Top Mental Models

Top Mental Models for Thinkers

Mental models are different ways of mapping or viewing a system or a problem. They are frameworks that help explain what’s going on, and predict what’s likely to happen next.

Model thinking is an excellent way of improving our cognition and decision making abilities. Thinking in models helps us understand how new concepts fit with older observations, and what theories and metaphors are likely to endure.

They are useful in strategy, decision-making, analysis, planning, and a broad range of applications in both our personal and professional lives. It’s a good investment to spend time learning models — which are most typically extensible outside their original field of interest.

Often more than one model can apply to a situation or problem. Models are useful for picturing the issue in a different way, through a different lens — and perhaps to see something before unseen. They can help us try out different scenarios with ideas or personas.

Top Models and Concepts

We all have learnings in our lives we consider more precious than others — explanations and predictions that endure and keep on giving, versus those that fade away. Our core models form the backbone of our thinking and decision-making throughout our lives; it’s our grab bag of problem solving tools — and we want to have a resilient Swiss Army Knife at the ready at all times. These mental models help us understand a complex world, and prepare for all the changes that are inevitably ahead.

This set of top models below is my personal “desert island” set of model thinking concepts. These are the ones I really wouldn’t want to be caught dead leaving the house without.

Once these are on lock, head over to the unabridged models section for more model thinking goodness!

I will continue to add to this list over time as well as fill in the number of holes that remain in the set. Learning about new mental models is one of my favorite activities — it’s the closest thing to a superpower I can think of.

