The Great Mental Models Book Summary By Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

The Great Mental Models (2019) is an essential guide for anyone looking to develop their thinking and decision making skills.

It's packed with nine essential models drawn from a variety of disciplines that will help you tackle the ever-changing and complicated world around you.

This book will give you a crash course on how to become better equipped for understanding and navigating life's challenges.

With insights from experts including engineers, psychologists, economists, and more, this book promises to provide readers with invaluable knowledge that can be applied in any situation.

The Great Mental Models Book Summary

Book Name: The Great Mental Models (General Thinking Concepts)

Author(s): Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 26 Minutes

Categories: Personal Development

Author Bio

The Great Mental Models book was written by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien, two former cybersecurity experts from Canada's Department of National Defence.

Shane is the host of The Knowledge Project podcast and is the founder of the Farnam Street blog, an online learning community.

Meanwhile, Rhiannon writes for Farnam Street's blog as well.

They have both worked together to create a book that offers readers a detailed look at how refining our mental models can improve critical thinking skills and help us make better decisions in our lives.

9 Essential Mental Models For Making Better Decisions

Better Decisions

If you want to make better decisions in life, then you’ll need to upgrade your mental toolkit.

And that’s exactly what The Great Mental Models book provides!

This comprehensive guide features nine of the most useful mental models to help you think through your options and create a better working model of reality.

In this book, you’ll learn about unique thought experiments that Einstein used; dark secrets from a 1920s propaganda pioneer; the difference between Occam’s razor and Hanlon’s razor; and much more!

With these models in hand, you’ll be armed with the necessary tools for making smarter decisions so that you can get better outcomes in life.

The Benefits And Limitations Of Mental Models: Understanding How Maps Help Us Navigate The World

A map is a tool that helps us make sense of the world around us.

It simplifies a complex reality by focusing on certain aspects and ignoring others – such as when you look at a map of the London Underground to figure out how to get from point A to point B.

In this case, a simple array of lines and circles is enough to do the trick.

It doesn’t include every single detail, such as the nuts and bolts of the railroad tracks, but that’s unavoidable if you want it to be practical and helpful.

At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge what is left out – there’s no use in relying on an outdated map, or missing some key features (like physical lampposts!) while looking down at your phone.

This idea can be applied more generally as well – Financial statements, policy papers, parenting manuals, even news articles provide their own simplified representations of reality.

They offer guidance but also come with limits; if these limits are overlooked then we’re in trouble.

Mental models serve an essential purpose for making sense of our surrounding environment – remembering that these models simplify reality will help ensure that they lead us in the right direction.

Recognizing And Respecting The Limits Of Our Own Circle Of Competence

The importance of recognizing the limits of your own skills and abilities when it comes to tackling something cannot be overstated.

Knowing that you are outside of your comfort zone is key to success.

If you know what tasks and challenges you’re good at, and which areas require additional guidance or help, you can focus on your strengths while getting the support you need in other areas.

Take the example of starting a business – someone may have excellent business acumen but lack financial understanding.

By reaching out to an advisor or reading up on financial literacy they will be much better equipped to understand their limits and potential risks.

This allows them to remain informed without feeling totally out of their depth.

On the flipside, it’s all too easy for our egos to inflate an idea of ourselves that doesn’t take our knowledge gaps into account.

That enthusiasm can have dire consequences if we don’t manage our expectations accordingly.

In fact, there’s 200 frozen bodies on Mount Everest as testament to that exact point!

At the end of the day it’s important not only to recognize but also accept those boundaries for what they are – by making sure that awareness is present in everything we do, good fortune is likely to follow!

Thinking Outside The Box: How To Solve Problems Creatively By Reasoning From First Principles

Solve Problems

When it comes to finding creative solutions to problems, reasoning from first principles is often the best way to go.

This involves starting from the basics of a certain field of knowledge, and then drilling down deeper and deeper until you find what you’re looking for.

For example, if you’re an engineer trying to design an energy-efficient refrigerator, the laws of thermodynamics would be your first principle.

This method of problem-solving has been proven effective in a variety of domains.

Take meat consumption, for instance: when scientists began to approach this problem from its first principle – that taste and smell are the most important aspects of it – they soon realized that these depend on chemical properties and reactions rather than whether or not it comes from an animal.

From there they were able to develop lab-grown artificial meat which could potentially eliminate livestock farming altogether!

Reasoning from first principles allows you to get to the root cause of a problem and come up with creative solutions that address it directly.

It’s an invaluable tool in problem solving and creative thinking which can be applied in countless contexts

Fostering Creative Problem-Solving By Practicing Inversion: How Edward Bernays Used It To Sell Cigarettes To Women

If you want to increase your creative problem-solving skills, inverting the way you approach a problem can be an especially effective way to do it.

Inversion is a mental model that’s used by coming up with assumptions and then working backward from them in order to come up with a solution.

As evidenced by Edward Bernays’ successful marketing campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes, inverting your thinking can lead to surprisingly effective solutions.

He started by assuming women would need to feel it was socially acceptable and desirable to smoke in order to get more of them as customers.

From there, he worked smartly backward and ended up connecting smoking with other desirable traits such as independence and a slim figure in his advertising campaigns – successfully marketing cigarettes to women!

The same process can be applied when trying to get rich; instead of working forward towards success, assume what behaviors would lead one into poverty and then avoid those.

Things like excessive spending and taking out high-interest loans will certainly put one on the path towards poverty, so avoiding these activities is essential if you want financial freedom.

Overall, practicing inversion is an effective tool for developing your creative problem-solving skills – so why not give it try?

