Why Mental Models?

Mental models will broaden your thinking so that you can make wise and informed decisions. Modern education systems hinder students when it comes to approaching problems from a broad, multidisciplinary perspective. Mental Models will help you gain that perspective and a basis for broad rational thinking.

What are mental models?

Mental models are multidisciplinary, problem-solving techniques. They can be applied in any setting, at school, in your career, and life in general, too. These big ideas from big disciplines teach you how to approach a problem from a broad perspective. Mental model is a toolkit in your back pocket. Equipped with only one tool, you only know what to do when approaching a nail. Don't be the person with the hammer who thinks every problem looks like a nail, use mental model techniques to find answers instead.

Who even uses mental models?

The history of science and knowledge is full of discoveries based on exploiting the power of mental models. Often these models are taught to students in business, design and engineering schools.

Consider the example of a heavy stone swinging back and forth on a string. Before Galileo, an Aristotelian looking at the swinging stone thought that a heavy object moved naturally from a higher position to a state of rest at a lower one. The Aristotelian would think that what the stone was really doing was falling with difficulty. When Galileo saw the swinging stone though, he saw a pendulum. He thought that what the stone was really doing was repeating the same motion again and again, almost perfectly.

The suggestive powers of the two models are quite different. The Aristotelian who saw the swinging stone as an object falling would observe the stone’s weight, the height to which it had been raised, and the time it took to come to rest. For Galileo’s pendulum model the prominent factors were different. Galileo observed the stone’s weight, the radius of the pendulum’s swing, the angular displacement, and the time per swing. Galileo discovered laws the Aristotelians couldn’t because their model led them to look at different phenomena and ask different questions.

Can you explain more about mental models in detail?

A mental model is more like a searchlight than a road map. It doesn’t tell you the answer directly, or where to find the answer, it shows you how to look for it. A mental model is heuristic – it enables you to learn and discover for yourself, it is a far cry from analgorithm's well-defined instructions for carrying out a particular task. Algorithms are predictable, deterministic, and not subject to chance.

A mental model is a technique that helps you look for an answer. Its results are subject to chance because a mental model tells you how to look, not what to find. It doesn’t tell you how to get directly from point A to point B. In effect, a mental model is an algorithm in a clown suit. It’s less predictable, it’s more fun, and it comes without a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

Here is an algorithm for driving to your grandma's house. Take Highway 290 West to Rosemont. Take the State Street exit and drive 2.5 miles up the Congress Parkway. Turn right at the light by the gas station, and then take the first left. Turn into the driveway of the large white house on the left, at 111 Windy City.

Here is a mental model for getting to your grandma's house. Find the last letter we mailed you. Drive to the town in the return address. When you get to town, ask someone where our house is. Everyone knows us - someone will be glad to help you. If you can’t find anyone, call us from a public phone and we’ll  give you the instructions directly. A mental model tells you how to discover the instructions for yourself, or at least where to look for help. Are you going to be a great thinker or just follow computer generated directions?

How does Wise Charlie help me with critical thinking?

Wise Charlie is a deck of 100 mental model flashcards. Each card sets out a concept or idea from varying disciplines along with a concise definition, a humorous example and an illustration. Mental models are concepts, a way to think about things. Learning mental models means that you can train your brain to think in a multifaceted way, something that education providers don’t always cover. By learning key concepts from big disciplines, such as, psychology, math, biology, and economics, you will amass knowledge that can be applied in many situations. When faced with a given problem, your knowledge of mental models will encourage your brain to work out solutions from a novel and broad perspective, encouraging multidisciplinary concepts and thought processes to combine.

The truly great stuff happens when several of these mental models combine and march in the same, positive direction, toward a particular action – a phenomenon that is called the ”Lollapalooza Effect.” It even sounds cool, doesn’t it?! Coined by prominent thinker and proponent of mental models, Charlie Munger, we named our project after him for his wise words on mental models.

Charlie said that mastering the ‘latticework of about 100 mental models’ was the key to his and partner Warren Buffet’s successful investing strategies. Charlie also said that mastering the multidisciplinary approach of such ‘mental constructs’ means getting out of the shallow water of the ‘middle ranks’ and joining the big fish.

Wise Charlie is here to help you invest in yourself – swim in the metaphoric ocean where big ideas belong, not in the pond with the small ideas and fish!

Are mental models perfect?

Mental models are imperfect but useful. There is no single mental model from physics or engineering, for example, that provides a flawless explanation of the entire universe. But the best mental models from those disciplines have allowed us to build bridges and roads, develop new technologies, and even travel to outer space.

As historian Yuval Noah Harari puts it:

Scientists generally agree that no theory is 100 percent correct. Thus, the real test of knowledge is not truth, but utility.