A Tale Of Two Mental Models


A mental model is a representation of how something works.  If used properly, it can be a powerful tool to enhance your effectiveness in dealing with a wide range of topics and situations.  brain-998996_1920_PixabayIf overlooked, its loss can limit your horizons and compromise your opportunities. What follows is:

  • a brief history of two early mental models
  • a profile of the elements of a mental model
  • examples of mental models you can use.

A single mental model was the original and definitive standard practice for financial operations of businesses until it was supplanted nearly overnight by a successor.  The reach of the original practice and the duration of it influence reflects the power of mental models.  The speed of its extinction demonstrates the necessity for us to question periodically even the most useful and honored of the mental models we use.

A Centuries-Old Mental Model

Single Entry Bookkeeping.  What had passed as the standard for business accounting for centuries was basically maintaining a journal, similar to your checkbook, containing a single entry for each transaction of cash received and cash disbursed.  The books of the business were balanced much as you would reconcile your checking account.

This approach left absentee landowners and merchants facing financial perils ranging from poor capital management to bookkeeping errors to embezzlements that were difficult to detect.  Among the vexing issues: Was the value received equivalent to cash expended? Where does that value now reside? Was the value disposed of equivalent to the cash received? Where had the valued disposed of been residing? Only the person directly handling these transactions could know the answers for sure.

So, the landowner or merchant had two choices, i.e., either hands-on, full-time, day-to-day oversight or trusting delegated management.  Neither approach could contribute simultaneously to growth potential and financial security.  Nevertheless, for centuries this was the mental model of landowners and merchants for business operations.

Enter The Monk, Mathematician & Renaissance Man

Luca Pacioli was the monk, mathematician, and Renaissance Man who introduced a new and revolutionary accounting system to both landowners and the merchants in Venice.  Pacioli_WikiCommonsIn 1494 Pacioli wrote a math encyclopedia including a section on a new double-entry bookkeeping system.  He was able to mass produce the encyclopedia because Johannes Gutenberg had invented the printing press just a few years earlier.  The new system spread rapidly from Venice throughout all of Europe.

Double Entry Bookkeeping. The double-entry bookkeeping system changed everything.  In addition to capturing the amount received or paid, the double-entry system also captured the character of the transaction.  For example, if cash were disbursed to purchase raw materials, the cash account would be reduced (credited), and the raw materials account would be increased (debited) by a like amount.  If the total of debits and credits did not balance, it would indicate a bookkeeping error or perhaps a misappropriation of funds.

As a result, double-entry bookkeeping became widely adopted as the new model or standard for business/financial management.  The adoption of double-entry bookkeeping affected its users by enhancing their financial sophistication and reducing their business risk while enabling capitalism to flourish and creating a “global” economy across the known world.

A Profile Of Mental Models

A mental model is a framework for understanding how specific aspects of the world work.  Broadly speaking it is like a map that helps you determine where you are and how to get to where you want to go for a particular purpose.  Once you have identified your destination (a goal to achieve, a problem to solve, a decision to make, etc.), you can use your mental model to anticipate events, to chart your course, and to provide the requisite tools to accomplish your objective(s).

While mental models represent relationships throughout the surrounding world, there is no single master mental model for any individual. We each need to research/discover/engage many mental models to deal with the complexity of the world in which we live.

Examples Of Mental Models

Feynman Technique Mental Model

Richard Feynman created this mental model for his students to improve their grasp of current information, to learn new information, to retain information, or to study for a test.  We covered the Feynman Technique mental model in detail in an earlier post.

Falsification Mental Model

Falsifiability is required to establish validity.

Scientific proofs rely on conducting experiments testing a hypothesis that can be falsified, i.e., where the occurrence of a given result would prove the hypothesis to be false.  A good example of this appears in our earlier post, Empirically Yours.

In contrast, the hallmark of pseudo-science or pseudo-knowledge is the absence of any statement of conditions whose occurrence would determine them to be false.

Mind Wandering Mental Model

In Not All Wandering Minds Are Lost we discussed how mind-wandering plays a crucial role in achieving the breakthrough Aha! of syntheney.

Mind-wandering also can have certain negative effects.  Harvard University psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert have published the results of their research studying mind-wandering.  They found people spend about 47% of their waking hours mind-wandering.  Also, the subjects in the study reported unhappiness frequently occurred during their mind-wandering.

Such unhappiness is likely to be the result of an encounter with a voice we all carry around in our heads, our Inner Critic.  As you will see, such instances need not interfere with your opportunity to achieve an Aha! while mind-wandering.

Inner Critic. Our Inner Critic (IC) is a voice, based upon negative things we heard as a young child, directed at us or others around us.  As we mature we unconsciously adopt such thoughts as the “truth” about ourselves, which feeds the ongoing commentary we experience.

The focus here is keeping the IC from interfering with the mind-wandering that precedes an Aha! However, the three strategies shown below can be useful at any time.  The intent is to reduce the impact of commentary from the IC until it becomes immaterial.  It may be easier to start with the first strategy and after that move on to each of the others when you feel the time is right.  When you encounter commentary from the IC, feel free to:

  • Hear It Out Then Correct It Fearlessly
    • Pay attention to what the IC is saying.
    • Evaluate whether there is any objective truth to what you are hearing.
    • If the commentary contains limited or no truth, say so.
      • Then express to the IC the facts that refute what you heard.
    • Close by reminding yourself of the truth of your strength(s) that the IC ignores.
  • Let It Flow Then Let It Go
    • Let the IC exhaust itself saying whatever it likes.
    • Relax, pay no attention, or only a little attention if you must.
    • Don’t bother to refute anything.  Luxuriate in your lack of concern.
    • Go about your business secure in the recognition the IC speaks with zero authority.
  • Ignore It Altogether
    • Treat the IC like a pesky telemarketer.
      • When you see the Caller ID, don’t pick up the phone.
      • Delete its voicemail without bothering to listen to it.

The Inner Critic may never go away entirely, yet we can marginalize it over time to the point it can no longer interfere with our mind-wandering, our Aha!s, or ourselves.

(More Mental Models To Follow Periodically)

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