80/20 ruleModelEconomicsAlso known as a power law, or the Pareto Principle
absolute advantageTermEconomicsThe ability of a party to produce a product or service more efficiently than any of its competitors.
absolute valueTermMathThe value of a function irrespective of its sign (positive or negative). Its distance from zero, expressed as a positive.
accessibilityTermPsychologyHow easy something is to call to mind
acquittalLegal precedentLawA judgment of not guilty in a criminal trial
activation energyTermScienceA chemistry term that describes the minimum energy required for a chemical system to react; the amount of energy required to get two or more compounds to react.
adverse selectionTermEconomicsInsurance phenomenon in which buyers or sellers in a transaction can use insider knowledge to unfairly get a better advantage over the other party or parties
a fortioriLogicLogicFrom the Latin, "from a stronger argument," the phrase refers to conclusions for which there is stronger evidence than a previously accepted one.
akrasiaTermPsychologyA state of mind where someone acts against their own better judgment due to weakness of will.
alea iacta estMetaphorMetaphorIn Latin, "the die is cast" -- attributed to Julius Caesar as he crossed the river Rubicon, leading an attack on Rome: a metaphor for a point of no return.
allocationMethodEconomicsDistributing resources, assets, or funds amongs recipients.
"All the world's a stageβ€œMetaphorArtsShakespearean metaphor likening culture to a theatrical performance: "And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances ..." β€”William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Amara's LawTheoryScienceWe tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
annuityTermEconomicsA series of regular payments at equal intervals.
antifragilityModelEconomicsThings that can benefit from disorder, and grow stronger amidst chaos. When something grows stronger under stress; when there is more upside to downside of experiencing a shock to the system.
antimatterTheoryScienceAntimatter particles are the precise opposite charge and spin from their matter counterparts, but identical otherwise.
appreciationModelEconomicsThe tendency of an asset to appreciate, or grow, with value over time.
a prioriLogicPhilosophyInformation deduced from logical precedents versus empirical observation.
arbitrageModelEconomicsA method of turning profit via simultaneous purchase and sale of the same assets in different markets, benefiting from the differences in listed price in various geographical regions.
archetypesSymbolPhilosophyAn ideal type; a model after which others are fashioned.
arrow of timeTheoryScienceTheory of physics stating an asymmetry of time -- that time has a one-way direction in which the entropy of the universe is only increasing. Although human beings perceive the past as being different from the future -- and that we remember the past, but not the future -- intrinsically there is nothing in the structure of the universe that defines past from future. Time is instead an emergent feature.
artificia docuit famesAncient WisdomPhilosophyLatin saying meaning, "sophistication is born out of hunger" -- a metaphor for innovation and genius being awakened by challenge, difficulty, and constraints.
ASCIITermTechnologyAmerican Standard Code for Information Interchange: a standard character translation table used by computers to convert numerical representations into printable characters.
asking a fish about waterMetaphorMetaphorThere are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, β€œMorning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, β€œWhat the hell is water?”
assetTermEconomicsA valuable object or good.
astroturfingMethodPoliticsThe deceptive political practice of paying operatives to pose as members of the public engaging in "grassroots protest" as a way of adding plausible deniability as well as amplification of their point of view.
asymmetric encryptionTermComputer ScienceAlso known as public-key cryptography, asymmetric encryption encrypts and decrypts the data using two separate keys that are related mathematically (a public and a private key).
asymptoteTermMathThe graph of a curve as it is approaching a numerical value or limit, but never quite reaching it.
autophagyExperimental findingBiology, MedicineThe body's way of cleaning out damaged cells and replace them with newer, healthier cells. Literally, "self-eating."
availability biasModelPsychologyCognitive distortion arising from the unconscious preference for information that is recent rather than what is representative.
averageMethodMathA measure of central tendency of a set of data, whether the mean, media, or mode.
balance sheetMethodEconomicsA financial document showing the book value of a company, i.e. how much it's worth.
balancing loopModelSystems theoryA balancing loop attempts to move a current state (the way things are) to a desired state (goal or objective) though an action (thing(s) done to reach the goal).The balancing loop is one of the two foundational structures of systems thinking, along with the Reinforcing Loop. A balancing loop is representative of any situation where there is a goal or an objective and action is taken to achieve that goal or objective.
Baldwin EffectModelScienceAs organisms learn to shape their environment, they can alter the path of evolution. For example, with the advent of dairy farming, selection pressures began favoring lactose absorption genes in humans.
bank reservesTermEconomicsCash minimums banks must have on hand to meet regulatory requirements ensuring the financial system is equipped to handle periodic shocks in demand for withdrawals.
bank runTermEconomicsEconomic term for when a large group of bank depositors withdraw their money all at once -- once a common occurrence that rarely happens anymore in the modern world.
