As someone who’s always been fascinated by the human mind and how we think and make decisions, I was very interested in the concept of multiple mental models, outlined by Charles Munger in Poor Charlie’s Almanac. Back in May, I was introduced to ThinkMentalModels.com, and conversed with Dean Isaji, author of the ThinkMentalModels compilation.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Dean and I ask him a few questions about the multiple mental models concept, and his work.
A bit of a background on Dean before we jump into the questions. Dean is a graduate from Cambridge, England and first worked in South Africa, for Eskom (the utility company). After completing his MBA at the University of Cape Town and then, after a spell in Hong Kong, he began working in the strategy and planning department at British Airways, in London. Presently Dean is pursuing some entrepreneurial ventures in America, through his own holding company.
1) How long have you been interested in the concept of multiple mental models?
I have been reading and thinking about the mental model concept for about 9 years. In the main this has consisted of reading – a lot – and making copious notes. The initial idea of trying to think better came from reading Tony Buzan’s Mind Map book.
2) What motivated you to compile the Think Mental Models collection?
At first, I wanted it for my own reference – thinking it would be handy to have it accessible on a PDA via the internet. But after reviewing the initial idea with some friends, I thought there would be real value to others. Hence I have complied an affordable PDF available for purchase.
3) Of the 130+ models contained in the collection, are there 10 or so that you find are used the most?
The most used is the ‘disconfirming evidence’ model. I have then broken the others up into various categories – more specialized than the broader website categories – and use a memory system in order to apply them to a given issue. I cannot really say that there are therefore 10 most useful models.
4) What is the greatest benefit that you have reaped from using the multiple mental models approach to decision making/problem solving?
I have found that I’m able to think with more speed and rigor when confronting an issue. There is the added advantage of ‘confidence’. This is a little harder to quantify, but – paraphrasing Charlie Munger – the confidence comes from almost always being able to provide useful inputs in a group setting, often with people much smarter than myself.
5) Do you have suggestions for study tactics and ways to retain the mental models outlined in the collection?
I do use an extensive memory system and I practice the models on a daily basis. At this point I don’t really want to get too much into execution as I may develop it into an online course.
6) Any additional suggestions or information you’d like to share.
What I have found surprising is that many people cannot immediately see the benefits of thinking broadly across disciplines. But even considering my own education, at no point was I taught to ‘think about how I think’. This is probably true for others and may be one of the explanations for why people tend to shy away from an active mental model process. The other reason may be much simpler. In ‘Men and Rubber’, by Harvey Firestone, the author recalls a Thomas Edison quote – “There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the real labor of thinking“.
You can view a number of the mental models on Dean’s website. However, I HIGHLY recommend the ThinkMentalModels compilation PDF. At $4.45, it’s easily worth at least 10 times that.