Train Your Brain to Think in New Ways
Creativity and innovation arise at the intersection of ideas. By ID’ing the links between various ideas an notions, we can identify and solve problems that most people overlook.
The Key to new thinking is to expand the set of mental models we use to think.
Below is the story of a story about Richard Feynman, thinker that I learned about 25 odd years ago.
While, reading about Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, MIT and Princeton, I learned that he developed a reputation for waltzing into the math department and solving problems that other brilliant PhD students could not solve.
People asked how he did it, and Mr. Feynman, later PhD “Doctor Feynman” claimed that his secret weapon was not his intelligence, but a strategy he learned in high school. He said that his high school physics teacher asked him to stay after class 1 day and gave him a challenge.
“Feynman,” the teacher said, “you talk too much and you make too much noise. I know why. You are bored. So I’m going to give you a book. You go up there in the back, in the corner, and study this book, and when you know everything that’s in this book, you can talk again.”
So each day, young Mr. Feynman would go to the back of the classroom and study the book : Advanced Calculus by Woods , while the rest of the class continued with their regular lessons. And it was while studying this calculus textbook that he began to develop his own set of mental models.
“That book showed how to differentiate parameters under the integral sign,” Mr. Feynman wrote. “It turns out that is not taught very much in, they do not emphasize it. But I caught on how to use that method, and I used that tool again and again. So, because I was self-taught using that book, I had peculiar methods of doing integrals.”
“The result was, when the guys at MIT or Princeton had trouble doing a certain integral, it was because they could not do it with the standard methods they had learned in school. If it was a contour integration, they would have found it; if it was a simple series expansion, they would have found it. Then I come along and try differentiating under the integral sign, and often it worked. So I got a great reputation for doing integrals, only because my box of tools was different from everybody else’s, and they had tried all their tools on it before giving the problem to me.”
Of course, every PhD student at Princeton and MIT is brilliant, what separated Mr. Feynman from his peers was notraw intelligence. It was the way he saw the problem, as he had a broader set of mental models.
A mental model is an explanation of how something works.
It is a concept, framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind to help you interpret the world and understand the relationship between things. Mental models are deeply held beliefs about how the world works.
Supply & Demand is a mental model that helps us understand how the economy works.
Game theory is a mental model that helps us understand how relationships and trust work.
Entropy is a mental model that helps us understand how disorder and decay work.
Mental models guide perception and behavior. They are the tools that we use to understand life, make decisions, and solve problems.
So, learning a new mental model gives one a new way to see the world , just like Richard Feynman learning a new math technique.
Notably, there is no mental model from physics or engineering, (hang on I was educated to be a Dentist) that provides a flawless explanation of the entire universe, but the best mental models from those disciplines have allowed us to build bridges and roads, develop new technologies, and even travel to outer space.
So, then the real test of knowledge is not truth, but usefulness.
The best mental models are the ideas with the most usefulness. They are broadly useful in our daily lives.
Understanding these concepts will helps us to make wiser choices and take better actions. With that then the Key is to develop a broad base of mental models is the path for those of us interested in thinking clearly, creatively, rationally, and effectively.
Expanding one’s set of mental models is something we all have to work on all the time.
As we grow older, we develop expertise in certain areas, and favor the mental models that are most familiar.
Here in lies the problem
When a certain view dominates our thinking, we will try to explain every problem faced through that view.
The more one masters just 1 mental model, the more likely it becomes that this mental model will be a pitfall/downfall because it is applying to every problem.
What then looks/feels like expertise is a limitation.
Consider this famous example from biologist Robert Sapolsky.
Dr. Sapolsky asks, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Then, he provides answers from several experts:
- If you ask an evolutionary biologist, they may answer, “The chicken crossed the road because they saw a potential mate on the other side.”
- If you ask a kinesiologist, they may answer, “The chicken crossed the road because the muscles in the leg contracted and pulled the leg bone forward during each step.”
- If you ask a neuroscientist, they may say, “The chicken crossed the road because the neurons in the chicken’s brain fired and triggered the movement.”
Technically speaking, they are all correct. But none seeing the whole experience. Each individual mental model is only 1 view of reality. The challenges and situations face in life cannot be explained by 1 disciplinary field or industry.
All perspectives hold truth, none contain the whole truth.
Relying on a familiar set of thinking tools limits our cognitive range of movement. When our set of mental models is limited, so is our potential for finding a solution.
To open up full potential, a range of mental models must be developed. Thus, the Secret to great thinking is to learn and employ a variety of mental models.
The process of accumulating mental models is like improving vision. Each eye can see something on its own. But if you cover one of them, you lose part of the scene. It’s impossible to see the full picture when only looking through one eye.
Mental models provide an internal picture of how things works.
We must upgrade and improve the quality of the picture constantly. This means reading lots of good books, studying the fundamentals of seemingly unrelated fields, and learning from people with wildly different life experiences, learning the patterns as there are many and always shifting as if alive.
The Mind’s Eye needs a variety of mental models to piece together a complete picture of how the world works.
The more sources to draw upon, the clearer one’s thinking becomes.
“The chief enemy of good decisions is a lack of sufficient perspectives on a problem.” Alain de Botton, philosopher.
In school, students separate knowledge into different disciplines: biology, economics, history, physics, philosophy.
In the world we live in information is rarely divided into squarely defined categories and departments, it is spread across a wide spectrum.
World-class thinkers are not boxed in thinkers. They avoid looking at life through the lens of 1 subject, they develop fluid knowledge that flows easily from topic to topic.
One mental model is not enough, we have to always consider how things connect to one another.
Creativity and innovation often arise at the intersection of ideas. By spotting the links between various mental models, you can identify solutions that most people overlook.
Of all the mental models humans have generated in history, there a few needs to learn to have an understanding of how things work.
Many of the most important mental models are the big ideas from disciplines like biology, chemistry, physics, economics, mathematics, psychology, philosophy.
Each field has a few mental models that form the core.
For example, some of the pillar mental models from economics include these 3, as follows:
- Economies of Scale.
Master the fundamentals of each discipline, then an accurate and useful picture can be developed.
“80 or 90 important models will carry about 90 percent of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person. And, of those, only a mere handful really carry very heavy freight.”– Charlie Munger, 94 anni, co-founder/Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A & B)
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