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Mental models – assistive technology for practical thinking

I am a big fan of mental models.

A mental model is usually defined as any sort of concept, framework, or worldview explaining how something works. ChatGPT which reportedly knows everything (albeit sometimes lies or “hallucinates” to use the PC term) defines it as:

“A mental model is a cognitive framework or structure that an individual uses to understand, interpret, and navigate the world. It represents a person's internalized mental representation of how things work, enabling them to make sense of complex information, draw conclusions, and make decisions. Mental models are shaped by experiences, education, culture, and personal beliefs, and they influence the way individuals perceive, categorize, and respond to stimuli.

Mental models can be applied to various aspects of life, from problem-solving and decision-making to learning and memory. They serve as shortcuts for processing information efficiently, allowing individuals to quickly assess situations and take appropriate action.”

For me, mental models are first of all templates that you can apply to common situations to simplify your understanding, decisions and actions. They are huge time-savers. Once you have a mental model for something, it’s much easier to understand a certain something, think of possible outcomes and, most importantly, decide on actions - quicker and with much less mental effort. They help thinking the same way crutches and other assistive technologies help walking when needed. And most of us can use all the help in thinking we can get…

In this blog I will, explicitly or not, refer to some of my mental models, applying them to startups.

P.S. The concept of mental models was gifted to me by Philip Anderson, INSEAD Alumni Fund Professor of Entrepreneurship, who had big impact on how I (and many others) think. Sadly, Phil passed away recently, so I join many people in paying my respects for his life and contributions he so generously made to the lives of so many.