Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models
Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann
Portfolio/Penguin (June 1919)
How to develop a mind that can jump jurisdictional boundaries to create unique value
J. H. Flavell was probably the first to use the term metacognition when suggesting that it “refers to one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes or anything related to them, such as the learning-relevant properties of information or data.
In essence, metacognition means “cognition about cognition”, “thinking about thinking”, “knowing about knowing”, becoming “aware of one’s awareness” and higher-order thinking skills. The term comes from the root word meta, meaning “beyond.” Metacognition can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem-solving. There are generally two components of metacognition: (1) knowledge about cognition and (2) regulation of cognition.
I thought about all this as I began to read Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann’s recently published book, Super Thinking. They focus on various mental models — super models — without which achieving metacognition is very difficult, if not impossible. These models are — or can be — “shortcuts for higher level thinking. If you can understand the relevant models for a situation, then you can by pass lower-level thinking and immediately jump to higher-level thinking.”
I agree with Weinberg and McCann that those who are determined to use the right tool or tools for a situation need a whole tool box full of super models.
“This book is that toolbox: it systematically lists, classifies, and explains all the important mental models across the major disciplines. We have woven all of these super models together for you in a narrative fashion through nine chapters that we hope are both fun to read and easy to understand. Each chapter has a unifying theme and is written in a way that should be convenient to refer back to.”
These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me in the first six chapters, also listed to suggest the scope of Weinberg and McCann’s coverage:
o Keep It Simple, Stupid! (Pages 3-7)
o Minimum Viable Product (8-10)
o Walk a Mile in Their Shoes (19-23)
o Don’t Trust Your Gut (30-33)
o Herd Immunity (40-43)
o The “Death Spiral” of Adverse Selection (47-49)
o It’s Getting Hot in Here (55-60)
o You Can Do Anything, But Not Everything (70-73)
o Getting More Bang for Your Buck (78-83)
o Net Present Value (86-88)
o Shortcut Your Way to Success (92-97)
o Don’t Fight Nature (102-106)
o Harnessing a Chain Reaction (114-120)
o To Believe or Not Believe (133-139)
o The Bell Curve (146-156)
o Right or Wrong? (160-168)
o Weighing the Costs or Benefits (177-185)
o Taming Complexity (185-1996)
o Beware of Unknowns (196-200)
o Schrödinger’s Cat Thought Experiment (200-207)
Credit Weinberg and McCann with making brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices, notably a variety of illustrations (e.g. charts, graphs, cartoons, boxed bullet points) and a list of “Key Takeaways” at the end of each chapter. These devices will help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points later.
Keep in mind (no pun intended) that super models can be short cuts to metacognition. That is, to reach much higher levels of thinking. The challenge is to select the best model — or combination of models — to complete the given task or achieve the given objective. Only then can you select the right combination of tools.
Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann’s reference to a “toolbox” — cited earlier — is eminently appropriate. That is what this book can be. Some view super models as blueprints or recipes…I tend to see them as algorithms. However described, they must be understood and tools must be mastered. So, you and others who read this book will have both a toolbox and an instruction manual.