Why You Should Use Mental Models

I have always used frameworks, processes and thought experiments to think about problems. More recently, I stumbled across the term “mental models” which encompasses these - a great definition of which is here.

I believe everyone should learn to use mental models to boost their performance.

You Can Change the World With a Mental Model

Back when I was a theoretical physics student, I was told a story about Albert Einstein: a young man with poor school grades who had been rejected from universities and jobs, and taught himself physics in his spare time.

He used mental models to come up with the special theory of relativity.

No maths. No physics. Just a simple thought experiment.

The Thought Experiment

Imagine I am standing still and I shine a beam of light. Someone travels past me at half the speed of light. We’re both looking at the beam of light, what do we see?

Your first guess might be that I see it travelling at the speed of light, and the other person sees the beam travelling at half the speed of light. But that’s not possible, because light looks the same (ie, travelling at the same speed) to all people. (Long story, that’s just how it is.)

So how can this be? Surely the only other variable that can change is time.

If time is slower for the other person, that accounts for them seeing the light travelling at full speed!

So more generally, if the “speed” of time changes per person (“frame of reference”), the laws of physics hold true for everyone.

💡 Bingo! We have our answer: time is relative.

That’s it.

In a few short sentences we’ve performed the thought experiment which led to special relativity, which changed the world.

What next?

It’s your turn.

Mental models give you the ability to approach a subject which you may have little knowledge or understanding of, and using logical thought, quickly deduce powerful results.

In future posts, I will write about:

  • mental models I have created
  • widely known mental models which I use
  • applied methods to use them, particularly within a startup

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Onward! 🚀

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