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Mental Models For a Pandemic

Understanding the world through mental models

Understanding the world through mental models

A few months ago, the world seemed reliable, but now it is changing so fast and has so many unknown dimensions, it can be hard to try and keep up.

Mental models can help us understand the world better, especially during times of confusion. A mental model is simply a representation of how something works. It is a way to simplify complexity and provide direction for our choices.

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Mental Models For a Pandemic

Mental Models For a Pandemic

https://fs.blog/2020/05/pandemic/

fs.blog

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Key Ideas

Understanding the world through mental models

A few months ago, the world seemed reliable, but now it is changing so fast and has so many unknown dimensions, it can be hard to try and keep up.

Mental models can help us understand the world better, especially during times of confusion. A mental model is simply a representation of how something works. It is a way to simplify complexity and provide direction for our choices.

Compounding

Compounding is exponential growth. We tend to see the immediate linear relationships in the situation, e.g., how one test diagnoses one person.

The compounding effect of that relationship means that increased testing can lead to an exponential decrease in disease transmission because one infected person can infect more than just one person.

Probabilistic thinking

In the absence of enough testing, we need to use probabilistic thinking to make decisions on what actions to take. Reasonable probability will impact your approach to physical distancing if you estimate the likelihood of transmission as being three people out of ten instead of one person out of one thousand.

When you have to make decisions with incomplete information, use inversion: Look at the problem backward. Ask yourself what you could do to make things worse, then avoid doing those things.

Models for society

Using mental models will help in understanding the dynamics of the large-scale social response.

We are currently seeing first-order negatives (closing businesses), and 2nd- and 3rd-order positives (reduced transmission, less stress on the healthcare system.)

We need to encourage the thinking, analysis, and decision-making that considers the effects of the effects of the decisions made. Then we need to use a feedback loop. This will give us a better chance of making good decisions.

The dynamics of a social response

As we watch the pandemic and its consequences unfold, we see that leadership and authority are not the same things.

Disasters expose the cracks in our leadership. We also see people that display strong leadership without needing any authority.

Ecosystems

One quality of an ecosystem is its resilience - the speed at which an ecosystem recovers after a disturbance.

  • One factor that interferes with our collective resilience is the thin buffer of our economy. The closing of shops and business has exposed the fragile supply chains. Individuals and businesses don't have enough money saved up.
  • The other is the social ecosystem. We don't have enough medical facilities and supplies. We optimized for a narrow range of possibilities and compromised the resilience of the system.

How to move forward

  • Cooperation is a powerful way to move forward both as individuals and societies. All of us have given up some independence for access to resources provided by others.
  • We can mitigate some negative effects by leveraging our community networks to create cooperative interactions that could fill the gaps in the government response. We can also create more resilient connections in the future.
  • Lastly, we need to consider how we can be less fragile. We can't just get "back to normal" as it proved to be too fragile. We need to ask how we can grow stronger so that we are better prepared and less vulnerable.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Succumbing to the Availability Bias
Succumbing to the Availability Bias

After a particularly stressful event, most people prepare for a repeat of the same challenge they just faced. From the micro level to the macro level, we succumb to the availability bias and get re...

When Disaster Strikes

When a certain disaster or calamity happens, we work towards ensuring that the same calamity can be dealt with in the better way, the next time it happens. The pain or loss that we suffer motivates us to do so.

We forget in our preparation and resource allocation to the ‘last’ disaster, that we have neglected many other things that are more likely to happen.

Expect The Unexpected
  • Life has a tendency to surprise us, and we will be most likely smacked with something totally unforeseen and unrelated to the last disaster, that one was prepared for.
  • A better strategy is to realize that it is inevitable that life will hit us unexpectedly, and to grow and learn from the same.
  • Being adaptive, flexible and resilient would increase our adversity quotient, making us strengthen our inner resources, and enrich our experience.
Risk Compensation
Risk Compensation

Risk protection is normally done to minimize the harm a particular activity can do to us. There are various things we do to reduce our risk, to make ourselves safer.

Behaviour scientists po...

Risk Compensation Effects
  • When automobile safety laws were introduced, the drivers started taking more risks while driving, leading to more pedestrian accidents.
  • Children (and even adults) take more physical risks while playing a sport with protective gear.
  • Safety features like Anti-lock brakes in vehicles ended up increasing the accidents for taxi drivers in Germany
  • Child-proof caps on medicine bottles made parents careless about their being opened by kids, including the ones which don’t have the safety feature.
The Carelessness Effect

Having a safety device in place, and armed with the knowledge that we can push the envelope a bit, the appetite for risk increases.

  • People who have an emergency fund in place tend to be less careful about their investments.
  • People wearing a face-mask in this global pandemic feel like they are safer in crowded places (It’s a face mask, not an Iron Man suit).

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Guru Madhavan

"The core of the engineering mind-set is what I call modular systems thinking. It’s not a singular talent, b..."

Guru Madhavan
Thinking in Systems

It means to be able to break down a big system into its sections and putting it back together. The target is to identify the strong and weak links: how the sections work, don’t work, or could potentially work and applying this knowledge to engineer useful outcomes.

There is no engineering method, so modular systems thinking varies with contexts.

Fundamental Properties of the Engineering Mind-Set
  • The ability to see a structure where there’s nothing apparent.
  • Adeptness at designing under constraints.
  • The capacity to hold alternative ideas in your head and make considered judgments.
Joel Mokyr

“Technological progress requires above all tolerance toward the unfamiliar and the eccentric.”

