Top 4 Books for Better Mental Models
A beginner’s guide to the multidisciplinary approach
In a world of specialization, mental models are the most powerful argument for adopting a more multidisciplinary approach. The concept behind mental models is that broad exposure to a range of subjects enables you to leverage the most useful knowledge from each, so you’re able to make better decisions.
When you position yourself at the intersection of multiple disciplines, you develop the ability to connect seemingly unrelated dots in a way that the vast majority are otherwise incapable of discovering. It’s here where true creativity and the most innovative solutions are found.
Charlie Munger coined the term “latticework” of mental models–which is exactly what you’re aiming for. The models you pick up should be intertwined with one another, as well as with your personal and vicarious experience. The more connections, the faster you’ll be able to navigate the latticework of your mind, and the stronger your cognitive ability.
You can begin building better models by going straight to the source. If you read and study those who have demonstrated mastery over their specific fields–regardless of industry–you can improve your decision-making ability considerably.
Over the past year, I’ve read (and reread) over 40 books in search for the best systems. These have served as the foundation for improving my own mental models. I’ve distilled what I’ve found to be the most important methods and strategies down to just four books. Each documents real models from some of the smartest, most imaginative minds in history. While these are in no way comprehensive, it is my hope that they will provide a starting place for you to build your own latticework, and that you might find them as enlightening and useful as I have.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more profound, relevant book, no matter your position in life. If I had to recommend a single book of Greene’s to get you started, this would be it. He begins by defining mastery as the sensation we experience when we feel that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. The book offers a deep dive into every element of mastery–including insight for those just starting out and searching for their life’s task. True to form, Greene also provides detailed accounts and models from some of the greatest masters in history–Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Paul Graham, and dozens more.
“The pain and boredom we experience in the initial stage of learning a skill toughens our minds, much like physical exercise. Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents–will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?” –Robert Greene
A collection of interviews with hundreds of the most talented entrepreneurs and thought leaders consolidated into their most useful sound bites. It follows the same format as his popular podcast. Ferriss lays the framework for building better, more productive mental models. Rather than suggesting a checklist of X-Y-Z required to set yourself apart, he emphasizes strategies and tactics which can be applied more broadly. A few of my favorite sections feature Naval Ravikant (entrepreneur/investor), Josh Waitzkin (chess prodigy), and Alain de Botton (philosopher). There are sure to be a handful of ideas that will resonate with you and help improve your own mental models. It’s a book I revisit with regularity–especially when I’m in need of a new perspective.
“Most people think they can wait around for the big moments to turn it on. But if you don’t cultivate ‘turning it on’ as a way of life in the little moments–and there are hundreds of times more little moments than big–then there’s no chance in the big moments.” –Josh Waitzkin
Taleb introduces his concept of antifragility, which explains that certain things–including us–benefit from a degree of randomness, chaos, and disorder. While comfort, convenience, and predictability, breed the opposite–fragility. He presents this as part of what he calls ‘the central triad’ which ranges from fragile to robust to antifragile–the key to personal growth. As he explains antifragility, he discusses the value systems that hold us prisoner, ancestral vs. modern life, and Seneca’s version of Stoicism. It’s a dense read, but worth it for a glimpse into the originality of Taleb’s models.
“With randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.” –Nassim Taleb
I’ve found Stoicism to be the most effective philosophy for modern life. If you’re unfamiliar with Stoicism, you’re probably operating under the misconception that it’s synonymous with a lack of emotion. In actuality, it’s a school of philosophy focused on cultivating an unwavering sense of focus, appreciation, and rationality. The Daily Stoic is a great introduction to some of the most memorable Stoic philosophers and their models for living a better life, including Epictetus, Seneca the Younger, and Marcus Aurelius. The book offers daily wisdom–366 short sections–focused on the most important Stoic themes. This is not a philosophy textbook filled with abstract concepts. It’s an accessible overview of Stoicism and its emphasis on the art of living.
“Take a good hard look at people’s ruling principle, especially of the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out.” –Marcus Aurelius