charlie Munger summed up understanding mental models in a memorable speech in the 1990s by saying: “you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form. You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.”
This lattice of mental models allows us to change our perspective on a problem if necessary. After all, not every challenge is given to us in the same way, and not every decision can be made from the same perspective. The more mental models you try out, the more adaptable you’ll be to new challenges.
Below are three common mental models you should be aware of.
Humans have a tendency to favor information that supports their values and ideas while ignoring information that contradicts them. This is known as confirmation bias. An example of this could be a BuzzFeed personality quiz. Your confirmation bias, or how you perceive yourself, has already determined what your results should be before you even take the quiz.
Based on the character’s traits and how they relate to your own personality, you’ve already confirmed the quiz’s response. Confirmation bias can also be found in our daily lives.
For example, we instinctively give greater weight to brands with which we have had a favorable experience and less weight to the currently advertised products because of confirmation bias.
We say, “You can find these everywhere.” And then you say, “But I know they’ll come on schedule and be good quality.” “I’m a regular customer here.”
It’s much easier for our brains to confirm existing beliefs than to go through the decision-making process again. This emotional impact leads us to focus less on conflicting behavior and more on brand loyalty, opening up opportunities for brands to fall into our selective attention and drown out their competitors.
A network effect is a mental model in which the utility you get from using a product improves as more people use the same product and service.
The different social media platforms that we use now are great examples. When Twitter was first introduced, few people understood what it was; therefore, there were very few accounts. Your desire to make a Twitter account was low because there weren’t many people on the platform. However, as Twitter grew in popularity and more people began to use it, you were more likely to join because the value you got from it was now much greater. Twitter has become a key source of news as a result of the network effect.
Ecommerce platforms are also affected by the network effect. As more people buy goods and services and post positive reviews on websites like Amazon, the platform’s value grows. As a result, more users will use the platform, resulting in increased income for the company. Many organizations use the network effect as a mental model, and it’s a terrific approach for businesses to acquire a competitive advantage in their industry.
Circle of Competence
This mental model can be credited to Warren Buffett. Buffett told his shareholders in 1996, “You don’t have to be an expert on every company or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.”
Concentrate on your area of expertise, and if you’re dealing with someone else’s circle of competence, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
For example, a content creator can write an article about using a specific marketing method to attract homebuyers. Still, they shouldn’t try to write about the real estate industry as a whole. Real estate agents know way more about the industry and their customers than a company’s content creator.
These three mental models do not even scratch the surface of those you should be aware of and practice. There are thousands of mental models that you need to be practicing as a professional and in your everyday life. Remember, creativity and innovation flourish at the intersection of ideas. You can find solutions that most people overlook by spotting the links between various mental models, giving you an advantage in many aspects of your life.