Try These Thinking Strategies From Different Professions if You're Stuck

Screenshot: Working Title Films

“My thinking about this case had become very uptight,” says the Dude in The Big Lebowski as he figures out that the other Lebowski kept the ransom money. If you find that line a “big mood,” in the parlance of our times, then try out these twenty-five useful thinking tools gathered from various professions.

Motivational writer Scott H. Young lists mental models associated with twenty-five different professions: an economist often thinks in terms of how people react to incentives, while a philosopher considers “the unexpected consequences of an intuition.” A good teacher can understand what it’s like not to know what they know, and a good journalist checks facts before basing further conclusions on them. But the point isn’t to summarize professions. The point is to remember and use these mental models on your own problems.

If you’re creatively blocked, you might get your answer not from the model of an artist, but from an anthropologist, who learns by immersing themselves in an unfamiliar culture. Or you might take the entrepreneur’s approach of rapid prototyping: quickly testing a lot of ideas to see which are the most promising.

If you’re spreading yourself too thin, you might use the programmer’s approach and try to automate your tasks—even if it means finding a common solution that only does a decent job at each task. If you’re having trouble leading a group, maybe you need to think like a salesperson, figure out what other people want, and work backward from there to match it with what you want.

Young’s list isn’t definitive, so you can find your own mental models to borrow. And those models can match with your problems in surprising ways. I have one creative project that needs more of the soldier approach: “Routine and discipline prevent deadly mistakes.”

Twenty-Five Useful Thinking Tools | Scott H. Young

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