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10 Mental Models: Examples for Web Professionals to Help You Get More Work Done

For most of us, we know we’ve had a successful day if our hastily made decisions don’t leave the business in ruin. For everyone else, there are mental models. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marketer or technical support agent; our collection of mental models examples for web professionals will give you new tools for solving problems, making decisions, or even advancing your career.

You’ll find new ways to develop scenarios and critically evaluate the outcomes of decisions. While it requires discipline and a little practice to use them effectively, they provide long-term durability and flexibility to our thinking processes.

mental models examples for web professionals

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Mental models: examples for web professionals

Now that we’ve discussed why mental models are valuable, let’s look at ten of my favorites.

1. Choice architecture

Build a decision framework that helps you make optimal choices with minimum effort

Choice architecture

#Behavioral economics #Psychology #Behavorial sciences

Choice architecture is based on the simple idea that our brains are lazy organs that hate hard work.

Weighing up a multitude of options and their benefits can quickly become overwhelming. When faced with all this pressure, the brain saves energy and avoids frustration by using shortcuts, but these shortcuts can take you way off the map. And, now you’ve got to live with all of those bad decisions.

Choice architecture provides a series of tricks to reduce the pressure and make decisions without falling victim to associative thinking, confirmation bias, and availability bias.


How to use the Choice Architecture mental model:

  • Framing and context: We often misjudge future outcomes and opt for the present positive outcome. We can avoid this by emphasizing the future outcomes and the 2nd best outcomes.
  • No default choices: We shouldn’t just accept the pre-selected choice without ranking the benefits and outcomes.
  • Reduce the number of choices: Try to reduce the alternatives and potential benefits, to maintain motivation for, and satisfaction with, making a decision.
  • Attributes and control: Reduce the cognitive load by sorting and filtering the attributes down to the information that matters most.
  • Attributes and meaning: Find metrics that reflect the information you will find valuable.

📚 Further reading: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.

2. Anchoring bias

The entire decision making process can be determined by one piece of information


#Behavioral economics #Psychology

The full list of cognitive biases makes for long and depressing reading, so let’s stick with anchoring.

When this bias kicks in, no one is making a good decision. Unless you’re lucky and the first thing you learn about a subject is also the best.

When you’re offered a price for a car, this price becomes the anchor around which all related negotiations hover (for as long as a week). Anytime you discuss car prices, your brain will naturally gravitate towards the anchor as a legitimate point of comparison.


Any data that seeks to dislodge this anchor will be cast aside. Unfortunately, overcoming the initial anchor can be very hard.

How can you avoid anchoring and availability biases?

  • Employ critical thinking, lateral thinking, and second-level thinking to problems.
  • Avoid assumptions by breaking everything down to its most basic elements.
  • Examine the anchor itself and prove it right or wrong.

📚 Further reading: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

3. Second-level thinking

Making decisions that stand the test of time

mental models examples for web professionals: second level thinking

#Economics #Critical thinking

Second-level thinking got its start from famous investor Howard Marks. It’s based on the premise that most of us have the knowledge, technology, and opportunity to achieve great things. Great news, right?

Unfortunately, it is also super competitive. Second-level thinking is a way to uncover potential opportunities and avoid common mistakes.

While it might not sound like it belongs with other mental models examples for web professionals, a second-level thinking habit helps you stop reactive thinking and start actively thinking to find solutions and exploit opportunities.

And if that’s not enough to encourage you, you will also reduce the probability that your long-term decisions will be terrible mistakes.


How to use Second-Level Thinking?

  • Write down the immediate consequences of your decisions. Then “and then what?” the list as much as possible.
  • Consider the consensus opinion. How does your opinion differ from or conform to it?
  • Think about the consequences of the consensus opinion. What happens if it is right? What if it’s wrong?
  • Determine probabilities for long-term consequences.

📚 Further reading: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks

4. Lateral thinking

The tools for thinking outside the box

lateral thinking

#Creative thinking #Reasoning

If you like riddles, then you will enjoy lateral thinking. While it is more of a thinking process than a model, it is the tool for thinking outside the box. When you engage in lateral thinking, you will change patterns to develop creative solutions.

