The Great Mental Models (Vol. 1) by Shane Parrish [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish (Volume 2, here). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get access to a downloadable worksheet.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

The first volume of the series The Great Mental Models, General Thinking Concepts, introduces nine, fundamental for our existence, mental models. Through short stories and easily understandable examples, Shane Parrish’s goal is to equip our minds with tools that can not only upgrade our decision-making process but also bring us closer to where we want to be in life.

The Core Idea:

You can imagine mental models as lenses you put to see the surrounding world differently, better. These mental tools offer a unique way of tackling problems and making smarter decisions – they help you spot opportunities and avoid mistakes. The primary task of this book is to explain, in plain English, nine of the most popular mental models and also show you how to apply them in your everyday life.


  • Understanding more about the world will increase your chances of making wise decisions.
  • Pursuing endless gain leads to someone else’s peril.
  • Always think about the consequences of your actions.

5 Key Lessons from The Great Mental Models Vol.1:

Lesson #1: Remove Blind Spots To Win

By removing blind spots you’re increasing your chances to win.

To win in what?

Well, in everything.

Or as Shane Parrish writes in the book, “In life and business, the person with the fewest blind spots wins. Removing blind spots means we see, interact with, and move closer to understanding reality. We think better.”

You don’t have to be a genius to live a good life and make wise decisions. You simply need to understand how the world works.

But the world is too broad of a definition. Let’s narrow it down: To be good at your craft, you need to uncover enough blind spots to master it.

And how exactly you remove blind spots?

By learning from the best in the field. That’s actually the slogan of Shane Parrish’s website, the author of this book: “To help people master the best of what other people have already figured out.”

Let me give you an example so you can understand this idea better:

Say you want to start your own business – it will be your first entrepreneurial venture. While you can start and learn as you go – as most people suggest – it’s a good idea to first learn a bit about the market you want to enter and the troubles most people encounter. How to do this? By reading articles, books, and watching videos on the subject from the best in the field.

This process might seem like a total waste of time – you’re not actually building a business while reading. But it helps in numerous ways: You’ll refine your idea; You’ll be prepared for at least some of the obstacles; You’ll have a general sense of what to expect in terms of revenue, difficulties, etc.

While the concept of removing blind spots is presented as an introductory chapter in the book – meaning, it’s not an actual mental model. It’s a great way to look at things.

When you have a broader knowledge about a specific subject, you’re able to quickly spot your flaws, avoid problems and potentially take on the right path.

Having said all the above, your task, no matter what you’re doing, is to continuously learn. This will widen your scope of expertise and eventually, transform you into a kick-ass decision-maker.

Lesson #2: Do not Seek For Unlimited Gain In a Limited World

Since the online world allows us to scale pretty much everything. The main desire of people nowadays revolves around increasing their profits exponentially. And while this seems good for the individual, it’s always bad for society.

A famous parable mentioned in the book called, The Tragedy of the Commons, is shared to reinforce this specific idea – that there are certain limits in this world that we should consider.

But we forget that.

Let me give you an example:

While there is virtually no cap in terms of how much money you can earn these days if your app or site gets funded, there are consequences when we don’t consider the limitations that are imposed by nature. Some of these are: When we expand our costs will grow. We’ll start producing more waste. Our competitors will lose clients which will lead to layovers and people losing jobs. Therefore, The Tragedy of the Commons.

Or in other words, pursuing endless gains pleases a small portion of people while badly influencing the population in large.

While the rich are getting richer, when they are looking for their own best interest, society as a whole is suffering because the average person doesn’t have access to the wealth the first group has.

The solution here to restore the balance is twofold: First, rich people should give back. Secondly, our individual goals should shift. Instead of trying to maximize on everything. We should set limitations on our consumption and desires.

You don’t necessarily have to dominate the market. You can grow to a certain point and stop.

This applies to both business owners and corporations who harvest natural resources.

“…Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” Garrett Hardin

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