Book:  Super Thinking

Author:  Gabriel Weinberg & Lauren McCann

Purchase:  PrinteBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Weinberg, G. & McCann, L. (2019). Super thinking : the big book of mental models. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.

(Note: This book introduces over 200 mental models - recurring concepts that serve as a model that can be applied in similar situations throughout life.  Below I have identified the roughly 40 mental models that currently have the most relevance in my life.  I encourage others to explore this book as there are countless other mental models that did not make my list that may provide more relevance and application.)

  • Mental models are recurring concepts - once you are familiar with them, you can use them to quickly create a mental picture of a situation. These mental models serve as a model that you can apply in similar situations throughout your life. (pg. VII)

  • Mental models are the ability to think deeply about the world in ways you can use to your advantage to make better decisions. Mental models are shortcuts to higher-level thinking. If you can understand the relevant models for a situation, then you can bypass lower-level thinking and immediately jump to higher-level thinking. In contrast, people who don't know these models will likely never reach this higher level of thinking, and certainly not quickly. (pg. IX)

  • There are about 80-90 mental models across various disciplines will carry about 90 percent of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person. And of those, only a mere handful really have the most impact. If you want to be a good thinker, you don't have to know it all. Just take in the big ideas - mental models - across all disciplines. It's not that hard to do. (pg. XI)

  • For mental models to be most useful, you must apply them at the right time and in the right context. You must know the models well enough to associate the right ones with your current circumstances. When you deeply understand a mental model, it should come to you naturally. (pg. XII)

  • People often make the mistake of doing way too much work before testing assumptions in the real world - this trap is called premature optimization. If your assumptions turn out to be wrong, you're going to have to throw out all that work, rendering it ultimately a waste of time. We recommend doing as little work as possible before getting real-world feedback. (pg. 7)

  • Anchoring describes the tendency to rely too heavily on first impressions when making decisions. You get anchored to the first piece of framing information you encounter. (Pg. 14)

  • Availability bias occurs when bias creeps into your objective view of reality thanks to the information recently made to you. Availability bias stems from over-reliance on your recent experiences. One example would be when you are working on an annual review for a direct report and you are swayed by the really bad or really good contributions over just the last few weeks. (pg. 15)

  • When you are having a difficult conversation with someone and you can show that you understand the other person's point of view - whether or not you agree with their point of view - you will increase your empathy. This will cause a disarming effect, causing the other person to act less defensively. (pg. 19)

  • The most respectful interpretation (MRI) asks you to interpret the other parties' actions in the most respectful way possible. It's giving people the benefit of the doubt, or assuming positive intent. With this mental model, when you follow up with an email you should use an inquisitive tone rather than an accusatory tone. Building trust pays dividends over time. You aren't giving up your point of view (the person may actually be wrong) but you are approaching the situation with a perspective of respect. You remain open to other interpretations and withhold judgement until necessary. (pg. 19)

  • Hanlon's razor suggests that you never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness. This means that you should assume that someone carelessly created the negative outcome as opposed to causing the outcome out of malice. For example, when reading a text, email, or tweet we can often interpret harmless lines of text in a negative way. Hanlon's razor says the person probably just didn't take enough time and care in crafting the message. So next time you get a short response, consider that the writer is in a rush or otherwise preoccupied instead of coming from a place of dismissiveness. (pg. 20)

  • Another mental model that will help you have greater empathy is the veil of ignorance. An example of this tactic is when you are thinking about implementing a new policy but you first think about the new policy through the lens of your employees. When you do this you begin to understand the challenges that your employees might have if you were to implement this new policy. (pg. 21)

  • Herd immunity suggests if enough infections are left unchecked, their incidence can start increasing quickly, creating a new negative norm that can be difficult to unwind. An example could be in schools when you start to let the little things (such as tardies to class) slide. Dropping below a herd immunity threshold can create lasting harm. (pg. 40)

  • According to the book "Freakonomics," when selling a house only 1.5% of the purchase price goes directly into your agent's pocket. This means that selling a house for an extra $10,000 would only net your agent $150. (pg. 44)

