Latticework of models for Social Innovation
For social change or for creating social impact we need to solve problems. In these scenarios, most problems are like the multi headed hydra. You cut off one head or in this case, one problem, another one pops out. It is chain-linked, ill structured and wicked.
To be able to do innovation in this context, we need to be able to understand the problem from multiple aspects and more importantly use solutions that has worked in different contexts.
Charlie Munger is the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of one of the richest people in the world, Warren Buffett. Many people say that Munger is the cleverest of the two.
Many years back he wrote on Elementary Worldly Wisdom - what does it take to develop wisdom. He suggests a lattice work of mental models. I believe that this is the exact kind of thinking we need to solve social problems.
He gives an example here, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”. In the social innovation space this is very clear. A lot of the people come from Psychology or Social Work or Health or other specialties. These specialties enable them to their work well and at the same time these are the same specialties that creates problems when solving wicked problems. The solution is to have multiple mental models.
What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.
You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.
What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you’ve got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine.
It’s like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models.
And the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department. That’s why poetry professors, by and large, are so unwise in a worldly sense. They don’t have enough models in their heads. So you’ve got to have models across a fair array of disciplines.
You may say, “My God, this is already getting way too tough.” But, fortunately, it isn’t that tough—because 80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person. And, of those, only a mere handful really carry very heavy freight.