It does require practice because it avoids the familiar sequential, step-by-step reasoning process. Instead, lateral thinking moves sideways to find less obvious ideas. And, in the process, it shifts the mental clutter we acquire through cognitive biases.

Don’t get upset if the ideas seem “wrong”. This is expected when generating multiple new ideas. However, it does help develop innovative approaches rather than settling for an approximate idea.


How do you start Lateral Thinking?

  • Set aside time to practice and learn lateral thinking: you can do this through puzzles.
  • Institute randomness into your thinking process with random seed words.
  • Set a minimum number for solutions to a problem: This will help you go beyond the obvious answers.

📚 Further reading: Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity by Edward de Bono

5. Expectancy theory

Motivation is highest when we believe our performance will lead to desirable results

mental models examples for web professionals: expectancy theory

#Management theory #Psychology #Communication theory

Victor Vroom was working at Yale when he developed this alternative theory of motivation, which balanced multiple forces, including effort, performance, outcome, and reward.

We all love massive pay raises, but we’re also more motivated by other things. Like, when we believe our expected performance will lead to a good outcome.

If we don’t think we can perform, then we lose motivation. In those cases, we don’t believe we can deliver a performance that ends in a good result.

Enough about that, what about that pay raise? Prepare to be shocked…


The money is not that important. Our level of expected satisfaction is what counts. If we expect that pay raise to bring tremendous satisfaction, then, of course, we will be motivated.

But we should never discount small rewards. Snagging a long weekend in summer can be quite motivating if the expected satisfaction is high enough.

How to use Expectancy Theory:

  • Use various rewards matched to individual value systems: We can offer a wide variety of valuable project rewards to provide extra motivation: long lunch, extra day-off, massive pay raise.
  • The desirability of rewards: With an understanding of the value systems, you can ensure you offer desirable rewards to individuals.
  • Appropriate rewards for performance: We should align rewards with the required effort.
  • Provide training and learning opportunities: This improves both effort and performance by enhancing capabilities and increasing the ability to deliver expected performance.

Further reading: Work and Motivation by Victor Vroom

6. Circle of competence

We’re never as smart as we think we are

Circle of competence


One of the most well-known mental models examples for web professionals is the famous circle of competence.

If you’re not familiar with it, your circle of competence is defined by the fields where you have enough knowledge and experience to contribute and succeed. We all know of it through its association with famous investors Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, and it seems to be working for them.

For everyone, the circle of competence can be a tool for avoiding mistakes and reducing risk. But it is also a nifty tool for gaining an advantage. Inside your circle, you’re an expert, and this gives you an edge over intruders.


Can you be successful outside the circle? Sure. But you’ll need lots of luck, and you probably won’t have the talent to keep up with it.

How do you find your circle of competence?

  • Think about the questions people ask you. On which subjects are you the “go-to” person?
  • If you could use just one skill at work, which one would bring the most money?
  • Which skill would you enjoy using the most over a year?

📚 Further reading:The Art of the Good Life: Clear Thinking for Business and a Better Life by Rolf Dobelli

7. Sustainability

Can your system maintain itself with no loss of function?

Choice architecture

#Environmental science #Systems theory #Economics

Sustainability theory might seem like an odd theory to consider for a list of mental models examples for web professionals. But stay with me! Granted, sustainability is crucial to building an effective human-earth relationship, but we can also use it to manage our resources and maintain our businesses.

When we think about our products, we often neglect their use of resources. Whether it is development time, customer bases, or income for ads, we need all of these resources to remain successful.

When resources are mismanaged, we can experience system failure. Sustainability can help us not only manage resources but respond effectively to any changes in their delivery.


Sustainability can help us identify:

  1. The essential resources for delivering the system’s output.
  2. How these resources are replenished.
  3. Which resources can be substituted for other resources.
  4. Which resources are being ineffectively managed?

Furthermore, sustainability thinking will identify the interlinkages that define your place within the greater system. When you have a wider lens, you have a clearer view of market conditions that determine success.

How to use Sustainability?

