Thinking in Models

In The Personal MBA Josh Kaufman writes that:

Correcting your mental models can help you think about what you’re doing more clearly, which will help you make better decisions.

To make sense of the world we create models of it. Models are abstractions that help us think. No model is perfect. The only perfect model is the universe itself. So we don’t have to worry about our models being perfect, all models are wrong, but some models are more useful than others. That is the power of models – they can always be improved. And when we make them better, our thinking improves. Models can do a lot of work for us.

Kaufman continues quoting Charles T Munger:

I think it is undeniably true that the human brain works in models. The trick is to have your brain work better than the other person’s brain because it understands the most fundamental models-the ones that do the most work.

What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And, with that system, things gradually fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

I remember Clayton Christensen saying that when someone asks him a question he does not answer the question directly, instead, he looks for a theory or model that can be applied to the question. He then sees how the question holds up. (I recall this from memory, so if I have this wrong, please let me know.)

I’m experimenting with this approach. Often when presented with a question, looking for an answer is not the best approach. Applying a model to the question may produce a better question. When I can’t find a suitable model I’ll try to sketch one out on paper. I’ll evolve the model by showing it to people, iterating until it starts to simplify and communicate the situation better. In this way shifting the burden of work onto the model. My work then becomes to continually grow the latticework of models in my head and to practise them whenever I can.