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How to Use Mental Models to Make Better Decisions Faster

Learn how to level up your decision-making with our favorite mental models and frameworks to help you gain perspective and discover more innovative solutions … and do it faster.

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As a leader in your organization, you might as well be called "chief problem-solver." But if you're like most leaders, you might feel like:

  1. The problems never stop.

  2. The challenges get more and more complex.

  3. You've got less time to step away to think clearly and strategically about solutions.

This can be especially true in non-profits that are trying to solve complex problems with limited resources. Whether your mission is to address poverty, homelessness, healthcare, racism, justice … these are huge issues built on systemic problems. And the last thing you need is for your team to just go through the motion of working for the sake of doing something.

No, you want your team to make a real difference. And the world is counting on it. But to come up with innovative, lasting solutions for systemic issues, you have to think differently. Today, I'm sharing some of my favorite hacks for solving complex problems and making better decisions faster.

Related: What Smart Entrepreneurs Know About Problem-Solving

How mental models train you to think strategically

Mental models are tools that can help you gain distance from a problem, view it from a different perspective and discover innovative solutions. They offer unique thought processes you can use to examine and make sense of challenges. Let's look at some well-known examples of mental models:

  • Newton's Laws of Motion: Something in motion can only be stopped by an outside force.

  • Occam's Razor: The simplest solution is almost always the best solution.

  • Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong … will go wrong

Most likely, you've applied these in your own life and work to help you make sense of a situation and decide on a solution. Mental models like these act as thinking hacks and shortcuts. They're brilliant for reducing complexities, which is just the thing you need when you're feeling the burden of solving a challenge.

But a single mental model doesn't work in all cases. Newton's Laws of Motion, for example, don't hold when working at very high speeds or in a very strong gravitational field. That's why the best leaders fill their toolboxes with mental models. They aim to internalize and practice different models, learning them well so they build a deep bench of options to choose to use in the right context for the right situation.

James Clear, the author of the #1 NYT bestseller Atomic Habits, writes: "Put simply, mental models are the set of tools that you use to think. Each mental model offers a different framework that you can use to look at life (or at an individual problem). … If you develop a bigger toolbox of mental models, you'll improve your ability to solve problems because you'll have more options for getting to the right answer. This is one of the primary ways that truly brilliant people separate themselves from the masses of smart individuals out there."

Related: 7 Methods to Maximize Your Decision-Making

Our favorite mental models to fast-track solutions

How many mental models do you actively apply to the challenges your organization faces? The more you add to your toolbox, the more you can draw on to find better, more innovative solutions — and faster. Here are a couple of the mental models we find repeatedly useful at Historic:

Marquee Culture:

We look at our clients' brands through the lens of Marquee Culture, which identifies six different layers of organizational culture.

By understanding culture through the layers of Marquee Culture, we help leaders not only gain deep insight into their organization's brand problems but also identify brilliant solutions that make an immediate positive impact at every level of their operations.

The result is increased customer satisfaction, better product delivery, higher employee retention and so much more.

Divergent thinking:

Innovation demands we think outside the box.

Nothing has helped us do that more quickly and efficiently than divergent thinking, a suite of tools designed to push teams outside of their normal lanes of thought.

Instead of spinning our wheels in a conventional brainstorming session, we use divergent thinking tools and prompts to fast-track our creative thinking.

Applying cross-discipline mental models

Different industries and fields also offer rich mental models that you can apply to your organization. After all, the best ideas often come about when they're informed by other disciplines.

Take this mental model from Formula 1: If you want to move faster, reduce drag or increase acceleration.

To increase speed and help your team move faster, do one of the following:

  1. Look for what's causing drag, and reduce it.

  2. Put more resources behind something to increase acceleration.

To go deeper into this mental model, read Formula X, a business fable about organizational acceleration. I highly recommend it.

Related: The Need for Speed: How Fast Decision-Making Reduces Risk and Creates Growth

As a leader, you'll always have multiple problems competing for your attention and demanding solutions. But with a toolbox full of mental models that help you gain perspective and reduce complexity, you'll be able to better solve whatever problems arise — and solve them faster. Don't worry … when you find yourself out in the weeds with a particularly challenging problem, drop a line. We'll help you kickstart the process of finding just the right solution you're looking for.

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