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Theory of Mind: A Superpower for PR Professionals

Discover what sets exceptional communicators apart.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Theory of Mind is a super­power in pub­lic relations.

The abil­ity to com­pre­hend the thoughts and emo­tions of oth­ers holds trans­form­at­ive poten­tial in the realm of com­mu­nic­a­tion. By grasp­ing the intric­a­cies of people’s inner worlds, one can revo­lu­tion­ize their approach to inter­per­son­al interactions. 

Understanding the Theory of Mind is there­fore an import­ant step. 

Here we go:

A Brief History of Theory of Mind

The concept of the Theory of Mind was first intro­duced in the 1970s by devel­op­ment­al psy­cho­lo­gists study­ing how chil­dren under­stand oth­ers’ beliefs, inten­tions, and emotions. 

Through vari­ous exper­i­ments, research­ers have dis­covered that around age four, chil­dren begin to under­stand that people have dif­fer­ent thoughts and feel­ings based on their unique per­spect­ives and exper­i­ences. 1Theory of mind. (2023, April 21). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​e​o​r​y​_​o​f​_​m​ind

As the study of the Theory of Mind evolved, research­ers found that it plays a cru­cial role in social cog­ni­tion and inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships. It enables us to pre­dict and inter­pret oth­ers’ actions, empath­ise, and com­mu­nic­ate effectively. 

Today, the Theory of Mind is con­sidered an essen­tial aspect of human inter­ac­tion, which can bene­fit PR pro­fes­sion­als in numer­ous ways.

Identifying Theory of Mind in PR and Communications

In psy­cho­logy, the­ory of mind refers to the capa­city to under­stand oth­er people by ascrib­ing men­tal states to them (that is, sur­mising what is hap­pen­ing in their mind). This includes the know­ledge that oth­ers’ men­tal states may be dif­fer­ent from one’s own states and include beliefs, desires, inten­tions, emo­tions, and thoughts.”
Source: Wikipedia 2Theory of mind. (2023, November 28). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​e​o​r​y​_​o​f​_​m​ind

Enhancing your aware­ness of this concept can sig­ni­fic­antly increase your com­mu­nic­a­tion skills. PR pro­fes­sion­als and com­mu­nic­at­ors with a strong Theory of Mind can bet­ter under­stand their audi­ence, cre­ate more com­pel­ling mes­sages, and build last­ing relationships. 

Here are some real-life situ­ations where the Theory of Mind can make a difference:

  • Crafting a press release that res­on­ates with journalists.
  • Tailoring pitches for diverse audi­ences.
  • Managing a crisis com­mu­nic­a­tion situ­ation with empathy.
  • Understanding the emo­tions behind social media interactions.
  • Adjusting the tone of a speech for vari­ous stake­hold­ers.
  • Anticipating how dif­fer­ent pub­lics will per­ceive a campaign.
  • Engaging in suc­cess­ful nego­ti­ation tac­tics with cli­ents and partners.

Boost Your Theory of Mind

Poor the­ory of mind skills lead to pref­er­en­tial atten­tion to neg­at­ive facial expres­sions in inter­per­son­al inter­ac­tions, poten­tially due to vigil­ance for threat.”
Source: Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 3Ribeiro, L., & Fearon, P. (2010). Theory of mind and atten­tion­al bias to facial emo­tion­al expres­sions: a pre­lim­in­ary study. Scandinavian journ­al of psy­cho­logy, 51 4, 285 – 9. … Continue read­ing

To improve your Theory of Mind as a PR pro­fes­sion­al, con­sider these three mindsets:

  • Practice act­ive listen­ing. Pay atten­tion to verbal and non-verbal cues to truly under­stand the per­spect­ive of others.
  • Practice empathy daily. As a daily exer­cise, put your­self in someone else’s shoes and ima­gine their thoughts, feel­ings, and experiences.
  • Reflect on past inter­ac­tions. Analyse how you could have bet­ter under­stood the inten­tions and emo­tions of oth­ers in vari­ous situations

Please sup­port my PR blog by shar­ing it with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Reading List

Apperly, I. A. (2011). Mindreaders: The cog­nit­ive basis of “Theory of Mind”. Psychology Press.

Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the aut­ist­ic child have a “the­ory of mind”? Cognition, 21(1), 37 – 46.

Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chim­pan­zee have a the­ory of mind? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1(4), 515 – 526.

PR Resource: More Psychology

PR Resource: The Anatomy of Attention

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The Anatomy of Attention

Attention is an essen­tial com­pon­ent of pub­lic relations:

  • An organ­isa­tion, starved of atten­tion, trust, and loy­alty, is com­pelled to wage a per­petu­al struggle for its con­tin­ued existence.

We all seem to crave atten­tion in some form or another:

People want to be loved; fail­ing that admired; fail­ing that feared; fail­ing that hated and des­pised. They want to evoke some sort of sen­ti­ment. The soul shud­ders before obli­vi­on and seeks con­nec­tion at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869−1941), Swedish author

But what con­sti­tutes ‘atten­tion’?

Attention is a com­plex, real neur­al archi­tec­ture (‘RNA’) mod­el that integ­rates vari­ous cog­nit­ive mod­els and brain cen­ters to per­form tasks like visu­al search.”
Source: Trends in cog­nit­ive sci­ences 4Shipp, S. (2004). The brain cir­cuitry of atten­tion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​j​.​t​i​c​s​.​2​0​0​4​.​0​3​.​004

Each of the below terms refers to a spe­cif­ic aspect or type of atten­tion (“men­tal band­width”), a com­plex cog­nit­ive pro­cess. 5Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The struc­ture of the rela­tion­ship between atten­tion and intel­li­gence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. … Continue read­ing

Let’s explore dif­fer­ent types of attention:

  • Alertness. This is the state of being watch­ful and ready to respond. It’s the most basic form of atten­tion, rep­res­ent­ing our read­i­ness to per­ceive and pro­cess inform­a­tion from the environment.
  • Sustained atten­tion. This involves focus­ing on a spe­cif­ic task or stim­u­lus over a pro­longed peri­od. It’s cru­cial for tasks that require ongo­ing con­cen­tra­tion, like read­ing or driving.
  • Focused atten­tion. This refers to the abil­ity to con­cen­trate on one par­tic­u­lar stim­u­lus or task while ignor­ing oth­ers. It’s the abil­ity to focus nar­rowly on a single thing.
  • Attentional switch­ing. Also known as task switch­ing or cog­nit­ive flex­ib­il­ity, this involves shift­ing focus from one task to anoth­er. It’s crit­ic­al for mul­ti­task­ing and adapt­ing to chan­ging demands or priorities.
  • Divided atten­tion. This is the abil­ity to pro­cess two or more responses or react to mul­tiple tasks sim­ul­tan­eously. It’s often tested by ask­ing people to per­form two tasks sim­ul­tan­eously, like listen­ing to a con­ver­sa­tion while writ­ing.
  • Attention accord­ing to the super­vis­ory atten­tion­al sys­tem. This concept, derived from cog­nit­ive psy­cho­logy, refers to a high­er-level con­trol sys­tem that reg­u­lates the alloc­a­tion of atten­tion, par­tic­u­larly in situ­ations requir­ing plan­ning or decision-making.
  • Attention as inhib­i­tion. This aspect of atten­tion involves sup­press­ing irrel­ev­ant or dis­tract­ing stim­uli. It’s a cru­cial com­pon­ent of focused atten­tion and self-regulation.
  • Spatial atten­tion. This type of atten­tion focuses on a spe­cif­ic area with­in the visu­al field. It’s like a spot­light that enhances inform­a­tion pro­cessing in a par­tic­u­lar location.
  • Attention as plan­ning. This per­spect­ive views atten­tion as a resource that needs to be alloc­ated effi­ciently, espe­cially in com­plex tasks requir­ing stra­tegic plan­ning and organization.
  • Interference. In the con­text of atten­tion, inter­fer­ence refers to the pro­cess by which irrel­ev­ant inform­a­tion or dis­trac­tions impede the effi­ciency of cog­nit­ive processing.
  • Attention as arous­al. This con­siders atten­tion in the con­text of the gen­er­al level of alert­ness or arous­al. It’s about the read­i­ness of the brain to engage with stim­uli or tasks.
  • Attention accord­ing to the assess­ment tra­di­tion. This refers to meas­ur­ing and eval­u­at­ing atten­tion­al pro­cesses, often in clin­ic­al or edu­ca­tion­al set­tings, to identi­fy atten­tion defi­cits or disorders.

