Latticework of Mental Models
I came across the word “latticework” many years ago when a friend recommended an eponymous book by Robert Hagstrom about investing. (The book was later republished with a new title: “Investing: The Last Liberal Art.”) The book provides an overview of the major mental models in various disciplines — physics, biology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, literature and maths, and how all of these apply to decision making.
The process of building and using a latticework of mental models is an innovative approach to thinking, and one that can be intimidating to many, to the point of mental paralysis. Fortunately there is a road map to the process that is easy to understand.
[According to] John H. Holland, a professor in two fields at the University of Michigan—psychology, and engineering and computer science, …innovative thinking requires us to master two important steps. First, we must understand the basic disciplines from which we are going to draw knowledge; second, we need to be aware of the use and benefit of metaphors.
…The ability to link mental models together and then benefit from the connections assumes that you have a basic understanding of each model in the latticework…Holland argues, metaphors are much more than merely a colorful form of speech, even more than representations of thoughts. They can also help us translate ideas into models. And that, he says, represents the basis of innovative thinking. In the same way that a metaphor helps communicate one concept by comparing it to another concept that is widely understood, using a simple model to describe one idea can help us grasp the complexities of a similar idea. In both cases we are using one concept (the source) to better understand another (the target). Used this way, metaphors not only express existing ideas, they stimulate new ones.
Entrepreneurs need a latticework of mental models to solve the problems they are likely to be confronted with. The best ideas often come at the intersection of two or more disciplines. Therefore, understanding the core ideas from different disciplines sets the right foundation for the thinking necessary for questioning the status quo and breaking through obstacles.
One of the regrets I have in life is that my early education did not include enough of the liberal arts. It is what I emphasise now to young people I meet – especially those with an engineering background. An early start can lay a deeper foundation for decision making. It is never too late to begin. Explore the most important ideas in different disciplines and create your own latticework of mental models to become a better entrepreneur.
Tomorrow: Part 38