base conversionMathMathThe base is how many numbers there are in a number system; we use base 10 primarily, and computers use base 2, aka binary. Base conversion is the method of converting numbers from one base system to another.
Base Rate FallacyModelPsychologyA type of fallacy in which people tend to ignore the general prevalence of something in favor of specific anecdotes.
base weightingMathStatistics
Bayes' TheoremMethodMathA mathematical method of determining the updated probability of a certain event or case, given new information.
bend the kneeMetaphorSocial psychologyGive up one's own opinion and swear fealty to a higher authority.
betaMethodEconomicsIn finance, a term that refers to investments tracking the broad market performance of an exchange or industry sector
The Big BangModelScienceThe massive explosion which spawned our entire universe, back at the beginning of time.
The Big CrunchModelScience
binary numbersMathMath
binomial distributionMathStatistics
Binomial TheoremTheoryMath
black holeTheoryScience
Black-Scholes modelModelEconomics
Black SwanModelEconomicsA highly improbable and unexpected event -- which yet occurs with more frequency than one might generally assume.
blockchainTermTechnologyThe basis of cryptocurrency, blockchain technology is a kind of public ledger or shared database that records transactions transparently and out in the open, in a way that anyone can access or verify.
boiling frogMetaphorPhilosophyA metaphor for the common occurence of slow, gradual changes over time not being noticed, like the (contested) legend of a scienfitic experiment that boiling a frog alive by starting with tepid water and slowly turning up the temperature.
Boyle's LawScientific LawScienceA scientific law that describes the relationship between the pressure and the volume of a confined gas.
boundary objectTheoryTechnologyInformation science concept describing information used in different ways, by different communities, for collaborative work through scales.
bounded rationalityExperimental findingPsychologyA central challenge to the c. 1776 ideas of Adam Smith regarding the Invisible Hand of markets, this 20th c. psychological theory posits that rather than making optimized rational decisions, at most times the average person is "satisficing" or making the most expedient choice under considerable constraints and lack of available information
bricolageMethodArtsCombination of many types and forms into one piece; a pastiche or mashup of style and cultural referents
broken windows theoryTheoryLaw
Butterfly EffectModelScience
bystander effectExperimental findingPsychology
camel's noseMetaphorPhilosophya metaphor describing how allowing a smaller innocuous act may lead to larger acts that are undesirable
capital gainsTermEconomicsMoney that is earned as a result of a stock investment appreciating in value β€” the capital "gains in value"
capital requirementsEconomicsActual cash on hand for banks to theoretically offer at a given time, with the rest lended out as leverage
carbon-14Scientific LawScience
carbon datingMethodScienceA way to scientifically determine the age of an organic object by radioactive decay.
carpe diemAncient WisdomPhilosophyIn Latin, "seize the day" -- a reference often used to motivate oneself and others to act boldly and live vigorously in the moment.
categorical dataMath
causa-sui projectTheoryPsychology
cause and effectModel
caveat emptorAncient WisdomStrategy"Beware, the buyer" in Latin -- a reference to a warning about what one is getting into.
cellular automataMath
Central Limit TheoremMathStatisticsIn probability theory, the CLT establishes that independent random variables when measured will tend towards the normal distribution.
central tendencyMathStatisticsA measure of the midpoint of a data set; includes mean, median, and mode.
ceteris paribusMethodEconomics"All other things being equal"; holding the effects of other variables constant to determine the effects on a single variable of interest.
charge preservationScience
charlatanPsychologyone who aspires to wealth &/or fame through trickery and deception
Chesterton's FenceModelMetaphor
chilling effectTermHistoryThe inhibition of one's legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights by threat of legal sanction.
cognitive biasExperimental findingPsychology
collapseModelSystems theory
comparative advantageEconomics
composite eventsStatisticsin probability
compound interestModelEconomics
Condorcet Jury TheoremMathStatistics
confidence intervalStatisticsthe range of values over which a predicted outcome may lie; the amount of certainty one has about the predicted value falling within the estimated range
confirmation biasExperimental findingPsychology
consent of the governedPhilosophyPoliticsConcept of political philosophy in which a government's legitimacy and right to use state power is only justified if consented to by the people over whom said power is wielded.
conservation of energyScientific LawChemistryIn a closed system, total energy remains constant.
conservation of massScientific LawPhysicsIn a closed system, mass remains constant.
conservation of momentumScientific LawPhysicsIn a closed system, momentum remains constant.
Consumer Sentiment IndexEconomics
continuous vs. discrete variablesStatistics
Copernican theory of the solar systemScientific LawScience
correlation coefficientStatistics
correlation is not causationScientific LawStatistics
countervailing powerEconomicsEconomist John Kenneth Galbraith's concept for how collective worker power is needed to balance against growing corporatism in the economy.
creative destructionModelEconomicsEconomist Joseph Shumpeter's idea for how the business cycle works: by innovation disrupting established processes and industries and forcing change into markets, often destructively and swiftly.
