DIGITAL TRENDS: Why multiple mental models are key to success

Thursday February 20 2020


By Innocent Swai

There was a group of six blind men who heard about an animal, called elephant. None of them was aware of its shape and form. Out of their curiosity, they wanted to inspect and could only feel different parts of an elephant: the trunk, the leg, the ear, the side, the tail and the tusk.

For the first person case, whose hand landed on the trunk, felt like a “thick snake”.

For the second one whose hand reached its ear, his experience is like a “kind of fan.”

As for third person, whose hand was upon its leg, it seemed the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk.

The fourth blind man who placed his hand upon its side, felt like the “elephant is a wall”.

The last but one whose hand was upon its tail, described elephant as a “rope.”


The last one, interestingly felt its tusk, stating an elephant is hard and smooth like a spear.

What do you thinj is the moral of this parable? We humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on our different limited, subjective experiences, biases, attitudes, etc. as we ignore other people’s limited subjective experiences which may be equally true.

In other words, these blind men were wrong in isolation, because they could only see from a single perspective. They were wrong about the elephant’s overall appearance. We must see the Elephant from every perspective in order to truly understand the animal.

In real life and business, when we make use of too few mental models, we risk falling prey to the fable of these blind men. The Elephant scenario has just demonstrated the whole situation. The more varied perspectives we possess, the more of the world we can understand easily. Perhaps the most important part of a mental model is that they always act to prevent and minimise human errors.

With a toolbox of multiple models, they keep challenging each other to produce a more unified overview. Instead of just using one or two mental models; whereby we end up being restricted to our long-range view to a limited context or discipline. Having a huge

range of mental models can expand your viewpoint and cancel out some of the stray “errors” that using just one or two models would produce.

It’s not a must to know all the ins and outs of a million different disciplines to use multiple mental models. You just need to understand the basic points and fundamentals of a few essential ones. You need to differentiate yourself with that the person with a single hammer who sees whole world as a nail. We can be better than that.

In a sense, in today’s digital economy era, most mental models are eventually helping in making both reversible and irreversible decisions. There are specific mental models about how best to process big data more quickly and searching for outcomes that are more likely to be Impactful. In other words, they make us move from Point A to Point B in less time, and they might also help us in defining what Point A actually is.

Most of the time when it comes to making decisions, with digital gadgets in our hands 24/7 we are overloaded with information—the classic signal-to noise ratio problem. It’s time to learn the art of becoming selectively deaf and input only what matters. That’s how and where mental models comes in.