  • Information overload can complicate a decision-making process, overloading the processing capacity of the system, causing decision making to take too long. The unintended consequence is called analysis paralysis, where you are over-analyzing the large amount of information available. This is why you spend too much time trying to make that coffee-maker decision or choosing where to go to dinner. This leads us to Hick's law, which suggests that decision time is going to increase with the number of choices, so if you want people to make quick decision, reduce the number of choices. In addition to increased decision-making time, there is evidence that a wealth of options can create anxiety in certain contexts. This anxiety is known as the paradox of choice. An overabundance of choice, the fear of making a suboptimal decision, and the potential for lingering regret following missed opportunities can leave people unhappy. Finally, there is a model that explains the downside of making many decisions in a limited period: decision fatigue. As you make more and more decisions, you get fatigued, leading to a worsening of decision quality. After taking a mental break, you effectively reset and starting making higher-quality decisions again. (pg. 60)

  • You should be wary of fighting a two-front war, or multitasking. You can fully perform only one high-concentration activity at a time. Your brain just isn't capable of simultaneously focusing on two high-concentration activities at once. Your brain tries to handle both activities by rapidly switching between them, and something has to give. This context-switching isn't instant, and so you end up either having to slow down one of the activities or doing one or both much more poorly. (pg. 71)

  • If you are constantly switching between activities, you don't end up doing much creative thinking at all. Cal Newport refers to this type of thinking that leads through breakthrough solutions at deep work. He advocates for dedicating long, uninterrupted periods of time to making progress on your most important problem. (pg. 72)

  • Activities such as email and text messaging are false urgencies in your life. If you let them constantly interrupt you, you will suffer the negative effects of multitasking, context switching, and significantly decreasing your performance on important matters. One approach to counteract this effect is to turn off notifications so that you do not succumb to this false urgency. (pg. 74)

  • There is a concept called the law of diminishing utility, which says that the value or utility of consuming an additional item is usually, after a certain point, less than the value of the previous one consumed. For example, consider the difference between the enjoyment you receive from eating one donut versus eating a second or a third donut. By the time you get to a sixth donut, you may no longer get any enjoyment out of it. (pg. 82)

  • Hyperbolic discounting suggests that people really, really value instant gratification over delayed gratification, and this preference plays a central role in procrastination, along with other areas of life where people struggle with self-control, such as dieting, addiction, etc. (pg. 87)

  • Using the default effect you can make default commitments toward your long-term goals. A simple example is scheduling a recurring time right into your calendar for working on a side project or completing deep work. By putting deep-work blocks of time into your calendar, you can prevent yourself by default from booking this time with meetings since it is already committed. (pg. 88)

  • The mental model of loss aversion suggests that you are more inclined to avoid losses than you are to want to make similar gains. Quite simply, you get more displeasure from losing fifty dollars than pleasure from gaining fifty dollars. Similarly, you may avoid killing a project because that would mean admitting the loss of your efforts up to that point. When it comes to losses, you need to acknowledge that they've already happened: you've already spent the resources on the project to date. When you allow these irrecoverable costs to cloud your decision making, you are falling victim to the sunk-cost fallacy. The costs of the project so far, including your time spent, have already been sunk. You can't get them back. This can be a problem when these previously losses influence you to make a bad decision, or result in you making an escalation of commitment. Ask yourself: Am I throwing away good money/time or should I just walk away? You need to avoid thinking "we've come too far to stop now" and instead take a realistic look at your chances of success and evaluate from an opportunity cost perspective whether or not you should continue. (pg. 90)

  • In his book Good to Great Jim Collins relates the flywheel metaphor to summarize how companies systematically and incrementally go from good to great: "Good to great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action or no grand program. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process - step by step, action by action - that adds up to sustained and spectacular results. The flywheel model tells you your efforts will have long-term benefits and will compound on top of previous efforts by yourself and others. (pg. 109)

  • The butterfly effect suggests that you can point to times in your history when a small change led to a big effect later in your life. Similarly, the mental model of luck surface area suggests that your personal luck surface area will increase as you interact with more people in more diverse situations. You will make your own luck by finding more opportunities and meeting more people....which can ultimately blossom into a large positive outcome. Finally, if you study the biographies of successful people, you will notice a pattern: luck plays a significant role in success. However, if you look deeper you will notice that most also had a broad luck surface area. Yes, they were in the right place at the right time, but they made the effort to be in the right place. (pg. 122)

  • You run into trouble when you make decisions based on anecdotal evidence or weight it more heavily than scientific evidence. Anecdotal evidence is when people collect personal evidence. Unfortunately, anecdotal thinking comes naturally, while science requires training. (pg. 133)

  • Seven percent of households in the United States made more than $200k in 2016. (pg. 148)

  • When completing a more-sophisticated cost-benefit analysis is when you start attributing costs to intangible items. When you add up the costs and benefits of different options you should consider the costs associated to the intangible items. You can get hung up here because it can feel arbitrary to write down specific values for things that you don't know exactly. However, you should know that doing so truly helps your analysis. The reason is that you really do have some sense for how valuable things are and putting that (even inexact) sense into your analysis will improve your results. (pg. 178)