Each type of atten­tion plays a cru­cial role in how we inter­act with and pro­cess inform­a­tion from our envir­on­ment, and under­stand­ing these dif­fer­ent aspects is key in fields like psy­cho­logy, neur­os­cience, and education.

There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
— Oscar Wilde

Learn more: The Anatomy of Attention

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PR Resource: Mental Models

You only have to do a few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.”
— Warren Buffett

Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

Mental Models: Be a Better Thinker

Mental mod­els emphas­ise the import­ance of view­ing prob­lems from mul­tiple per­spect­ives, recog­nising per­son­al lim­it­a­tions, and under­stand­ing the often unfore­seen inter­ac­tions between dif­fer­ent factors. 

The writ­ings of Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and long-time col­lab­or­at­or of Warren Buffett and many oth­ers inspire sev­er­al of the below mod­els.6It’s worth not­ing that these mod­els are not exclus­ively Charlie Munger’s inven­tions but tools he advoc­ates for effect­ive think­ing and decision-mak­ing.

Here’s a list of my favour­ite men­tal models: 

The Iron Prescription—This men­tal mod­el sug­gests that some­times, the most chal­len­ging actions or decisions yield the best long-term res­ults. Sticking to a tough workout involves push­ing through dif­fi­culties and res­ist­ance to achieve great­er rewards. It’s about dis­cip­line, per­sever­ance, and the will­ing­ness to under­take hard tasks for future gain.

The Red Queen Effect—Originating from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass,” this meta­phor describes a situ­ation where one must con­tinu­ously adapt, evolve, and work to main­tain their pos­i­tion. It’s often used in the con­text of busi­nesses need­ing to innov­ate con­stantly to stay com­pet­it­ive. 7Red Queen hypo­thes­is. (2023, November 27). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​R​e​d​_​Q​u​e​e​n​_​h​y​p​o​t​h​e​sis

Occam’s Razor—This prin­ciple sug­gests that the simplest explan­a­tion is usu­ally cor­rect. The one with the few­est assump­tions should be selec­ted when presen­ted with com­pet­ing hypo­theses. It’s a tool for cut­ting through com­plex­ity and focus­ing on what’s most likely true.

Hanlon’s Razor—This mod­el advises not to attrib­ute to malice what can be adequately explained by incom­pet­ence or mis­take. It’s a remind­er to look for sim­pler explan­a­tions before jump­ing to con­clu­sions about someone’s intentions.

Vaguely Right vs Precisely Wrong—This prin­ciple sug­gests it is bet­ter to be approx­im­ately cor­rect than exactly incor­rect. In many situ­ations, seek­ing pre­ci­sion can lead to errors if the under­ly­ing assump­tions or data are flawed. Sometimes, a rough estim­ate is more use­ful than a pre­cise but poten­tially mis­lead­ing figure.

Fat Pitch—Borrowed from base­ball, this concept refers to wait­ing patiently for the per­fect oppor­tun­ity — a situ­ation where the chances of suc­cess are excep­tion­ally high. It sug­gests the import­ance of patience and strik­ing when the time is right.

Chesterton’s Fence—A prin­ciple stat­ing that reforms should not be made until the reas­on­ing behind the exist­ing state of affairs is under­stood. It’s about respect­ing the wis­dom embed­ded in estab­lished prac­tices and con­ven­tions before mak­ing changes. 8”In the mat­ter of reform­ing things, as dis­tinct from deform­ing them, there is one plain and simple prin­ciple; a prin­ciple which will prob­ably be called a para­dox. There exists in such a case a … Continue read­ing

First-Conclusion Bias—This is the tend­ency to stick with the first con­clu­sion reached without con­sid­er­ing altern­at­ive pos­sib­il­it­ies or addi­tion­al inform­a­tion. It’s a cog­nit­ive bias that can impede crit­ic­al think­ing and thor­ough analysis.

