Note: mental links, mental models, mental connections, heuristics and systems thinking; all roughly mean the same in psychology. I’ll use the term “mental links” throughout this article.
Our minds are incredible at linking and connecting things.
Mental links are responsible for how we make sense of the world. We simplify complexities, and find similarities through mental links. Our minds are powerful at making these sorts of links. But we ought to understand and create better links intentionally.
Mental links are like a lens through which our thoughts see the world. And thoughts are famous for shaping a human being.
Firstly, understand that mental links sometimes lie on the evil end of the spectrum and do mislead, phenomena popularly termed as human tendencies or cognitive biases. But creating the right links (a continuous effort!) would mostly eliminate them.
Today, most people are specialists. Those who focus primarily on one particular activity. They may have a profession in which their job is to be good at one thing, and that thing only. For example, an engineer or accountant. Or perhaps just a little higher, they may have a bunch of small things to be good at (and are good at), but which fit a definite niche. For example, head of marketing or finance in a retail brand.
Being a specialist is just fine. But often has some downsides if you don’t have good mental links supporting your expertise. If mental links are connected to “just your job” (which unfortunately is the mainstream way); we’re each looking at the world through our special thinking lens which has a perpetually set anchor on our specialization. We look at everything from the point-of-view of the thing we’re good at. Which is often less than even half the picture. For the more you “specialize”, the lesser, shallower, and narrower are your mental links (that is if you accept the mainstream method in your work). The one who stands out, has deep and large networks of mental links, helping him/her think the best in their field.
“We all have mental models: the lens through which we see the world that drive our responses to everything we experience. Being aware of your mental models is key to being objective.”Elizabeth Thornton
On the other end, only specializing in a single thing; accompanied with having thinking habits on the entire world (outside and inside your specialization) with only the tools of thinking relevant to your job; can lead you with many blind spots in your thinking lens. This is not what specialists who stand out do.
Your mental models act as a filter to your thoughts. Thoughts and understanding will take form according to the characteristics of the filter.
If thinking is restricted to specialization, we have mental links only in respect with our work. Those kinds of links aren’t very helpful to keep; outside AND inside of your expertise. A blind spot in thinking refers to not getting the whole picture. For example, if you live in a 2-dimensional world, even a cube with respect to your perception will seem like a normal square. To eliminate blind spots in thinking, check your mental links.
Specialists’ perspectives and thinking habits need not be forcibly in accordance with “just their jobs”. To meeting our true potential in making the best decisions, plans, and inevitably the desired objective realities we aim for; I believe in the power of looking through the whole picture. Which is possible to attain through deeper, more open, and more varied mental links.
You can’t, of course, have all the knowledge in the world. But you can keep a lot of foundations in the many diverse knowledge fields of the world.
Accumulating knowledge is not enough. Finding links and connections, between All of Knowledge is what makes compounded knowledge so triumphant.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”Albert Einstein
Mental links—other than their wide-ranging responsibilities and functions—also form connections between knowledge. You may have often experienced, general work or learning in one field can have behavioral shifts in another. Or, observations in some part of life can create better understanding in other areas. Like a falling apple for Newton. An observation from which he created such an incredible, universal theory that gives not only scientists but everyone in the world great understanding on things in the observable universe.
Mental links help connect. An idea from a (seemingly) completely opposite world, can help some important aspect in this one. Having good foundations, whole picture, whole-brained thinking (with respect to the left and right hemispheres of the brain), and just generally being able to connect various things into one is a significant attribute to make understanding out of this superficially confusing world. Knowledge is understanding. We can’t understand if we just see half the picture. Knowledge must be universal.
Mental links shape thinking. Mental links connect thinking. Mental links embrace understanding.
The reasoning invested behind this article has been greatly influenced by the article on the blog of Farnam Street (FS) on Mental Models. You can read it here.