How can we become better thinkers and decision makers?

question to innovate

This the sixteenth of a series of weekly posts where I will answer a few common questions about innovation. Please feel free to add your own response. Also, if you have any questions you think we should discuss, let me know.

“The better decision maker has at his/her disposal repertoires of possible actions; checklists of things to think about before he acts; and he has mechanisms in his mind to evoke these, and bring these to his conscious attention when the situations for decision arise.” – Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate

There are plenty of ways to make better decisions. But what about when you are dealing with complexity (which we all do)? How can you see the essence of anything quickly?

Create a portfolio of mental models

One way is to use models. These are also called frameworks. I have an issue with frameworks because, for the simple minded, they can become “the only way”. I prefer to pursue fluid intelligence, which is an abstract and conceptual way of thinking. It also sets you up to then zoom in and use specific models that fit that situation.

We can all become better at thinking by developing a portfolio of mental models.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner, calls it a latticework of mental models:

Why is creating a portfolio of mental models important?

I’ve always seen similarities between business models and mental models. Our mental models, just like business models, can’t remain static. Here’s how Nike CEO Mark Parker explains Nike’s transformation from a shoe company:

“Business models are not meant to be static,” he explains. “In the world we live in today, you have to adapt and change. One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success. That will wind up being your death in the end.”

A doming view of strategy, is we have to have a dominant core competence on which to build on. This capability, must then match our aspirations. It is a similar view of personal development, where you coach people to focus on using their strengths to reach their goals. I’ve always believed that we must become more rounded, and develop fluid competence. As in, competence is various domains. Not just one. This requires that we, not only further develop and use our strengths, but also turn our weaknesses into strengths.

We discussed “model thinking in social media” on yesterday’s #innochat. A dominant view, is that we must not depend on one singular model. Yet, most people can’t stand themselves to search or develop a meta-model. It is the same dynamic that plays out in the world of business. Everyone is looking for that dominant business model.

All models have an expiration date

Just like successful businesses are held back by their business models, so it is with people. The reason we can’t see beyond the obvious, is because we are held hostage by old mental models. We get confident and develop tunnel vision, thinking our way is the only way. This is a fallacy.

We must fight this tendency and continue to develop, and create, new mental models.

Below I’ve embedded an ebook from Think Mental Models that contains the big ideas from different domains. The main idea is that for us to become better thinkers, and therefore better decision makers, is to have a portfolio of mental models at our disposal.

How do you create a portfolio of mental models? I’ll teach you how on the next post 😉

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  • Hi Jorge – one cautionary note on mental models, similar to Mark Parker’s comment. A quote from Keynes is “when the facts change, I change my mind.” So the mental models must be dynamic and responsive.

    They are also useful in the context of building on a vision, of how you want things to be.

    • Hi Kevin,

      I agree. More than anything, we must be aware of when our model it outdated. Of course, this is easier said than done.

      I’m an advocate of fluid intelligence, not models. Though you acknowledge that models exists (just like I’m doing here), but you don’t rely on them systematically. You use them to gain an intuitive feel for things. That leads to fluid intelligence.



  • I recently read an article opining that we’re raising a generation of wimpy kids, kids unable to do their own thinking and feeling because parents are essentially bubble-wrapping them around mistakes, failure, and perceived danger. The writer implied that technology and achievement over personal development is ushering that along.

    I’ve been thinking about that lately as I’ve been trying to figure out why I have to do so much hand-holding in one of my projects with my customers or in basic exchanges in social networking.

    Instances where people need several calls to action to complete steps, or have to be prompted to reach out directly to a resource instead of asking the messenger to expand on the information they shared, and failing to figure out how to do a simple copy + paste.

    I’ve become an ideas person because as a(n only) child, I was largely left to my own devices to figure stuff out. But I find that even though I can “Google it”, and in fact do, having someone (like me) that can be called upon or running an internet search combined with the fear of making the “wrong” or “bad” decision has created a handicap.