when to share your mental model

A mental model is a like an analogy, it’s a shortcut to understanding. Mental models help you to simplify and understand something complex and difficult.

All models are wrong, but some are useful. – George E. P. Box, statistician

Given your model could be wrong, it’s important to know when you should or should not share it. By “share your mental model” I mean; to explain the way you think about the problem, such that the other person understands the problem in the same way that you do.

When to share;

  • When you are working on a relatively well-known problem, and you need to convey information in the shortest or most efficient way. Mental models simplify problems into something understandable. When you need to convey that understanding quickly and efficiently, making use of your mental model is a great idea. You can get in-sync with the other person and come to a shared understanding. Share your mental model when you are teaching.

When not to share;

  • When unique and abstract ideas are needed. You have to know that your model might be wrong, and the more unknown the problem the more likely that you model is wrong. Don’t bias the others with your ideas on how to structure or simplify the problem. In this case, by sharing your mental model you can close-off the avenues for exploration. This is the “convergent” part of divergent and convergent thinking. By sharing your mental model, you are forcing others to converge on how you think. Be sure not to do this before the others have had the opportunity to explore divergent thinking first. Don’t share your mental model (immediately) when you are exploring unique or novel solutions to a problem.