First Principles Thinking—This approach involves break­ing down com­plex prob­lems into their most basic ele­ments and then reas­sembling them from the ground up. It’s about get­ting to the fun­da­ment­al truths of a situ­ation and build­ing your under­stand­ing from there rather than rely­ing on assump­tions or con­ven­tion­al wisdom.

The Map Is Not the Territory—This mod­el reminds us that rep­res­ent­a­tions of real­ity are not real­ity itself. Maps, mod­els, and descrip­tions are sim­pli­fic­a­tions and can­not cap­ture every aspect of the actu­al ter­rit­ory or situ­ation. It’s a cau­tion against over-rely­ing on mod­els and the­or­ies without con­sid­er­ing the nuances of real-world situ­ations. 9Silfwer, J. (2022, November 3). Walter Lippmann: Public Opinion and Perception Management. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​w​a​l​t​e​r​-​l​i​p​p​m​a​nn/

Bell Curve—This curve is a graph­ic­al depic­tion of a nor­mal dis­tri­bu­tion, show­ing how many occur­rences fall near the mean value and few­er occur as you move away from the mean. In decision-mak­ing, it’s used to under­stand and anti­cip­ate vari­ab­il­ity and to recog­nize that while extreme cases exist, most out­comes will cluster around the average.

Compounding—Often used in the con­text of fin­ance, com­pound­ing refers to the pro­cess where the value of an invest­ment increases because the earn­ings on an invest­ment, both cap­it­al gains and interest, earn interest as time passes. This prin­ciple can be applied more broadly to under­stand how small, con­sist­ent efforts can yield sig­ni­fic­ant long-term results.

Survival of the Fittest—Borrowed from evol­u­tion­ary bio­logy, this men­tal mod­el sug­gests that only those best adap­ted to their envir­on­ment sur­vive and thrive. In a busi­ness con­text, it can refer to com­pan­ies that adapt to chan­ging mar­ket con­di­tions and are more likely to succeed.

Mr. Market—A meta­phor cre­ated by Benjamin Graham, rep­res­ent­ing the stock mar­ket’s mood swings from optim­ism to pess­im­ism. It’s used to illus­trate emo­tion­al reac­tions in the mar­ket and the import­ance of main­tain­ing objectivity.

Second-Order Thinking—This kind of think­ing goes bey­ond the imme­di­ate effects of an action to con­sider the sub­sequent effects. It’s about think­ing ahead and under­stand­ing the longer-term con­sequences of decisions bey­ond just the imme­di­ate results.

Law of Diminishing Returns—This eco­nom­ic prin­ciple states that as invest­ment in a par­tic­u­lar area increases, the rate of profit from that invest­ment, after a cer­tain point, can­not increase pro­por­tion­ally and may even decrease. It’s import­ant to under­stand when addi­tion­al invest­ment yields pro­gress­ively smal­ler returns.

Opportunity Cost—This concept refers to the poten­tial bene­fits that one misses out on when choos­ing one altern­at­ive over anoth­er. It’s the cost of the next best option fore­gone. Understanding oppor­tun­ity costs helps make informed decisions by con­sid­er­ing what you must give up when choosing.

Swiss Army Knife Approach—This concept emphas­izes the import­ance of hav­ing diverse tools (or skills). Being ver­sat­ile and adapt­able in vari­ous situ­ations is valu­able, like a Swiss Army knife. This mod­el is par­tic­u­larly use­ful for uncer­tain and volat­ile situations.

