Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann are expert problem-solvers and decision-makers. But that ability didn’t just come naturally. They actively worked at those skills by implementing a long list of mental models. Overwhelmed by your to-do list? Prioritize with the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Want to inject urgency into your team? Set up a Forcing Function, like a tight deadline or standing meeting.
Using mental models helped Weinberg develop DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused internet browser with 1.1 billion monthly searches based in Paoli, Pa. They’ve helped Lauren gain positions with impressive organizations like MIT and GlaxoSmithKline. It’s helped them both cultivate a happy marriage to one another and raise their two children who are 10 and 8 years old.
To bring those models to the world, Weinberg and McCann wrote Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models and the husband/wife team stopped by LIFT Labs to chat about the book.
“Mental model is a fancy word for concept,” said Weinberg. “Think back to learning arithmetic. You learn counting then addition, then multiplication — which is really just repeated addition. Once you have a tool like a calculator, you have a shortcut so you don’t have to start from scratch each time. These models are tools for making strategic decisions. When things organically pop up, they let you skip ahead.”
Basketball Teams Don’t Need Two Point Guards
Plenty of the concepts in Super Thinking are directly applicable to startups. For example, when it comes to hiring their first employees, many entrepreneurs search for superstars — the elusive “10x engineers” who can help build your product fast. But those people probably work for someone else and are probably very expensive. So Weinberg and McCann suggest trying to build a “10x team” where you arrange people based on their skill sets, personalities and career goals to generate teams that get amazing results. McCann harkens it to men’s basketball in the 2004 Olympic Games — where millionaire NBA pros from the U.S. lost to a well-oiled Argentina team in the semifinals.
“A basketball team doesn’t need two point guards. You need to have people that work well together — and sometimes a team that works well together is better than a whole bunch of superstars,” said McCann.
At DuckDuckGo, Weinberg employs a model called Directly Responsible Individual — meaning that everyone is responsible for everything in the organization.
“That overcomes another model called the Bystander Effect — like when you have multiple people on the ‘to’ field of an email and nobody replies because nobody knows who’s responsible for it,” he said. “That happens all the time at companies so, we make sure every task, project, and meeting has someone assigned to it as the owner.”
Solve A+ Problems
Another model implemented at DuckDuckGo is simple yet effective — having each employee list their top priorities of the week.
“People might do 50 things during the week — but what is the hardest thing to do?” said Weinberg. “If they don’t identify that, people will solve a lot of problems — but they’re B+ problems, not A+ problems. They’ll feel productive but not get to the deep work that’s really necessary.”
Another model is building an exit strategy. If you aren’t happy with your job, you can always leave and find another one. But that’s not the case for entrepreneurs, so be careful what you wish for.
“If you start a company, it’s not easy to exit. You have to know you’re going to be really passionate about your idea and that it’s something you’re going to want to be working on 10 years from now,” said McCann.
McCann and Weinberg also discussed some other enlightening concepts — namely “why now?” and “why you?” To be successful, they say, you need to explain why is now the right time for your idea to shine and why you have the expertise and drive to bring it to fruition.
“If you don’t have good answers to those questions,” said Weinberg. “It’s probably not going to end well.”
The models aren’t just good for startups, they work on Weinberg and McCann’s children too. One concept they use frequently with the kids is around trade-offs:
“We tell them ‘you can’t do everything. You have to decide the things you want to do the most.’ They struggle with that but I think everyone struggles with that,” said McCann.
But even the best models and most thought out decisions fail. And that’s okay, say the authors.
“There’s uncertainty. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Weinberg. “You have to program that in. The goal of all this is to make less unforced errors. Even if you do that you’re still gonna mess up.”