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Improve Your Business Decision-Making With These 07 Mental Models

Mental models are maps for thinking clearly. 

Good mental models serve as cognitive frameworks to understand and be effective in the world around us. These are decision frameworks to quickly grasp a complex situation. 

Mental models are particularly useful for people who operate in environments where they need to make quick decisions about substantial matters. 

There are mental models for all kinds of fields and professions. Business and entrepreneurship are no different. 

Moreover, no mental models, like any useful knowledge, are exclusive. Some mental models that are relevant for physics are equally relevant for any number of fields. Take, for example, Newton’s third law of motion, if object A exerts a force on object B, then object B must exert a force of equal magnitude and opposite direction back on object A. You can apply that even to your relationships 

However, it is useful to learn about mental models particularly relevant to your field. For instance, if you are someone who works in venture capital, it is useful to learn about ideas like power law, innovator’s dilemma, and so on. 

Similarly, if you are an entrepreneur particular mental models are more useful for you than others. You can learn and benefit from other models but you should learn these mental models that are specific to your field by heart. 

In this article, I have collected a set of mental models that are particularly useful for anyone building a business. Let’s get to it. 

01. The Lean Startup Method 

The Lean Startup method has transformed traditional business approaches by emphasizing agility, iterative development, and customer feedback. The core principles of the method include: testing hypotheses and rapidly iterating based on real-world responses and efficient resource allocation. 

Lean startup model first proposed the idea of minimum viable products (MVPs), giving a name to the idea that you should first build a scrappy version of your product, launch it to the market, gather data and validate assumptions early on, and build as you get the market feedback. The approach allows startups to mitigate risks and optimize their offerings to meet customer needs effectively. 

Lean startup recognizes the fact that business is a learning problem.  "The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else,” writes Eric Rise. The learning for a startup comes from experimentation and building a feedback loop to capture the lessons from each experiment. Lean startup model offers a useful mental model to build a learning system as you gradually build your business without wasting your money or efforts. 

02. The Theory of Constraints

Theory of Constraints, a management philosophy developed by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, centers on identifying and alleviating bottlenecks or constraints within a system to enhance overall productivity. The idea is that you pinpoint the elements limiting a process's efficiency and direct attention and resources to resolve these constraints. 

Applying this model means investing in a thorough analysis of the factors impeding progress or causing inefficiencies in a business strategy and then taking measures to address them. By recognizing and alleviating constraints, businesses can optimize their operations, streamline processes, and make more informed decisions that positively impact their bottom line.

As Eliyahu M. Goldratt said, “The minute you supply a person with the answers, by that very action you block them, once and for all, from the opportunity of inventing those same answers for themselves. If you want to go on an ego trip, to show how smart you are, give the answers. But if what you want is action to be taken, then you must refrain from giving the answers.”

03. The Decision Matrix

Decision Matrix, as the name suggests, is a structured framework for evaluating and prioritizing various options based on multiple criteria to make the optimum decision. You assign weights or importance to different factors, systematically analyze alternatives, quantify their potential, and arrive at a decision accordingly. 

The model helps you to make more informed decisions by providing a comprehensive view of the pros and cons associated with each choice. You get a clearer understanding of the trade-offs involved, allowing for a more rational and objective decision-making process. 

04. Occam's Razor

The key idea is that the most straightforward explanation tends to be accurate. When presented with various explanations or solutions, the one requiring the fewest assumptions is usually the most accurate. Founders can apply this model in so many different ways. Of course, one important way is to seek simplicity over complexity. Many organizational theorists suggest complex organizations usually die or face more challenges than simple ones. 

In the business, applying Occam's Razor involves favoring straightforward solutions over needlessly complex ones. By embracing simplicity, businesses can avoid convoluted strategies or solutions that may introduce unnecessary risks or complications. 

Similarly, it means going for a clear approach to decision-making where you focus on essential factors and solutions without overcomplicating matters. 

05. Bayesian Probability

Rooted in the Bayesian theorem, it revolves around updating probabilities based on new evidence or information. In the business realm, this model offers a dynamic approach to decision-making, allowing for the incorporation of fresh data to refine and adjust initial assumptions. 

It encourages a continuous learning process, wherein businesses adapt their strategies and predictions as they acquire more insights. 

By embracing Bayesian Probability, businesses can make more informed decisions by factoring in evolving information, fostering adaptability, and improving the accuracy of forecasts and assessments in an ever-changing market landscape. 

06. The Black Swan Theory

The Black Swan Theory underscores the impact of unpredictable, high-impact events that fall outside the realm of regular expectations. Coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, this theory highlights the inherent limitations of prediction and the risks posed by rare, unforeseen events that can disrupt businesses significantly. 

In the context of decision-making, understanding and acknowledging the existence of Black Swan events prompts businesses to adopt strategies that account for uncertainty and unexpected occurrences. 

This theory emphasizes the importance of robust risk management, resilience, and preparedness, urging businesses to diversify, anticipate extreme scenarios, and build flexible, adaptive structures. 

By considering the possibility of Black Swan events, businesses can develop contingency plans, mitigate risks, and enhance their capacity to withstand and recover from unforeseen disruptions.

07. The OODA Loop

The OODA Loop centers on a continuous cycle of Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action. Initially developed by military strategist John Boyd, this model emphasizes agility and adaptability in rapidly changing environments.

In business, the OODA Loop underscores the importance of quickly processing information, analyzing market dynamics, and making timely decisions. By continually cycling through this loop, businesses can stay responsive to evolving circumstances, enabling faster adjustments to strategies and tactics. 

This model empowers organizations to outmaneuver competitors, capitalize on emerging opportunities, and navigate uncertainties more effectively. The OODA Loop's iterative nature fosters a dynamic decision-making process that enhances competitiveness and resilience in dynamic business landscapes.


My introduction to mental models happened quite recently. This series, I’ve done a few other mental model pieces, is my way of getting myself up to speed about important mental models. It has so far been an excellent learning trip. 

The world is a complex place and these mental models provide a useful toolkit to navigate the complexities of the world. 

From Occam's Razor advocating simplicity to the Bayesian Probability allowing for adaptive learning, each model offers a unique perspective and approach. They lay the groundwork for not just reactive responses, but strategic, forward-thinking decisions that drive sustainable growth and resilience in an ever-evolving business landscape. 

I’m enjoying my trip down this road, I invite you to join me. Please feel free to hit me with any interesting mental model you come across. You can find my email in my profile. Happy clear thinking! 

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

Ayrin Saleha Ria works at Future Startup as a full-time Research Associate. She has a background in Applied Sociology. Before joining the FS team, she worked and volunteered with a number of social organizations. As someone who comes from a social science background, she takes a deep interest in research around important social-economic challenges in our society. A voracious reader, Ayrin is passionate about working for the betterment of society, takes a deep interest in human society and behavioral science, and loves books.

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