Acceleration Theory—This concept indic­ates that the win­ner mustn’t lead the race from start to fin­ish. Mathematically, delay­ing max­im­um “speed” by pro­long­ing the slower accel­er­a­tion phase cor­rectly will get you across the fin­ish line faster. 10Silfwer, J. (2012, October 31). The Acceleration Theory: Use Momentum To Finish First. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​a​c​c​e​l​e​r​a​t​i​o​n​-​t​h​e​o​ry/

Manage Expectations—This concept involves set­ting real­ist­ic expect­a­tions for your­self and oth­ers. It’s about align­ing hopes and pre­dic­tions with what is achiev­able and prob­able, thus redu­cing dis­ap­point­ment and increas­ing sat­is­fac­tion. Effective expect­a­tion man­age­ment can lead to bet­ter per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships and outcomes.

Techlash—This men­tal mod­el acknow­ledges that while tech­no­logy can provide solu­tions, it can cre­ate anti­cip­ated and unanti­cip­ated prob­lems. It’s a remind­er to approach tech­no­lo­gic­al innov­a­tions cau­tiously, con­sid­er­ing poten­tial neg­at­ive impacts along­side the bene­fits. 11Silfwer, J. (2018, December 27). The Techlash: Our Great Confusion. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​t​e​c​h​l​a​sh/

World’s Most Intelligent Question—This men­tal mod­el refers to repeatedly ask­ing “Why?” to delve deep­er into a prob­lem and under­stand its root causes. One can uncov­er lay­ers of under­stand­ing that might remain hid­den by con­tinu­ally ask­ing why some­thing happens.

Regression to the Mean—This stat­ist­ic­al prin­ciple states that extreme events are likely to be fol­lowed by more mod­er­ate ones. Over time, val­ues tend to revert to the aver­age, a concept rel­ev­ant in many areas, from sports per­form­ance to busi­ness metrics.

False Dichotomy—This logic­al fal­lacy occurs when a situ­ation is presen­ted as hav­ing only two exclus­ive and mutu­ally exhaust­ive options when oth­er pos­sib­il­it­ies exist. It over­sim­pli­fies com­plex issues into an “either/​or” choice. For instance, say­ing, “You are either with us or against us,” ignores the pos­sib­il­ity of neut­ral or altern­at­ive positions.

Inversion—Inversion involves look­ing at prob­lems back­wards or from the end goal. Instead of think­ing about how to achieve some­thing, you con­sider what would pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing. This can reveal hid­den obstacles and altern­at­ive solutions.

Psychology of Human Misjudgment—This men­tal mod­el refers to under­stand­ing the com­mon biases and errors in human think­ing. One can make more ration­al and object­ive decisions by know­ing how cog­nit­ive biases, like con­firm­a­tion bias or the anchor­ing effect, can lead to flawed reasoning.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast—Often used in mil­it­ary and tac­tic­al train­ing, this phrase encap­su­lates the idea that some­times, slow­ing down can lead to faster over­all pro­gress. The prin­ciple is that tak­ing delib­er­ate, con­sidered actions reduces mis­takes and inef­fi­cien­cies, which can lead to faster out­comes in the long run. In prac­tice, it means plan­ning, train­ing, and execut­ing with care, lead­ing to smooth­er, more effi­cient oper­a­tions that achieve object­ives faster than rushed, less thought­ful efforts. 12Silfwer, J. (2020, April 24). Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​l​o​w​-​i​s​-​s​m​o​o​th/

Because You Are Worth It—This men­tal mod­el focuses on self-worth and invest­ing in one­self. It sug­gests recog­niz­ing and affirm­ing one’s value is cru­cial for per­son­al growth, hap­pi­ness, and suc­cess. This can involve self-care, edu­ca­tion, or simply mak­ing choices that reflect one’s value and potential.

Physics Envy—This term describes the desire to apply the pre­ci­sion and cer­tainty of phys­ics to fields where such exactitude is impossible, like eco­nom­ics or social sci­ences. It’s a cau­tion against over­re­li­ance on quant­it­at­ive meth­ods in areas where qual­it­at­ive aspects play a sig­ni­fic­ant role.

