The Value of Mental Models

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"All models are wrong, but some are useful."


Here is my weekly newsletter on politics & personal development - where I explore the mindsets & tools to thrive in politics.

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Also check out my podcast, deep dive articles, book notes, and quizzes on leadership style and leadership traps.

Now, let's jump into today's topic: mental models.


Mental models are our internal maps of reality.

Just like a map on your smartphone simplifies reality to help you navigate to your destination, mental models help you understand, explain, predict and interact with the world around you.

The maps/the models are not reality (far from it), but they are still (or because of that?) useful tools:

"All models are wrong, but some are useful" George E. P. Box

Most of the time, we use these tools implicitly. We are not aware that we are using mental models when we ...:

  • weigh the cost of a new outfit with the benefit of how we will look and feel (Cost-Benefit)
  • take negative feedback as sign that we are simply not good at the task (Fixed/Growth Mindset)
  • preempt other people's reactions to our new idea (Game Theory)

Often, it's helpful to use these models on auto-pilot. It allows us to focus our attention elsewhere.

But every now and then, this approach fails us:

  • We apply a mental model in the wrong context (e.g. we use zero-sum game thinking when trying to improve our relationships)
  • We oversimplify and overuse a mental model, and get stuck in limited choices (e.g. we think of all our relationships in terms of negotiations)
  • We miss important information, because we do not have mental models that could make sense of them (e.g. we adopt the value-laden wording of our political opponents because we are not aware of the framing effect)

In contrast, when we deliberately examine, expand and practice our mental models we become better at 'navigating reality'.

Specifically, we make better decisions.

How?

Mental models help us diverge in our thinking before we converge on a choice too soon.

In divergent thinking, we generate a range of ideas and solutions for a problem. Mental models help us look at a problem from different perspectives.

I have recorded a new episode where I share more about the 3 benefits of using mental models:

  • Make wiser decisions
  • Learn like a pro
  • Thrive with AI
Better Decisions With Mental Models
About the episode “All models are wrong, but some are useful” George E. P. Box One answer to the question ‘how do we make wiser decisions?’: Being aware of and more deliberately using mental models. What are mental models and why should we be more aware of and deliberately

But this is just the 'what' & 'why' of mental models.

In the next weeks, I'll share the 'how':

  • 100+ key mental models for politics in three areas: strategy, communication and personal effectiveness
  • 3 books that blew my mind open to mental models
  • Access to my pre-prompted 'MentalModel-GPT' that I use as sparring partner in my work

🎙️ My latest podcast

Better Decisions With Mental Models
About the episode “All models are wrong, but some are useful” George E. P. Box One answer to the question ‘how do we make wiser decisions?’: Being aware of and more deliberately using mental models. What are mental models and why should we be more aware of and deliberately

📚 What I read & listen to

Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Bigg…
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER “An informed and entertain…

🖋️ My favourite quote

"Many people feel uneasy when they first realize that Einstein's theories imply that the past and future are as real as the present, and that the present moment is only subjectively special. Maybe you are one of them. If so, it is worth combating your uneasiness, because the reward is seeing that our existence transcends the passage of time. We always have been, and always will be, children of the universe." Sabine Hossenfelder, p. 69 in Existential Physics