Models to Focus Your Thinking

Models give us something that we can focus our thinking on for an extended amount of time.

Nicholas Carr says that as our brains become used to processing information too quickly, and as a result they become unable to think deeply about the ideas we come across. I see what he means. I can’t say that I can agree with his theory, but I can relate to what I feel and what I observe as my own behaviour, which makes me think he has something there. Regardless of wether he is right or not though, I do think that we have some tools at our disposal that we can use when we want deep understanding of an idea.

Models to Focus Your Thinking

When we use a model, we create a simplified representation of reality. The model gives form to a concept that our minds can more easily relate to. It can be used in different ways to enable the deep thinking that Carr says we’ve forgotten.

– As a sandbox for experimenting with the elements of that particular idea.
– As a social tool for creation discussion and further branches of ideas.
– As a definition of boundaries.
– As a foundational tool for understanding.

The model creates the boundaries for your thinking. By design focus is a part of the design of a model. Without a model, thinking is unstructured and loose. With a model, limits are forced on you. Just as with limits of time and of resources, if the model accurately reflects the forces at work in reality, it will require creativity to finding a solution.

We need models as foundation for our learning. We could read 40 different books, PDFs, or blog posts on a topic, but without a foundation for our ideas to build off of, and without a model to use as context, then those ideas are less sticky. The ideas are harder to understand and harder to relate to what you already know. Without a model, each person looking at the same fact could also translate the concept differently internally. Models aren’t not just a foundational base for knowledge, but a foundational base for everyone.


One benefit work (a job, a project) brings to the use of models is the way it forces you to embrace a problem and a challenge for an extended period of time. For an extended period of time, you’re faced with a problem and its environment. With the use of your model you have to work out a solution to a complex problem.

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