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Orienting Solutions: A Mental Models Cookbook

By Juan Carlos

The Cookbook

These mental model groupings is where they become a latticework of thinking tools.

It’s not so different from using a hammer to nail everything and discovering that a screwdriver can screw things in better than a hammer. The more tools you have at your disposal, the more capable you are of choosing the correct ones.

In a mental model’s case, the benefit of correctly selecting the best ones is the ability to see clearly.

The ultimate goal is to utilize them collectively and feel comfortable recalling them in critical moments where they can be employed to inform better decisions. 

The Setup

Orienting a problem to the correct solution is tricky and not always apparent. Take the time required to consider each stage in the process, remove misguided thinking, and clarify outcomes.

The Approach

  • Algorithms are in nearly all aspects of life: systems need them to function. These instructions solve problems and adapt to their inputs. They don’t aim for perfection but rather to produce valuableStart with problem definition to ensure that you’re solving the right issue.
  • Peel back the onion to ascertain what are the inherent constraints you are working within.
  • Flip your thinking to look at the problem backward from the solution.
  • Ensure you are choosing what is necessary for the first iteration.

The Latticework

Algorithms come in various formats: natural language, flowcharts, and programming, among others. Natural language algorithms are usually less complex when compared to more unambiguous flowcharts. Programming languages are often created for computer use but can d

  • First Principles will challenge your assumptions about a problem or scenario.
  • Bottlenecks & Constraints will help you think about the specifics of your scenario.
  • Inversion will allow you to think about how it could go wrong and avoid those outcomes.
  • Minimum Product will ensure you create something of value quickly and iteratively.

First Principles
First principles thinking is the discipline of challenging all your assumptions about a problem or scenario. From that line of questioning, you create new knowledge. Consequently, a first principle is a foundational assumption broken down to its atomic level — it stands alone. Simply put: question everything you know or think you know about a problem, discover truths, and generate an original solution.

Bottlenecks & Constraints
Bottlenecks are the point where a path restricts flow. Constraints are restrictions or limitations in the system. The bottleneck, aptly named after a bottle’s neck, restricts liquid flow. In practice, it is the spot where congestion appears and is fixable. On the other hand, constraints cannot be removed from the system. A project’s set cost or scope are limiting factors.

Don’t search for a solution by thinking linearly; consider outcomes you don’t want to occur first. So, rather than plot a one-year plan meticulously, think about all the ways things can go wrong. Figure out how you or the idea will fail, so you don’t end up there. By inverting a problem, you can better understand what you don’t want to happen and avoid adverse effects you would have otherwise invited. Thinking forwards is additive and solutions-oriented, whereas thinking backward is subtractive and seeks to remove missteps. Using inversion, you’ll shine a light on roadblocks that are not immediately apparent.

Minimum Product
A functional version of a product that draws early adopters in to validate the idea, provide feedback, and use their reactions to inform future product iterations. First, you build it, then you collect and measure data and learn what the customer and market want. The product should be valuable to consumers who might use it or purchase it.

The Deep Dive

Learn more about each Mental Model and how to use them.

Hi, I’m
Juan Carlos

I’m a creator at heart, a filmmaker by instinct, and a polymath who thrives on diversity. My life’s work is about framing: capturing, exploring, and sometimes breaking conventional boundaries to uncover deeper truths.

My Story

From directing award-winning films to leading product innovation at startups, my career spans the creative and the analytical. I’ve authored children’s books under desert skies, each designed to spark curiosity and independent thought in young minds. Whether through technology that simplifies complex issues or through mental models that enhance clarity, I constantly strive to reimagine how we perceive and interact with the world.

In my personal life, I’m a father fascinated by nature and humanity’s marvels. I share this wonder with my children as we explore the world’s beauty together. Every day offers a new frame, reminding us that what we focus on defines our lives’ story.