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... or at least that's the idea.

Shane Parrish and Farnam Street have been writing about how to improve your decision making and avoid being stupid (that is, the type of wilful stupidity that occurs when better information is readily available) for years. It's great stuff, and worth a read in this world filled with data, much of it high in hyperbole, but low in content.

It's easy to see then why they have distilled their ideas into physical print. Here, I look at volume 1 (of a 3 part series), General Thinking Concepts. The different volumes differ in their applicability: volume 1 (as can be assumed by its title) is positioned as the most general, where volume 2 brings in ideas from the sciences, and volume 3 relates more to mathematics. The central idea is that we use mental models all the time: they are a way of simplifying the astounding complexity of the world into something we can process and reason about.

The book provides what Parrish has identified as nine of the most useful mental models. These can be applied to situations as broad as choosing the most likely outcome amongst a set of outcomes (Probabilistic Thinking) or even saving the whole world (Hanlon's Razor)! The book provides the context: it outlines the problem, and shows how any particular mental model can be applied to resolve a subset of problems, or (at the very least) provide better tools for reasoning about the same. It is not a prescriptive treatise telling you where and when (and how) to use the mental model. I suppose it's assumed that if you're interested enough to read the text, you'll put in this work yourself.

I was fascinated by this premise, having been a reader of the blog for a while now: could one indeed apply different mental models to different problems encountered in life? To my thinking, after reading the book, it's certainly possible. Many of these I was already aware of (Occam's Razor being one of the most widely known). The challenge lies not in the awareness of the different models, but in the actual discipline and perseverance required to prevail. Too long have I looked at every problem as a nail, thinking that a hammer was all that was required to progress. Now I look at a problem with the excitement of a novice, the back of the brain tingling with unexplored possibilities, thinking of which approach to take.

In the end, I would highly recommend diving into this book and exploring the ideas it presents. But be prepared to put in some legwork after the last page is read.