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Marcus Blankenship
Marcus Blankenship

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A tool for adjusting your mental models

One of the core ideas from the field of systems thinking is mind-bending in an Inception kind of way.

It asserts that we see reality indirectly through our mental models.

We don’t see reality – we perceive reality through our mental models.

For example, take what I’m doing right now.

I’m sitting in a chair in a room, typing on a keyboard, looking at an LCD which is displaying these words on a black screen.

Yet my brain tells me that I’m working on writing this newsletter in my home office.

“Working,” “writing,” “newsletter,” and “home office” are all mental models at play.

In fact “typing” is a mental model which organizes “pressing keys on the keyboard.”

Mental models are so ingrained in how we see the world that we can’t make sense the world without them.

But here’s the kicker: they aren’t perfect.

They are approximations, which we can improve through feedback.

Systems thinking states that mental models approximate the real world, and the real world provides feedback on our mental models.

Take a minute and think about this.

Your mental models approximate the real world. They help you understand reality, though never entirely.

They are an approximation of what’s going on.

The real world provides you with feedback on the real world. When you see something that doesn’t fit your mental model, you react to it, sometimes strongly.

This feedback loop helps you refine your mental models, bringing it closer toward reality.

When you’re working to solve problems, especially hard problems, you need a mental model that’s close to reality.

Thus, it’s worth asking “how might my mental model be incorrect? How can I test it? How can I get more feedback on it?”

You have mental models about the systems you build, the people who work for you, and the reasons everything works the way it does.

It’s good to take a breath and consider how your models might be improved through feedback, and what biases they might contain.

Heck, maybe you could even share your mental models with someone else and compare them to see how they see things differently.

Hang in there,


P.S. I’m taking this course online, which is where I learned this from. If you like this kind of thing, this might be the kind of thing you’d like.

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