  • Discount rate is essentially the compound interest rate in reverse. You are starting with an end value and trying to determine the interest rate it would take to get over the course of time (in years) to get to that value. Use the "Return Rate/CAGR" calculator to determine the interest rate needed to turn present value into future value based on x number of years. Given that the discount rate is always a key driver in cost-benefit analyses, figuring out a reasonable range for the discount rate is paramount. To do so, consider again the factors that underlie the discount rate: Inflation, uncertainty, and opportunity cost of capital (investing). (pg. 181)

  • Many people go into considerable debt trying to keep up with their social circles by buying bigger houses, fancier cars, and designer clothes. The phrase keeping up with the Joneses describes this phenomenon. Instead, you want to use your income on things that make you fulfilled (such as family vacations), rather than unfulfilling status symbols. (pg. 211)

  • Waiters increase their tips when they give customers small gifts. For example, a single mint increases tips by 3 percent on average, two minutes increases tips by 14 percent, and two mints accompanied by a "for you nice people, here's an extra mint" increased tips by 23 percent. Giving something to someone, even if they didn't ask for it, significantly increases the chances they will reciprocate. (pg. 215)

  • 83 percent of people trust recommendations from their friends and family, a higher rate than any form of advertising studies. This is why word-of-mouth referrals are so important to businesses. (pg,. 217)

  • The social norms vs. market norms mental model talks about how you must be careful not to inadvertently replace social normals with market norms, because you may end up eliminating benefits that are hard to bring back. Once social norms are undermined, the damage has been done and they are no longer norms. So take pause when you're thinking about introducing monetary incentives into a situation where social norms are the standard. An example of this would be when you decide to pay staff for their extra time beyond contract hours as opposed to asking them to volunteer their time. (pg. 223)

  • The broken windows theory, which proposes that visible evidence of small crimes, for example broken windows in a neighborhood, creates and environment that encourages worse crimes, such as murder. The thinking goes that broken windows are a sign that lawlessness is tolerated, and so there is a perceived need to "hold the line" and prevent a descent into a more chaotic state. (pg. 235)

  • The Peter principle maintains that managers rise to the level of their incompetence...meaning that eventually they will be promoted into a role that will not suit them where they will struggle. Promoting someone who is great tactically into a strategic role can be problematic if that person is not strong strategically. (pg. 256)

  • Another critical endeavor for your organization is making the boundaries around roles and responsibilities crystal clear. Apple is known for popularizing a mental model called directly responsible individual, or DRI. After every meeting, it is made clear that there is one DRI who is responsible and accountable for the success of each action item. (pg. 258)

  • You need to find a way to provide the people the continual feedback and reinforcement learning they need. One way to do this is through a weekly one-on-one standing meeting with a manager, mentor, or coach. (pg. 262)

  • Speaking of feedback, when you give feedback to someone, you can give it in a vague, abstract way or in a specific, actionable way where you challenge directly. Being vague and abstract is much easier to do because it avoids the hard work of identifying specific examples and the psychological stress of debating the nuances around those specifics. Many people thus take the easy way out. But for your feedback to be effective, you are going to need specifics. (pg. 263)

  • Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are an imposter - that you fear being exposed as a fraud - even though in reality you are not. Surveys indicate that 70 percent of people have imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. (pg. 268)

  • One way to counteract hindsight bias - not learning from past events and mistakes - can be counteracted by taking notes as events occur in real time. That way you have a more objective record of what happened and are not relying solely on potentially compromised recollections. (pg. 272)

  • Be wary of culture eroding as your organization grows. Consider Dunbar's number - 150 - which is the maximum group size at which a stable, cohesive social group can be maintained. At 150 members and below, you can relatively easily know everyone in the group and their roles within it. Above this number, however, you cannot easily remember everyone and what they do. (pg. 278)

  • In order to apply these mental models, try writing. Even if you never publish anything, the act of writing clarifies your thinking and makes you aware of the holes in your arguments. (pg. 316)

  • "In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject area) who didn't read all the time - none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren (Buffett) reads and how much I read. Since the really big ideas cary 95% of the freight, it wasn't at all hard for me to pick up all the big ideas in all the disciplines and make them a standard part of my mental routines. Once you have the ideas, of course, they're no good if you don't practice. If you don't practice, you lose it." - Charlie Munger (pg. 318)

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.