Think better: “mental models”
Maybe you don’t mind, but you make dozens of decisions every day and choosing the right ones can be really difficult. Carl Jacobi, a nineteenth-century German mathematician, suggested to think about a problem from opposite perspectives, in order to discover new solutions and strategies.
The opposite of being “more right” is being “less mistaken” and mental models are the tools that can help you do it. These conceptual schemes come from the most diverse disciplines and take on great value applied in everyday life.
Think of the avoidable error, which in tennis equals a lost point not because of the opponent’s skill, but because the player himself has made a mistake: we must always try not to get in trouble with our own hands; or think of the concept of anti-fragile, so defined by financial analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb: what is “anti-fragile” not only resists impacts, but is improved.
In addition to an anti-fragile financial portfolio, capable of making the best of the market impacts, it is useful to have an anti-fragile thought, that is, to be able to learn from any mistakes.
To make a mistake less, you need to test your assumptions in the real world through a risk elimination process. There is a possibility that some assumptions are unfounded, and that they consequently lead to wrong conclusions.
Let’s take as an example a startup based on the most common assumptions:
- my team can create the product;
- people will want our product;
- our product will generate profit;
- we will be able to beat the competition;
- the market is large enough to consider a long-term business opportunity.
All these claims should be checked before investing in a project that may not achieve the desired success. In the computer sciences this error is called “premature optimization” and involves the improvement of codes and algorithms too early.
Another way to test your assumptions is to make an MVP, minimum valuable product , or your product reduced to its minimum characteristics, but functional, which is tested by the public.
MVP forces you to quickly evaluate your assumptions, which may be too many and too complicated. In this case, you can use the model of the “Occam razor”: cut away everything that is not absolutely necessary!
Look through the eyes of others and grow empathy
We live life looking at reality from our perspective, that is, based on our reference system. If you try to be as objective as possible before making a decision, you need to keep that in mind.
One of the pitfalls of this way of thinking is the “definition”: by presenting an important problem to a colleague or relative, you will probably try to define it in order to make your position more understandable.
In this way, however, you will prevent the listener from giving you his interpretation of the problem. Of course, if your goal is to direct him to give you reason, you will be easily successful, especially if you know how to use the right words and focus on the points that are most important to you.
The pattern of thought that encompasses this type of mental game is called distortion of availability: exposing the situation in a certain way, excluding some information in favor of others and taking care of the order in which the news is reported are just some of the methods used in the communication – especially online.
This model is called the “filter bubble”: Google and Facebook have billions of possible results for your searches, but they will filter those that they think don’t interest you, locking you in a bubble.
By putting together similar bubble filters, you get an “echo chamber”, where the same ideas bounce between various people limited by similar bubbles, who do not notice their limits and rather are led to believe that a large part of the population thinks like them.
Most of the more complex problems require the analysis of the people involved: it is very easy to be mistaken about the motivations of others if it is assumed that everyone follows our same principles.
To really understand people, you need to increase your empathy, and you can do it with some mental models.
For example, in any conflict between two people, there are always two versions of the story. In addition, there is a third story, one that an impartial observer would tell and that anyone engaged in a discussion should try to outline.
But how? Imagine being able to review the recording of the whole scene and, from the outside, try to understand why your rival said and supported certain things. Understanding different points of view, with which you might even disagree is a great example of empathy.
Another way to understand the actions of others is to train your “veil of ignorance”: when you look at a certain situation, try to ignore your role in the world. For example, when discussing public policies regarding immigrants, don’t consider yourself as a free citizen, but keep in mind that you could have been born in a very different place and situation.
Individual choices have global consequences
Our actions always have consequences, very often different from what we would have expected, sometimes completely unwanted. How can you avoid being caught by nasty surprises?
A dangerous pattern is that of the “common goods tragedy”: if someone starts to exploit an asset because he appreciates its convenience, it is very likely that more and more individuals will follow his example, until that same resource no longer gives the initial benefits.
This is just an example of how effects can come from every small individual choice that affect people who are apparently untouched by your action.