Easy Street Strategy—This prin­ciple sug­gests that sim­pler solu­tions are often bet­ter and more effect­ive than com­plex ones. In decision-mak­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing, seek­ing straight­for­ward, clear-cut solu­tions can often lead to bet­ter out­comes than pur­su­ing overly com­plic­ated strategies. 13Silfwer, J. (2021, January 27). The Easy Street PR Strategy: Keep It Simple To Win. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​e​a​s​y​-​s​t​r​e​e​t​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/

Scale is Key—This concept high­lights how the impact of decisions or actions can vary dra­mat­ic­ally depend­ing on their scale. What works well on a small scale might not be effect­ive or feas­ible on a lar­ger scale, and vice versa. 

Circle of Competence—This concept involves recog­niz­ing and under­stand­ing one’s areas of expert­ise and lim­it­a­tions. The idea is to focus on areas where you have the most know­ledge and exper­i­ence rather than ven­tur­ing into fields where you lack expert­ise, thereby increas­ing the like­li­hood of success.

Fail Fast, Fail Often—By fail­ing fast, you quickly learn what does­n’t work, which helps in refin­ing your approach or pivot­ing to some­thing more prom­ising. Failing often is seen not as a series of set­backs but as a neces­sary part of the pro­cess towards suc­cess. This mind­set encour­ages exper­i­ment­a­tion, risk-tak­ing, and learn­ing from mis­takes, emphas­ising agil­ity and adaptability.

Correlation Do Not Equal Causation—This prin­ciple is a crit­ic­al remind­er in data ana­lys­is and sci­entif­ic research. Just because two vari­ables show a cor­rel­a­tion (they seem to move togeth­er or oppose each oth­er) does not mean one causes the oth­er. Other vari­ables could be at play, or it might be a coincidence. 

Critical Mass—This men­tal mod­el emphas­izes the import­ance of reach­ing a cer­tain threshold to trig­ger a sig­ni­fic­ant change, wheth­er user adop­tion, mar­ket pen­et­ra­tion, or social move­ment growth. This mod­el guides stra­tegic decisions, such as resource alloc­a­tion, mar­ket­ing strategies, and tim­ing of ini­ti­at­ives, to effect­ively reach and sur­pass this cru­cial point. 14Silfwer, J. (2019, March 10). Critical Mass: How Many Social Media Followers Do You Need? Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​r​i​t​i​c​a​l​-​m​a​s​s​-​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​rs/

Sorites Paradox—Also known as the para­dox of the heap, this para­dox arises from vague pre­dic­ates. It involves a sequence of small changes that don’t seem to make a dif­fer­ence indi­vidu­ally but, when accu­mu­lated, lead to a sig­ni­fic­ant change where the exact point of change is indis­cern­ible. For example, if you keep remov­ing grains of sand from a heap, when does it stop being a heap? Each grain does­n’t seem to make a dif­fer­ence, but even­tu­ally, you’re left with no heap.

The Power of Cycle Times—Mathematically, redu­cing cycle times in a pro­cess that grows expo­nen­tially (like con­tent shar­ing on social net­works) drastic­ally increases the growth rate, lead­ing to faster and wider dis­sem­in­a­tion of the con­tent, thereby driv­ing vir­al­ity. The com­bin­a­tion of expo­nen­tial growth, net­work effects, and feed­back loops makes cycle time a crit­ic­al factor. 15Let’s say the num­ber of new social media shares per cycle is a con­stant mul­ti­pli­er, m. If the cycle time is t and the total time under con­sid­er­a­tion is T, the num­ber of cycles in this time is T/​t​. … Continue read­ing 16Silfwer, J. (2017, February 6). Viral Loops (or How to Incentivise Social Media Sharing). Doctor Spin | the PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​v​i​r​a​l​-​l​o​op/

Non-Linearity—This men­tal mod­el recog­nises that out­comes in many situ­ations are not dir­ectly pro­por­tion­al to the inputs or efforts. It sug­gests that effects can be dis­pro­por­tion­ate to their causes, either escal­at­ing rap­idly with small changes or remain­ing stag­nant des­pite sig­ni­fic­ant efforts. Understanding non-lin­ear­ity helps in recog­niz­ing and anti­cip­at­ing com­plex pat­terns in vari­ous phenomena.

