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Super Thinking

The Big Book of Mental Models

By Gabriel Weinberg with Lauren McCann
13-minute read
Audio available
Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg with Lauren McCann

Super Thinking (2019) is a conceptual toolkit designed to help you cut through complexity and make better decisions. Drawing on insights from fields as varied as biology and economics, entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg and statistician Lauren McCann present the “mental models” used by today’s top problem-solvers and decision-makers. But this isn’t a dry academic treatise on logic: apply these models to your personal and professional conundrums and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a super thinker in your own right!

  • Thinkers and logicians
  • Science buffs 
  • Self-optimizers 

Gabriel Weinberg is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, a multibillion-dollar internet privacy company. He is the author of Traction (2015), a guide to generating customer growth in the start-up sector. 

Lauren McCann is a statistician and researcher with over a decade of experience designing and analyzing clinical trials in the pharmaceutical industry. She holds degrees in mathematics and operations research from MIT and has written for several prestigious medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Super Thinking

The Big Book of Mental Models

By Gabriel Weinberg with Lauren McCann
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg with Lauren McCann
Synopsis

Super Thinking (2019) is a conceptual toolkit designed to help you cut through complexity and make better decisions. Drawing on insights from fields as varied as biology and economics, entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg and statistician Lauren McCann present the “mental models” used by today’s top problem-solvers and decision-makers. But this isn’t a dry academic treatise on logic: apply these models to your personal and professional conundrums and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a super thinker in your own right!

Key idea 1 of 8

Super thinking leverages tried-and-true concepts to help us explain the world and make better decisions.

We make dozens of decisions every day. They aren’t all big decisions, but enough bad calls can cumulatively result in overdrawn bank accounts, unhappy marriages and dead-end jobs. That means that every decision counts. 

Life, however, is full of complicated conundrums and ambiguous evidence. Making up our minds often feels less like an act of reason than a stab in the dark. 

Surely there’s a better way? Well, there is – super thinking, a way of understanding the world that relies on proven cognitive blueprints to make sense of the jumble of data out there. 

Let’s unpack that. Every industry has its own mental models that allow practitioners to create “mental pictures” of a problem. These aren’t one-off snapshots, but techniques that can be reapplied time and again – that’s the “model” part. Put differently, they’re recurring concepts that explain the world.

Most mental models are pretty rarefied and used only by specialists. Others are much more widely applicable. These super models can help us make sense of everyday life. Take critical mass. Physicists use it to describe the minimum amount of nuclear mass needed to create a critical state that triggers a nuclear chain reaction. But it’s also a handy model in other contexts, like that of technological change. 

Fax machines were invented in the 1840s, but languished in obscurity for over a century. Why? Their cost meant only a few wealthy individuals and organizations could afford to adopt the technology. That affected the perceived value of faxing: even if you bought a machine, you wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone you knew. 

As the cost came down, more people bought fax machines and more connections became possible. To put that into numbers, two devices can make one connection, five can make ten and twelve can make sixty-six. By the 1970s, faxing had reached critical mass. There were enough machines that the network itself became useful – if you had your own device, chances were you’d be able to contact anyone. 

Contemporary businesses have made a killing leveraging that insight. Critical mass told ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, for example, how many drivers they needed in cities before people would begin relying on their services. 

That’s not the only super model that you can use to cut through complexity. In the following blinks, we’ll be looking at a ton of shortcuts to help you boost your cognitive performance.

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