  • Identify system outcomes, goals, and values: Each system has its purposes, and you can’t manage resources without understanding each system’s values.
  • Identify the limited resources, regenerated by the system or refilled from an external flow: What keeps your system going? Does it need external sources, like income, to operate?
  • What is the lifespan of your resources? If you need an external income source, how much is required, how often, and will it run out?
  • What interlinkages determine your system’s ability to function? If you make WordPress themes, then understanding the external WordPress environment is crucial to your success.

8. Marginal utility

Added improvements bring ever smaller units of satisfaction

mental models examples for web professionals: marginal utility


When you’re trying to start an eCommerce business, you are concerned with customer satisfaction levels. When your customers are satisfied, they will make additional purchases. Marginal utility is all about the satisfaction consumers get when they make further purchases.

But marginal utility theory also argues that repeat purchases are less satisfying. Not only that, but the entire process can go on until satisfaction is neutral or even negative.


There are a few ways around decreasing satisfaction. When it comes to products, we can increase satisfaction by approximating scarcity. Regular updates or unique features will maintain the level of satisfaction. However, digital products are easily replicated, so the key to uncovering customer satisfaction is through dialogue.

How to use Marginal Utility?

  • Encourage open communication with your users.
  • Based on communication and research, uncover which features will bring enough satisfaction to make a purchase?
  • Reduce complexity in your products and services to help reduce indifference.
  • Develop detailed personas to help measure potential units of satisfaction.
  • Collect and analyze data from surveys, exit data, and interviews.

📚 Further reading:Measuring Utility: From the Marginal Revolution to Behavorial Economics by Ivan Moscati

9. Hanlon’s razor

It’s not personal…

Hanlon's razor


Everyone from Napoleon to Churchill has at one time uttered words to the effect “they’re not mean, they are stupid.” While it sounds a bit rough, it can help us communicate more effectively.

We can apply it to any behavior that causes friction. Consider the number of times you felt an angry customer was making it personal.

Try applying Hanlon’s Razor to reveal a customer who is inexperienced and frustrated. Being outside your comfort zone can lead to an explosion of frustration that is misdirected.

We can apply the same reasoning to most forms of erratic behavior. Any number of things can trigger someone, and few of them are related to you. But how you react and communicate can help maintain enough professionalism to start a beautiful relationship.


How to use Hanlon’s Razor?

  • Check your speech patterns and maintain clarity.
  • Avoid constant apologies: Offer solutions to the problem instead.
  • Maintain empathy.

10. Feedback loop

Feedback loops keep your system working

mental models examples for web professionals: feedback loops

#Systems theory

Feedback loops are everywhere, and they are the defining feature of any system. They work together to deliver outcomes and create value. At any time, you have multiple feedback loops running, so you need to know what each loop is meant to achieve and how the interconnections flow.

There are two types of feedback loop:

  • Positive or reinforcing loops: These lead to exponential growth or decline.
  • Balancing loops: Goal-oriented with balance being the ultimate objective.

Once you have identified the feedback loops, you can identify the individual nodes and maintain performance.

For example, say, documentation, product reputation, price, and customer satisfaction comprise one product feedback loop, then it’s easier to investigate a drop in sales.

While you might experience delays in growth, you will be able to respond positively to the problem. If an undocumented feature makes your product difficult to use, then it may take some time for the updated documentation to feedback into the loop.

How to use Feedback Loops?

  • Identify the individual nodes in your feedback loops and their relationship to each other.
  • Understand the goals of your systems and any sub-systems.

📚 Further reading: Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella H. Meadows

Conclusion on mental models & examples

Each of us has a set of mental models we have used to find ways to explain the world and make the best decisions. While there’s no doubt they’re effective, sometimes a different framework can help us see alternative ways to achieve better results.

If you’re not sure you can implement all these mental models examples for web professionals, don’t worry. Try starting with a single mental model. Add it to your toolkit and discover new ways to tackle your tasks.

Over time, with practice and repetition, your brain will adapt to the new methods and start rewarding you with new and innovative ideas that had previously seemed out of reach.

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Layout and presentation by Chris Fitzgerald and Karol K.

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