Let's Get Mental (Models)

Updated: May 18, 2019

Have you ever considered how you can improve the thinking frameworks you use to achieve what you want? Do you have a thinking framework? Have you ever even thought about a thinking framework?



First off, let's just re-confirm we are wired to be a little bit lazy in how we think. Biologically, we mostly choose the easiest thinking path and that often undermines what we are trying to achieve because our brain sends us deceptive brain messages. (for more on this read Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" or a litany of other sources that confirm this) Knowing our thinking doesn't always serve us, it only makes sense to be deliberate and aware of how we think.

My first REAL practical reinforcement of the importance of thinking frameworks and self-awareness came when I started consulting for organizations. In the early years I always thought about how great it would be to have a law degree, accounting designation and MBA and be able to walk into any business as the ultimate guru and knock their socks off with expertise. What I actually found out shortly after working with a few organizations, was that it was easy to plug in technical expertise and most problems came from behaviours rooted in lack of self-awareness and poor thinking. We often know what to do, but won’t do it and we are our own worst enemy. My focus quickly shifted to adding a significant behavioural emphasis to the technical business foundations and my clients flourished.

One foundational concept for better thinking is understanding our mental models. Mental models are how we understand the world, shape what we think and how we understand while also shaping the connections and opportunities that we see. Mental models are how we simplify complexity, why we consider some things more relevant than others, and how we reason. A mental model is simply a representation of how something works. We cannot keep all of the details of the world in our brains, so we use models to simplify the complex into understandable and organizable chunks.

The quality of our thinking is proportional to the models in our head and their usefulness in the situation at hand. The more models you have—the bigger your toolbox—the more likely you are to have the right models to see reality. It turns out that when it comes to improving your ability to make decisions variety matters. -Farnam Street

The challenge with mental models is that we often only hold a few related to our unique experience and even then, they often operate subconsciously which makes it tough to monitor and adjust. The holy grail is understanding different mental models from various disciplines and being able to deploy them deliberately and at will depending on this situation. An additional challenge is we often view our mental models as absolute truth, when in reality they are placeholders of reality because things are often too complex to understand. Our mental models are condensed representative maps of things that are much larger. Consider a map of the world, although it gives us context it is not even close to representing reality of the actual world. Consider the first maps that represented a flat world, they were considered reality for the longest time until we learned otherwise. This "flat world" approach, or rigid view of our mental models limits our opportunities as we often forget they aren't exact replications and become rigid and ingrained in the representative map.


There are over 100 foundational mental models in addition to the variations we create in our minds. What mental models are you using and is it time to define a couple that can take you where you want to go? When you are ready to make sense of the complexity and apply it to your individual team and organizational success, we can help with training, consulting, coaching and strategy.

#leadership #neuroleadership #coaching #consulting #change #conflict #resilience #performance

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