Searching out the best books on mental models?
In this article, we’ll look at the top titles to give you a better conceptual understanding of these principles and how they apply to your life.
After all, once you discover these tools, you’ll experience huge benefits in how you perceive the world.
If you want to see the books, skip ahead to that section. Otherwise, we’ll take a brief look at the topic first.
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Mental models are psychological representations of the world. They break down all the data we receive and organise it into manageable chunks of information that we can process and understand effectively.
Why are they important?
The world is a complex place. In any given situation, there are numerous variables to interpret and compute.
Unfortunately, rather than being black and white, every scenario is multifaceted and nuanced.
By simplifying the information we receive, our brains, with their limited power, can assess a situation and analyse the information against our pre-built model, ensuring the most appropriate response.
“You can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form. You’ve got to have models in your head.”
– Charlie Munger, investor, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway
How can they help?
Mental models help us because the world is so complicated.
With all the information and our the limited bandwidth of our brain, we need mental shortcuts or heuristics that allow us to take information, understand it and put it to good use.
In addition, they allow us to interpret a situation holistically.
The world, to a large extent, has attempted to reward specialism by fitting humans into neat skill and proficiency categories.
In some ways, such ordering of society has limited our ability to think in flexible ways.
Take a struggling company, for example. A salesperson might see falling profits as a sales failure. A product developer might regard the quality of the product as the issue, while a developer might exclusively focus on the quality of code.
By themselves, none of these assessments are wrong, but they fail to account for the bigger picture. Indeed, they are narrow perspectives on a more complex problem.
By investing in a diverse range of mental models, we gain a deeper understanding into the workings of the world, so we’re not likely to be as blinded by our biases.
W can zoom out and observe the picture in it’s entirety, rather than just a small piece of the puzzle.
With more information and better analysis, we’re likely to make better decisions with more favourable outcomes.
A practical example
Let’s say you’re in the market to buy a new house.
If I showed you a drawing of a house, is it really a house?
Does it help you understand what it would be like to live in that house? Not really.
To understand the house in greater depth, you’d need a 3D computer model of the property so you can see if from every angle.
Even better, if you could walk around it, you could understand every nook and cranny, understanding truly what it’s like to live there.
That’s why we have estate agents and property viewings after all!
Unfortunately, very few people have the software (models) in place to render their landscape as effectively.
Therefore, they’re at significant risk of buying the wrong house.
The 5 Best books on mental models
1. Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger
Charlie Munger is one of the most famous investors and wealthiest individuals in the world, and also a staunch believer in the power of mental models. He originally coined the term latticework of mental models, which not only apply to finance, but also a slew of other disciplines. Pithy wisdom, amassed through his speeches. Munger emphasises synthesis and the intersection between psychology, philosophy, business and economics. Defying categorisation, this isn’t so much a how-to book for investing or life, but rather a snapshot of a brilliant mind. Therefore, it may well draw some criticisms from those looking for a step by step approach.
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads–and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”
2. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
One of my favourite books, full stop. Cialdini, the Godfather of compliance, draws on fascinating research to illustrate six core principles of psychology and you guessed it, persuasion. This is essential reading for anyone seking to become a slick social operator. Covering topics such as reciprocity and social proof, it’s a read which identifies how we’re nudged into performing certain actions every day by savvy marketers, and therefore how to avert potential manipulation. Highly recommended.
“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”
3. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
One important part of using mental models is realising when these heuristics may be working against us. After all, we humans are often irrational creatures, full of biases and contradictions. In this seminal work of behavioural psychology, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist/economist outlines common human errors that can result from our reliance on shortcuts, if anything strengthening the case of for increased awareness of mental models and possessing a variety of them to use depending on the situation. This work covers such topics as priming, exposure effect and hindsight bias. It’s a fairly weighty tome and not for the faint-hearted, but well worth the commitment.
“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”
I would also add politicians to that list 🙂
4. Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg & Lauren McCann
Written by Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of search engine, Duck Duck Go, it was interesting to get the tech perspective on the same principles that Charlie Munger has applied to other areas. That said, it still favours models that apply in the world of business. Weinberg is clearly influenced by Munger and Buffet, referencing them in the text. The book will remind some of Headfirst books, breaking down complex topics in memorable ways. However, while the book covers an exhaustive list of mental models with great visual representations and applications, some may feel they need greater depth on each point. Therefore, it’s great for an overview, but you might have to seek further resources to gain a better understanding of each topic.
5. The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish
Short and sweet, this book breaks down 9 common mental models and how they apply to life. Takes an esoteric and abstract subject matter and weaves it together nicely with stories. Great for re-evaluating how we look at the world and improving our decision making through better analysis. Better to read the book versus listening to the Audible version.
So there you have it – 5 awesome reads on mental models.
Whereas some people may shake their fists at the sky, uncomprehending of events, you’ll be capable of spotting patterns and plotting an effective course of action.
If you want to improve your understanding of this chaotic world we live in, dive into these books and get to grips with their principles.