Checklists—This men­tal mod­el stresses the import­ance of sys­tem­at­ic approaches to pre­vent mis­takes and over­sights. Using check­lists in com­plex or repet­it­ive tasks ensures that all neces­sary steps are fol­lowed and noth­ing is over­looked, thereby increas­ing effi­ciency and accur­acy. 17Silfwer, J. (2020, September 18). Communicative Leadership in Organisations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​i​v​e​-​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​h​ip/

Lollapalooza—Coined by Munger, this term refers to situ­ations where mul­tiple factors, tend­en­cies, or biases inter­act so that the com­bined effect is much great­er than the sum of indi­vidu­al effects. It’s a remind­er of how vari­ous ele­ments can con­verge to cre­ate sig­ni­fic­ant impacts, often unex­pec­ted or unprecedented.

Limits—This men­tal mod­el acknow­ledges that everything has bound­ar­ies or lim­its, bey­ond which there can be neg­at­ive con­sequences. Recognising and respect­ing per­son­al, pro­fes­sion­al, and phys­ic­al lim­its is essen­tial for sus­tain­able growth and success.

The 7Ws—This men­tal mod­el refers to the prac­tice of ask­ing “Who, What, When, Where, Why” (and some­times “How”) to under­stand a situ­ation or prob­lem fully. By sys­tem­at­ic­ally address­ing these ques­tions, one can com­pre­hens­ively under­stand an issue’s con­text, causes, and poten­tial solu­tions, lead­ing to more informed decision-mak­ing. 18Silfwer, J. (2020, September 18). The Checklist for Communicative Organisations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​h​e​c​k​l​i​s​t​-​f​o​r​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​i​v​e​-​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​h​ip/

Chauffeur Knowledge—This men­tal mod­el dis­tin­guishes between hav­ing a sur­face-level under­stand­ing (like a chauf­feur who knows the route) and deep, genu­ine know­ledge (like an expert who under­stands the intric­a­cies of a sub­ject). It warns against the illu­sion of expert­ise based on super­fi­cial know­ledge and emphas­izes the import­ance of true, deep understanding.

Make Friends with Eminent Dead—This men­tal mod­el advoc­ates learn­ing from the past, par­tic­u­larly from sig­ni­fic­ant his­tor­ic­al fig­ures and their writ­ings. One can gain valu­able insights and wis­dom by study­ing the exper­i­ences and thoughts of those who have excelled in their fields.

Seizing the Middle—This strategy involves find­ing and main­tain­ing a bal­anced, mod­er­ate pos­i­tion, espe­cially in con­flict or nego­ti­ation. It’s about avoid­ing extremes and find­ing a sus­tain­able, middle-ground solu­tion. Also, centre pos­i­tions often offer the widest range of options.

Asymmetric Warfare—This refers to con­flict between parties of unequal strength, where the weak­er party uses uncon­ven­tion­al tac­tics to exploit the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies of the stronger oppon­ent. It’s often dis­cussed in mil­it­ary and busi­ness contexts.

Boredom Syndrome—This term refers to the human tend­ency to seek stim­u­la­tion or change when things become routine or mono­ton­ous, which can lead to unne­ces­sary changes or risks. Sometimes, tak­ing no action is bet­ter than tak­ing action, but remain­ing idle is some­times difficult.

Survivorship Bias—This cog­nit­ive bias involves focus­ing on people or things that have “sur­vived” some pro­cess and inad­vert­ently over­look­ing those that did not due to their lack of vis­ib­il­ity. This can lead to false con­clu­sions because it ignores the exper­i­ences of those who did not make it through the pro­cess. 19Silfwer, J. (2019, October 17). Survivorship Bias — Correlation Does Not Equal Causation. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​u​r​v​i​v​o​r​s​h​i​p​-​b​i​as/

Each men­tal mod­el offers a lens for view­ing prob­lems, mak­ing decisions, and strategising, reflect­ing the com­plex­ity and diversity of thought required in vari­ous fields and situations.

In addi­tion, numer­ous oth­er men­tal mod­els are used in vari­ous fields, such as eco­nom­ics, psy­cho­logy, and sys­tems thinking.

