What We Discuss with Gabriel Weinberg:
- What are mental models, and how can they be applied to make your life run more efficiently and effectively?
- How mental models used primarily in physics, economics, biology, and math can be easily adjusted for everyday decisions.
- What a South American tribe that can only count to three and our own grade school experiences with multiplication tables can teach us about the power of math as a mental model.
- Why you should be second-guessing your natural intuition during the decision-making process, and how you can use mental models to do it.
- First principles versus conventional wisdom for approaching familiar situations in an innovative way.
- And much more…
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DuckDuckGo founder and Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models co-author Gabriel Weinberg joins us to discuss how we can leverage mental models to easily examine and understand complex concepts, solve problems, and identify cognitive biases, giving us a more accurate and comprehensive view of the world around us.
It might sound complicated, but it’s quite the opposite. By the end of this episode, you’ll be making better decisions more reliably and seeing through smoke and mirrors when someone is intentionally trying to deceive you — and that is a skill set worth tucking into your arsenal. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Like a mathematical equation, a mental model may seem convoluted at first glance, but it’s actually designed to simplify the process by which an answer is found. This is easily illustrated by thinking back to the way you calculated sums when you only understood addition and subtraction, and how the game changed when you learned the time-saving power of multiplication. More suddenly became possible with much less effort.
“‘Mental models’ is a fancy term for concepts,” says DuckDuckGo founder and Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models coauthor Gabriel Weinberg. “And you have concepts for everything. But there are several concepts (about 300 in the book) that are just generally useful across all sorts of areas. For example, I was a physics major in college. Lots of physics concepts you probably don’t care at all about aren’t generally useful, but one that is is critical mass.”
Initially conceived to describe the amount of material necessary to set off a nuclear chain reaction, critical mass can be converted into a mental model to strategically gauge how much effort and energy you need to pour into a project to make it self-sustaining. For instance: If you’ve got a podcast, at what point does your audience tip from friends and family who feel an obligation to listen over to an enthusiastic fan base that happily spreads the news of your existence without even being asked?
“If you can recognize that this is a critical mass situation, you can immediately realize that it’s going to have a snowball at some point and you can start to ask questions like: ‘How many people do I need to reach critical mass?’ or ‘Can I do it earlier?’ or ‘Is there an easier way to reach it?’ These are effectively shortcuts of how to think strategically,” says Gabriel.
Physics is just one area from which mental models can be drawn, but we can also adapt them from economics, law, biology, math — really any field that puts the application of ideas to the test and creates formulas to accurately predict results based on what’s already been observed.
Or, as the wise Thomas Dolby once explained in perhaps the shortest cut of all between concept and action: “SCIENCE!”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the Streisand effect, chilling effects, survivorship bias, unforced errors, confirmation bias, reciprocity, first principles, why Jordan never grew up to be Dan Rather, testing assumptions, razors sharpened by Occam and Hanlon, the most respectful interpretation for increased empathy, nudging, fundamental attribution errors, reversible versus irreversible decisions, forcing function, the Semmelweis reflex, thinking grey, disconfirmation bias, the backfire effect, cognitive dissonance, the five whys, root cause analysis, blameless postmortems, optimistic probability bias, Maslow’s hierarchy, what it’s like to testify in front of Congress, how Gabriel helps his own children develop critical thinking, and much more!
THANKS, GABRIEL WEINBERG!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann
- Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
- Gabriel Weinberg at Quora
- Gabriel Weinberg at Twitter
- James Clear | Forming Atomic Habits for Astronomic Results, TJHS 108
- The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien
- What is a Lagrange Point? NASA Solar System Exploration
- Critical Mass, Atomic Archive
- First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy, Derek Sivers
- What Happens When You Can’t Count Past Four? The Guardian
- Aristotle and the Importance of First Principles, The Startup
- Dan Rather at Twitter
- Occam’s Razor: Examples and Definition, Philosophy Terms
- Hanlon’s Razor, Rational Wiki
- FAE: The Big Mistake You’re Making about Other People (And How to Overcome It) by Jordan Harbinger
- 3 Simple “Forcing Functions” That Will 3-5x Your Productivity by Dan Martell
- The Semmelweis Reflex Explains Why People Reject the New, Gizmodo
- Annie Duke | How to Make Decisions Like a Poker Champ, TJHS 40
- Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke
- Disconfirmation Bias, Psychology Wiki
- The Backfire Effect, You Are Not So Smart
- Combating Cult Mind Control: The Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults by Steven Hassan
- Cognitive Dissonance Theory: A Crash Course by Andy Luttrell
- Root Cause Analysis: The Five Whys, Breaking the Wheel
- Blameless Post Mortems: How Do You Respond When Things Go Wrong? by Ken Norton
- Understanding the Optimism Bias: AKA the Illusion of Invulnerability, Verywell Mind
- The Narrative Fallacy by Ryan Holiday
- Availability Bias, How to Get Your Own Way
- Tragedy Of The Commons, Investopedia
- The Tyranny of Small Decisions by A.E. Kahn
- Dorie Clark
- For Vaccinations, Will People Follow the Herd or Free-Ride off It? Ars Technica
- Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic by Matt McCarthy
- Vaccination Requirements and Laws, CDC
- Information Economics — The Market for Lemons, Tutor2u
- Asymmetric Information, Investopedia
- What’s the Streisand Effect? Mental Floss
- I Fear the Chilling Effect of NSA Surveillance on the Open Internet, The Guardian
- The Law of Unintended Consequences: Shakespeare, Cobra Breeding, and a Tower in Pisa, Farnam Street
- Survivorship Bias, You Are Not So Smart
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Explained, ThoughtCo.
- The Wire
- Caron Butler Provides Chilling Account of Gilbert Arenas’ Gun Showdown, USA Today
- Deep Dive | How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome, TJHS 127
- DuckDuckGo CEO Testifies: Privacy Legislation Isn’t ‘Anti-Advertising’, Search Engine Land
- Intelligence Squared Debates Podcast
- The Daily Podcast, The New York Times
- Khan Academy