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Problem Discovery: A Mental Models Cookbook

By Juan Carlos

The Setup

Choosing the right problem is more important than finding the best solution. If you don’t pick the right issue, you waste time implementing unwanted or unneeded actions. Take a couple of steps back, ensure enough time is given to isolate the problem and proceed confidently to solutions.

The Approach

  • Assess your tools and figure out if you rely on one too heavily.
  • Unravel each problem to see its merit and whether it is worthy of pursuing.
  • Recognize that information or data is a map of reality and not actual. Review those imperfections.
  • Utilize hypothetical situations to examine a problem’s outcome.

​The Latticework

  • Maslow’s Hammer asks you to be wise with the tools you use or fall into regularly.
  • Second Order Thinking asks you to look beneath the surface.
  • The Map is not the Territory notes; a map is not reality. It represents a territory. A map is symbolic, a model of reality.
  • Thought Experiments are imaginary scenarios where a hypothesis is examined to understand its outcome.

​The Deep Dive

Maslow’s Hammer
If you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Folks mistakenly use Maslow’s Hammer by applying a familiar solution to every problem. Over-relying on one tool comes at the expense of employing a more suitable one. “Man with a hammer” syndrome is a subconscious process where individuals return to solutions that have worked previously without thought or hesitation instead of considering options.

Second Order Thinking
Don’t search for a solution by thinking linearly; consider outcomes you don’t want to occur first. So, think about how things can go wrong rather than plot a one-year plan meticulously. 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.

The Map is Not the Territory
A map is not reality; it represents a territory. In this context, a map is symbolic, a model of reality, and can even describe a moment in time that has passed. Maps are not perfect, which is purposefully so, as they reduce the Territory. Similarly, our minds create maps of reality; though the Territory exists beyond our minds, we construct it within ourselves. In that sense, maps help parse information. For example, a map can look similar to what it describes or use different structures to visualize the Territory.

Thought Experiment
An imaginary scenario where a hypothesis, principle, or theory is examined to understand the outcomes. Narratives are often an easier route to understanding a complex problem, and thought experiments capitalize on this by using analogy to drive comprehension. Someone without previous experience in an industry can quickly learn a challenging idea and connect it to what they know. It generates new information by restructuring and reordering data from a new perspective. Thought experiments validate an existing theory, question an existing theory, create a new theory, and refute a current theory. They communicate complex theories accessibly, spark ideas, and promote speculation.

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.