Munger didn’t go into specifics about his own latticework of mental models he used to make decisions. That’s because his particular set of models wouldn’t necessarily work for anyone else but him. He provided some tips to identify what models you might want to consider, but he didn’t lead anyone down the path himself. That’s a journey only you can make.
But for the sake of explanation, here are a few examples of mental models so you have an idea of what they look like and how to break them down:
Think about secondary consequences. When you’re considering making a certain decision, think about the consequences the decision would have down the line—second, or third order outcomes, and further down the line if you can. If you are going to tip over a domino, think about the second and third dominoes to fall. They might not be the ones you intend. It’s easy to imagine how a course of action is going to affect the immediate situation, but only focusing on fixing the problem at hand could result in other problems arising.
So to choose the most appropriate solution, think of what will happen down the road should you elect to put it into effect. In other words, think longer-term and outside your immediate circle of concern. When you run situations through this mental model, you’ll find answers that are more beneficial overall rather than engaging in immediate gratification.. This word was introduced in:
You will simply waste time and energy searching for something that either doesn’t exist or doesn’t really make a difference. Do you need optimal peanut butter, or will most of them do? If you can take a step back and understand that you only need to achieve the goal of buying peanut butter, you can move on with your life. What appears to be “best” is largely subjective and nothing you will probably ever notice.
In satisficing, one retrains their focus on the most important or pivotal points that need to be addressed (not unlike the Pareto Principle), and then makes decisions that will satisfice in that context. Trying to come up with an exact and precise answer every single time is a needless waste of time and energy. When you run situations through this mental model, you’ll understand what your actual purpose is, what’s secondary, and what you can ignore completely.
Distinguish feeling or thinking. It’s easy to mistake emotions for thoughts. Both deal with a sense of conviction. But emotions are immediate responses to certain sensory stimuli that aren’t always controllable, whereas thoughts come from a standpoint of calculation and consideration. This harkens back to the discussion of System 1 and System 2 thinking.
In the feeling-vs.-thinking mental model, you try to instill an objective point of view as much as you can. This means removing your emotional investment about a certain circumstance or problem and surveying the evidence as a disinterested outsider. You might even try some reverse emotional engineering for a problem and consider how you might deal with a situation if you wanted to be emotional about it. Then you’d compare and contrast it with the situation you’re dealing with at the moment. Hopefully they are radically different plans of attack.
The point of this model is to reduce the chance that you’ll make an errant decision based solely on instinct, impatience, or temper. It’s also a way to make sure you’re not confusing emotions with intellectual reasoning, and to help you gain some clarity on the inherent differences between the two. Emotional thinking can occasionally be important and even necessary, but for important decisions, clear thinking should always be the primary consideration. When you run situations through this mental model, you will understand what emotional attachments you have that are holding you back.
Prioritize motion. Many of us have a tendency to plan a course of action across every step, accounting for every potential smaller action along the way and coming up with contingencies if something doesn’t go right. While some planning is a good idea, too much planning can delay the decision from being executed. In worst-case scenarios, spending most of the time in prep mode can result in what’s commonly called “analysis paralysis”—getting mired in the planning stage so much that nothing ever gets done.
This mental model encourages you to start with doing and stop standing still. Stop trying to reason in your head, and put pen to paper. Whatever it is, take a step beyond your instinct.
Make your default course of action actual, not just more planning. You don’t need to know every single step along the way and have a detailed set of instructions ready to go. You just need to be able to anticipate the next step or two. If you set off on a road trip, you don’t need the exact address you are driving to—you just need enough directions for the next hour or two.
Part of the problem is hesitation from not feeling prepared. But the truth is, you’ll never be 100 percent prepared, not close to it. You’ll learn more and become more prepared by taking a single step forward and learning through experience versus endless planning from the sidelines. No matter how hard you plan, things will come up that you couldn’t have planned for, and your end destination might even change in the process. Mistakes? Ninety-nine percent are reversible or inconsequential.
If it feels too early to start a certain task, that might be a sign that it’s the perfect moment to get going. When you run situations through this mental model, you will be quicker and farther along than anyone else.
Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. You might recognize this mental model as Murphy’s Law. Sometimes it is used in jest to lament someone’s misfortunes, but it can be far more useful than as a joke.
You can use this principle when you decide on the readiness of something, or whether you yourself are prepared. If there is a possibility that it can go wrong, you had better fix it. If you know there is a weak spot, you had better address it. The point of this model is to use uncertainty as a sign for action. You’ll look differently at your decisions if you think that any chink in the armor can lead to disaster.
When you run situations through this mental model, you will find yourself weighing the costs and benefits of allowing a mistake.
Of course, this might come into odds with the prior mental model of prioritizing action, but that’s precisely where having a latticework is helpful. Not all motion is helpful, and not all double-checking is helpful, but the models give you two concrete options for how to deal with something.
These five models can work together and cover a wide variety of situations to help you navigate life. But more specifically to our goal of practical intelligence and understanding the world for what it is, we’ll explore three additional mental models in greater depth.