This post is part of the 📖 Mental Models series.


Today, I am reading the 15th mental model Separate Correlation From Causation from Eye-Opening Problem-Solving chapter of the book Mental Models written by Author Peter Hollins.

TL;DR! 💬

Mental Models are like giving a treasure map to someone lost in the woods. They provide instant understanding, context, and most importantly, a path to the end destination. Now imagine having such a map for all problems and decisions in your life.

In this book Mental Models, author Peter Hollins discuss 30 mental models that billionaires/CEOs, Olympic athletes, and scientists use to think differently and avoid mistakes.

Battle information overwhelm, focus on what really matters, and make complex decisions with speed and confidence.


Yesterday, I finished reading the 14th mental model Find Your Own Flaws.

Chapter #3: Eye-Opening Problem-Solving

Mental Model #15:

Separate Correlation From Causation

Use to understand what truly needs to be addressed to solve a problem

Correlation is a statistical term. It shows that two individual elements or variables share similar traits or trends. On the other hand, causation is an effort to establish why things happen, also called “cause and effect.”

For example, take two events:

  1. Sunglasses sales in summer increases
  2. Ice cream sales in summer increases

Both are two separate events that happen simultaneously, i.e. in summer, sales of both events increase.

Because two events are similar doesn’t mean one is causing the other one to happen.

There may be another underlying factor that’s causing both things to happen.

What is that event? Of course, there are no prizes for guessing.

Summer is the reason why sales increased for both Sunglasses and Ice cream.

In many cases, correlations are nothing more than flukes or chance, yet we rapidly jump to causal thoughts.

When evaluating cause and effect, the default mental model should always be to separate correlation from causation and not assume a causal relationship unless you can definitively say so.

It might help to imagine each set of actions as motivated by something psychological. One way of putting this discovery plan into action is the “five whys” method, which is simply asking “why” five times to establish a deeper root cause.

The author gave a good example.

Tip: Go deep 5 levels and don’t settle at the proximate cause you got right after the first answer.

  1. Why is Hal in jail? Because there was an arrest warrant out for him (proximate cause).

  2. Why? Because he hadn’t responded in court to his multiple speeding violations.

  3. Why? Because he exceeded the speed limit nine times and got caught.

  4. Why? Because he has a “need” or impulse to go super-fast on the highway.

  5. Why? Because he never had a set of boundaries as a child and thought he could do whatever he wanted without consequences.


Summary

  • Separate Correlation From Causation. They are entirely different things. Forcing a relationship where none exists will cause you to chase the wrong issue. In addition, you must separate proximate cause from root cause—the root cause is what we always want, and it can be reached through a series of questions.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we will read the 16th mental model Storytell in Reverse, use to determine causation more effectively.

What mental models we've learned so far?
  1. Address “Important”; Ignore “Urgent”

    Identify and address important tasks, ignore urgent tasks. Delegate important but non-urgent task and delete not important and not urgent tasks.

  2. Visualize All the Dominoes

    Don’t stop your analysis once the most obvious situations are articulated. Consider as many long-term possible ramifications as you can. Think twice about what you’re doing, and it helps to eliminate rash decisions.

  3. Make Reversible Decisions

    If you want to make the best decision possible, you can go ahead and use reversible decisions to learn exactly what you need to know.

  4. Seek “Satisfaction

    We need far fewer things than we originally thought and that our desires are masquerading as needs. Use Seek “Satisfaction” to achieve your priorities and ignore what doesn’t matter by creating a default choice.

  5. Stay Within 40-70%

    Utilize this mental model by intentionally consuming less information and even overgeneralizing — this means not looking at the subtleties of your options.

  6. Minimize Regret

    Minimize Regret. Jeff Bezos developed what he calls the regret minimization framework. In it, he asks one to visualize themselves at age 80 and ask if they would regret making (or not making) a decision. This simplifies decisions by making them about one metric: regret.

  7. Ignore “Black Swans”

    A black swan event is an entirely unpredictable event that comes out of nowhere. Doing so skews all data and beliefs, and people start to take the black swan into account as a new normal. But these are just outliers that should be ignored.

  8. Look for Equilibrium Points

    This mental model is about noticing trends in progress.

    When you first start something, you go from zero to one—that’s an infinite rate of progress. Then you go from one to two, two to three, and so on, and the rate of progress slows, and the returns start diminishing.

    Somewhere around there is an equilibrium point that truly represents what the average mean will be. Don’t make the mistake of not waiting for it.

  9. Wait for the Regression to the Mean

    This mental model is the final mental model about seeing the whole picture in terms of information.

    A change without reason for the change is not a change; it’s just a deviation. As such, it doesn’t represent what will continue to happen in the future.

    A regression to the mean is when things settle back down and resume what they were doing before—this is representative of reality.

  10. What Would Bayes Do (WWBD)?

    Bayes’ Theorem is something that does allow us to conclude the future: based on probabilities and taking into account events that have already occurred. All you need are the rough probabilities of three elements to plug into the Bayes’ formula, and you will come to a more accurate conclusion than so-called experts. This is basic probabilistic thinking.

  11. Do It Like Darwin

    Darwin was not a genius, but he did have one trait that set him apart from others: his undying devotion to truth.

    In doing so, he developed his golden rule (and our mental model) of giving equal weight and attention to arguments and opinions that opposed his own.

    Instead of growing defensive when presented with something that opposed him, he grew critical and sceptical toward himself. This radical open-mindedness puts aside confirmation bias and ego.

  12. Think With System 2

    System 1 focuses on speed and efficiency of thought, while System 2 focuses on accuracy and depth of thought. System 2 is smart, while System 1 is dumb.

    System 1 does more harm than good, but unfortunately, it is the one we default to because it is easier. Gain awareness of the difference between the two; acknowledge System 1, then jump immediately to System 2.

  13. Peer Review Your Perspectives

    Peer Review Your Perspectives. Many of the ways we fail at solving problems are related to our inability to look at other perspectives. We should be continually checking our perspectives through triangulation against those of others.

    Thinking and solving in a vacuum will never work because if you didn’t experience it firsthand, it wouldn’t make sense to you.

  14. Find Your Own Flaws

    This mental model is about resisting the comforting allure of confirmation bias and attempting to scrutinize yourself before others ever get the chance.

    Assume that you are wrong; this especially applies to interpersonal relationships. If you assume that you are at least 1% responsible for the conflict, your illusion of superiority and infallibility is broken, an important factor in social interaction.

  15. Separate Correlation From Causation

    Separate Correlation From Causation. They are entirely different things. Forcing a relationship where none exists will cause you to chase the wrong issue. In addition, you must separate proximate cause from root cause—the root cause is what we always want, and it can be reached through a series of questions.

Mental Models: 30 Thinking Tools That Separate the Average from the Exceptional. Improved Decision-Making, Logical Analysis, and Problem-Solving

Author(s): Peter Hollins

Short Blurb: 30 Practical and applicable guidelines to think smarter, faster, and with expert insight (even if … Read more
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Part 15 of 29 in the 📖 Mental Models book series.

Series Start | Mental Models - Day 14 | Mental Models - Day 16



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