Joel Mokyr
What society needs to be technologically creative
  • A social infrastructure: society needs a supply of creative innovators who are willing and able to challenge their physical environment in order to better themselves.
  • Social incentives: there need to be incentives in place to encourage innovation.
  • Social attitude: a creative society has to be diverse and tolerant. People must be open to new ideas and individuals.
Joel Mokyr
Joel Mokyr

“Invention occurs at the level of the individual, and we should address the factors that determine individual creativity. Individuals, however, do not live in a vacuum. What makes them implement, improve and adapt new technologies, or just devise small improvements in the way they carry out their daily work depends on the institutions and the attitudes around them.”

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Incomplete information and over-estimation
Incomplete information and over-estimation
  • Much of what you need to know in life is hidden from you. You need to make decisions, but is still the victim of chance or uncertainty.
  • We tend to over-est...
Thinking probabilistically to avoid overestimating our abilities

To avoid the trap of overestimating our own skill, we need to start thinking probabilistically. That means estimating the odds and adapting your decision-making accordingly.

Even if the decision had a good outcome, we still need to objectively analyse the quality of the decision-making underneath.

Learn to deal with tilting

Tilting means realizing that your emotions are not separate from the logic of your decision making - for example, the despair that comes from bad luck, or the overconfidence that comes from a win.

You can learn to cope better by regularly checking in with yourself to see what you are feeling and how you react. Once you have identified those feelings, then try to analyse how they're influencing your judgment.

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Subjective Evaluation In Interviews
Subjective Evaluation In Interviews

On the employer’s side, the entire job interview process is subjective, from the shortlisting of applications to the screening phone call, and finally when the candidate is at the door.

The Interview Performance
  • Usually, a typical job interview has the employer(s) sit in a room (or a video conference software) and make them answer unstructured questions, gauging their ability to charm them, and appear as the right fit by feeling like ‘one of the gang’. The candidate is selected or rejected based on how good he ‘performed’ on the interview day.
  • Charisma can also be faked during an interview process, and the interviewer can be duped into hiring a wrong candidate who was able to manufacture charm and likeability to get selected. This makes hiring based on what is portrayed by the candidate to be inherently flawed.
Discrimination And Bias in Interviews

In an ideal world, the competence of a person should get him or her the job. In reality, bias gets in the way and is normally related to age, gender, race, appearance and even social class.

Another common mistake is to hire someone who is well-liked by the interviewer due to them being similar. This eventually narrows down the range of skill sets and diversity of thinking in the workplace.

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Comparison vs. First Principles Thinking

Comparison Thinking (reason through analogy)

When you make decisions and judgement calls based on what you or others have experienced. An easy mode of thinking but also

Advantages of First Principles Thinking
  • Allows for a more personal, customized mode of thinking and application.
  • A key to doing any sort of systemic inquiry.
  • Even though it does take far more mental energy to work in this mode, the results can be quite staggering.
  • A new and innovative way of thinking.
Applying the First Principles Thinking

Identify the Problem

What is something that I want to change in my life?

Deconstruct the Problem

What are the causes of my problems? How does it affect my life?

Solve the Problem

Start creating your new framework. You could think of multiple ways to achieve your goals easily.

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Social-emotional learning
Social-emotional learning

Schools are supposed to be able to adjust to their students' needs and requirements throughout the year.

Especially in times of crisis, the technique called social-emotional learning is a m...

Support teachers' needs

While going through a crisis of any kind can be challenging for most of us, one category that for sure feels the change is represented by the teaching staff worldwide.

When asked to teach their subject via Zoom or applications alike, teachers have to change their way of presenting the topic, make them seem more interesting and, what is even more important, to make the class more interactive; this can eventually lead to sadness, anxiety and fear even for the most experienced teachers.

Mentoring relationships within schools

If there is one thing that teachers should be particularly good at, this has to be mentoring their students.

By doing so, not only do they guide an individual's self-development throughout his or her school years, but they also emphasize the idea of human interaction, which should actually be the basis for most of our successful actions.

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Inner, other and outer focus
Inner, other and outer focus

We need three kinds of focus:

  • Inner focus guides our values and decisions.
  • Other focus smooths our...
Continual partial attention

We increasingly find it difficult to focus on the hear and now without checking our phones. We seem to go through life in a state of "continual partial attention." We're there but not aware of where we put our attention.

While modern technology has its advantages, our attention span is suffering. Teachers are noticing that current students find it hard to read books that previous students used to enjoy. Teachers think that students' ability to read has been compromised by short text messages and video games.

Two main varieties of distractions
  • Sensory: We can more easily tune out from sensory distractions. For example, the feel of your tongue against your upper palate is an incoming stimuli your brain weeds out.
  • Emotional distraction is more difficult to tune out. When you overhear someone mention your name, it's almost impossible to ignore.

Those who focus best are relatively immune to emotional disturbance.

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Denying Your Own Creativity

That’s a self-imposed and self-limiting belief. Stop that.

Creativity is a requirement for problem-solving and we all problem-solve. Acknowledge that you're inherently creative,

Being Afraid Of Being Wrong

We hate being wrong, but mistakes often teach us the most and allow us to innovate.

Think of the pros and cons of trying something and then free yourself to do it. If it doesn't work, take what you learn, and try something else. 

Being Too "Serious"

The persona of the fool allows the truth to be told, without the usual ramifications that might come with speaking against social conventions. Give yourself permission to be a fool and see things for what they really are.

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