Use Thought Experiments To Test Out Ideas And Clarify Thinking

Using thought experiments to test and clarify your ideas is a powerful tool for any sort of problem solving, decision making, and creativity.

With thought experiments you can explore abstract problems, avoid real-world consequences, and save time and money.

Albert Einstein famously used thought experiments to explain gravity in his general theory of relativity.

He asked himself what would happen if someone was stuck in an elevator rising at an accelerating rate and concluded that they would not be able to tell the difference between being on Earth or in outer space!

Thought experiments are also great for getting creative with your ideas.

For example, everyone’s heard the classic “What would you do if money were no object?” question – this thought experiment allows us to think about our desires and values without financial constraints getting in the way.

Regardless of the idea you have in mind, experimenting with it using thought experiments can help guide you towards a better understanding of yourself or the problem at hand.

The key here is to use experimentation as much as possible so that when it comes time to put your plan into action, it’ll be better informed and more effective than ever.

Second-Order Thinking: Consider The Consequences Of Your Consequences To Make Better Decisions

Better Decisions

Second-order thinking is a key aspect of making insightful decisions and having strong arguments.

It goes beyond simply looking at the immediate consequences of a decision, but rather being mindful of the potential long-term implications.

By engaging in second-order thinking, you’re able to carefully consider your choices and weigh their positives and negatives – as well as any unintended results that may arise.

It’s not just about finding fault in decisions though; this higher level approach can also be beneficial for bolstering arguments with positive second-order consequences.

Mary Wollstonecraft used this insight to make persuasive arguments in favor of women’s rights, pointing out how it would ultimately benefit society as a whole in ways beyond the mere fact that fairness should drive her call for gender equality.

To ensure we make good decisions, it’s important to keep an eye out for possible behind-the-scenes ramifications down the line – both good and bad.

When taking into account these second-order effects, we can better equip ourselves to discuss our ideas more thoroughly and confidently make decisions that are right for us.

Use Probabilistic Thinking To Weigh Decisions And Avoid Overreacting To New Information

Making good decisions involves weighing the potential consequences of your choices.

To do this accurately, probabilistic thinking is key.

This means that you should assess the probabilities of possible outcomes, instead of relying solely on your instincts to make decisions.

For example, let’s say you hear a headline that says “Violent Crime Skyrocketing”.

Before jumping to conclusions and panicking, it pays to look closer at the numbers – even if crime rates are rising, they may still be very low in comparison.

With probabilistic thinking, you can consider prior information and what this new headline means in light of it before making any assessment or acting on it.

This isn’t to say that you should blindly stick with your pre-existing beliefs without updating them when more information becomes available.

Bayesian updating is a concept that suggests we take into account our prior beliefs together with any new data so that we make well-informed decisions.

That way, our beliefs stay in line with reality as more knowledge is acquired about an issue.

In short, using probabilistic thinking wisely will help you weigh your decisions accurately and make smart choices for yourself

Using Occam’S Razor To Make Probabilities Easier: Choose The Simplest Explanation

Most of us, at one point or another, have experienced a situation in which we need to choose between two different explanations for the evidence we have.

In these cases, relying on our gut feeling may not be enough.

That’s where Occam’s razor can come into play; according to this principle, when we’re presented with two or more equally compelling explanations, the simpler one is usually more likely to be true.

Let’s look at an example: Imagine you haven’t heard from your friend and they haven’t shown up to your party – what do you think happened? Your first thought might be that they got into a car accident – but if that were true, many variables would have had to line up (did they leave their house? Did they drive a car? Did the driver make an error?).

The more complicated explanation has more variables that need to be true than the simpler one – and with each additional variable, the likelihood of it being true decreases.

Seeming unlikely as it may seem, the most probable explanation is often simpler than what you’d initially expect it to be; in this case that your friend simply forgot to check their watch and they’re just running late.

Of course, sometimes complications do happen, but simpler explanations tend to hold true more often than their complex counterparts.

Essentially, when trying to decide between two explanations for something you can use Occam’s razor as a tool to help determine which is most likely to be true: The simpler of two equally compelling explanations tends to be the one that should be believed!

Hanlon’s Razor: When Dealing With People, We Should Assume The Best And Move On

Dealing With People

Hanlon’s razor is an important concept to keep in mind when we experience what we might perceive as misbehavior from others.

At its core, Hanlon’s razor states that the simplest explanation for bad behavior is usually stupidity, not malice.

This means that it is more likely that someone has done something wrong out of ignorance or a lapse in judgment than with deliberate intention to harm us.

This helps us to stop ourselves before assuming the worst about someone else’s actions and instead take a step back and try to look at the situation objectively.

As Hanlon’s razor reminds us, most missteps or mistakes occur out of lack of knowledge or thoughtlessness, rather than active ill-will towards us.

It can be helpful to bear this in mind when dealing with difficult situations so we can respond calmly and reasonably without taking things too personally.

Wrap Up

The Great Mental Models by Michael Mauboussin is packed full of valuable information and knowledge.

The key takeaway from this book is that mental models can help us to sharpen our thinking and make wise decisions.

However, it’s not enough just to know about these models; we must use them in order to truly benefit from them.

It’s important to turn the theory into practice so that our newfound knowledge can be put towards making positive changes in our life.

We must reflect on what the insight means for how we will act, or else our own understanding of reality fails to gain any real value.

Overall, The Great Mental Models provides a great opportunity for personal growth as it encourages readers to think critically and use mental models to navigate their lives in a more informed way.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.