Learn more: Mental Models: How To Be a Better Thinker

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Theory of mind. (2023, April 21). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​e​o​r​y​_​o​f​_​m​ind
2 Theory of mind. (2023, November 28). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​e​o​r​y​_​o​f​_​m​ind
3 Ribeiro, L., & Fearon, P. (2010). Theory of mind and atten­tion­al bias to facial emo­tion­al expres­sions: a pre­lim­in­ary study. Scandinavian journ­al of psy­cho­logy, 51 4, 285 – 9. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​1​1​/​j​.​1​467 – 9450.2009.00797.x
4 Shipp, S. (2004). The brain cir­cuitry of atten­tion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​j​.​t​i​c​s​.​2​0​0​4​.​0​3​.​004
5 Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The struc­ture of the rela­tion­ship between atten­tion and intel­li­gence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​j​.​i​n​t​e​l​l​.​2​0​0​5​.​0​7​.​001
6 It’s worth not­ing that these mod­els are not exclus­ively Charlie Munger’s inven­tions but tools he advoc­ates for effect­ive think­ing and decision-making.
7 Red Queen hypo­thes­is. (2023, November 27). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​R​e​d​_​Q​u​e​e​n​_​h​y​p​o​t​h​e​sis
8 ”In the mat­ter of reform­ing things, as dis­tinct from deform­ing them, there is one plain and simple prin­ciple; a prin­ciple which will prob­ably be called a para­dox. There exists in such a case a cer­tain insti­tu­tion or law; let us say, for the sake of sim­pli­city, a fence or gate erec­ted across a road. The more mod­ern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intel­li­gent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I cer­tainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to des­troy it.”
Source: Chesterton, G. K. (1929). “The Drift from Domesticity”. Archived 6 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine In: The Thing. London: Sheed & Ward, p. 35
9 Silfwer, J. (2022, November 3). Walter Lippmann: Public Opinion and Perception Management. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​w​a​l​t​e​r​-​l​i​p​p​m​a​nn/
10 Silfwer, J. (2012, October 31). The Acceleration Theory: Use Momentum To Finish First. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​a​c​c​e​l​e​r​a​t​i​o​n​-​t​h​e​o​ry/
11 Silfwer, J. (2018, December 27). The Techlash: Our Great Confusion. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​t​e​c​h​l​a​sh/
12 Silfwer, J. (2020, April 24). Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​l​o​w​-​i​s​-​s​m​o​o​th/
13 Silfwer, J. (2021, January 27). The Easy Street PR Strategy: Keep It Simple To Win. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​e​a​s​y​-​s​t​r​e​e​t​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
14 Silfwer, J. (2019, March 10). Critical Mass: How Many Social Media Followers Do You Need? Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​r​i​t​i​c​a​l​-​m​a​s​s​-​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​rs/
15 Let’s say the num­ber of new social media shares per cycle is a con­stant mul­ti­pli­er, m. If the cycle time is t and the total time under con­sid­er­a­tion is T, the num­ber of cycles in this time is T/​t​. The total reach after time T can be approx­im­ated by m(T/​t), assum­ing one ini­tial share. When t decreases, T/​t​ increases, mean­ing more cycles occur in the same total time, T. This leads to a high­er power of m in the expres­sion m(T/​t), which means a sig­ni­fic­antly lar­ger reach.
16 Silfwer, J. (2017, February 6). Viral Loops (or How to Incentivise Social Media Sharing). Doctor Spin | the PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​v​i​r​a​l​-​l​o​op/
17 Silfwer, J. (2020, September 18). Communicative Leadership in Organisations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​i​v​e​-​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​h​ip/
18 Silfwer, J. (2020, September 18). The Checklist for Communicative Organisations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​h​e​c​k​l​i​s​t​-​f​o​r​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​i​v​e​-​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​h​ip/
19 Silfwer, J. (2019, October 17). Survivorship Bias — Correlation Does Not Equal Causation. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​u​r​v​i​v​o​r​s​h​i​p​-​b​i​as/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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