credo quia absurdum"I believe because it is absurd" β€” Tertullian's defense of belief in the miracles attributed to Christ
critical massScience
crossing the RubiconMetaphorHistoryMaking a decision from which there is no turning back; a reference to Julius Caesar's overthrow of the Roman republic to found the Roman Empire in 49 BCE.
cross-sectional dataMath
crowdsourcingMethodSystems theory
Dark MatterTheoryScience
dead hand of the pastPhilosophyHistoryProblem inherent in constitutional political philosophy, where eventually a people becomes ruled by "masters" no longer alive, who rule by "fiat" via a document, from beyond the grave (Thomas Jefferson's concept)
death spiral
decision theorySystems theory
decision treeMethodComputer Science
de minimisLegal precedentLaw
diminshing marginal utility (DMU)ModelEconomics
directory structureComputers
dispersionMathStatisticsthe amount of variation within a set of data; how spread out the data points are from each other
divergent thinkingPsychology
diversityExperimental findingScience
Diversity Prediction Theorem
dividend paymentsMethodEconomicsPeriodic, usually quarterly, payouts to stockholders of the company when posting profits. Along with capital gains, one of the 2 primary reasons to invest in stocks.
Dodd-Frank Act of 2010Legal precedentEconomicsdefinitive financial regulation of the financial industry following the 2007-8 financial crisis
domain dependence
Doppler EffectScientific LawPhysics
double helix
doxaSocial psychologycommon belief or opinion
Drake EquationModelScienceEstimation of the number of technological civilizations that might exist in the universe.
Dunbar numberTheoryPsychology
Dunning-Kruger EffectExperimental findingPsychologyA cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as higher than it actually is, because they cannot recognize their incompetence in comparison to others.
Duverger's LawModelPoliticsHolds that plurality-rule elections within single member districts β€” such as the structure found in the U.S. β€” tend to favor two-party systems
Easterlin paradoxExperimental findingEconomicsBeyond a certain point, countries don't get happier as they get richer.
economies of scaleEconomics
edge caseMetaphorScience
elasticity; price elasticityModelEconomicsThe ability of pricing mechanisms to respond quickly or less quickly to changes in prevailing conditions.
elasticity of demandModelEconomics
elasticity of supplyModelEconomics
electromagnetic spectrumScientific LawScience
electron cloudModelScienceRefers to the true nature of an electron's existence around an atom, wherein its location in space is not a definite point, but a fuzzy region of probable occurence.
elephants and fliesMetaphorEconomicsSales concept to quickly segment leads into size buckets, from elephants > deers > rabbits > mice > flies.
elephant and riderModelPsychologyPsychological idea about how our unconscious and semi-conscious desires dominate us, but can be directed by reason (Jonathan Haidt et al)
embargoLegal precedentEconomics
Emperor's New ClothesMetaphorGovernment
ensemble learningMethodTechnology
entropyScientific LawScienceThe disorder of a system increases over time.
e pluribus unumSymbolPoliticsLatin: "one out of many" β€” one of several phrases on the American dollar bill, it refers to the unity of the nation as made up of its many peoples and as such, signifies the republic.
equality under lawLegal precedentPoliticsAn ancient principle of vital importance to almost every constitution in the world, stating that all people should be treated equally in the eyes of the law, and that all individuals are subject to the same set of laws
equilibriumScienceA resting condition all systems seek, in which all competing inflows and outflows are in balance.
equity crowdfundingEconomics
event horizonScientific LawPhysicsA boundary beyond which events cannot affect on observer, such as the edge of a black hole.
evolutionScientific LawScience
exception handlingMethodComputer ScienceThe process of responding to the occurrence of exceptions -- unexpected conditions that throw the application into an error state and must be resolved before continuing.
exchange ratesEconomicsThe value of one country's currency as measured against another
exit strategyMethodEconomics
factum tacendo, crimen facias acriusPhilosophyHe who does not stop a crime is an accomplice.
fact /value problemPhilosophy
fake newsMedia
false negativesLogicScience
false positivesLogicScience
false consensus effectExperimental findingSocial psychology
falsifiabilityLogicScienceAbility to be proven untrue; a requirement for a theory to be called scientific.
Feynman TechniqueMethodScienceA method of learning and remembering difficult concepts by simplifying them until you can explain it to a new student or layperson who knows nothing about that concept.
fiat moneyEconomics
fiduciary dutyLegal precedentEconomics
fifth columnModelPoliticsA group who unites in secret to undermine a larger group from within.
file systemMetaphorComputer Science
filter bubbleMetaphorSocial psychology
first mover advantageExperimental findingStrategy
first principlesAncient WisdomPhilosophy
fishing expeditionMetaphor
fitness functionTermScienceIn AI, refers to a set of selection criteria applied to a set of potential solutions to a problem to allow only the better candidates to survive to the next generation.
force multiplierModelScience
fractalsMathComputer Science
fractional lendingMethodEconomicsFractional reserve banking is the traditional way of doing business, in which banks loan out multiples of the assets they actually have on hand. This falls apart if there is ever a run on the bank, when every client demands their money back at the same time.
free tradeMethodEconomics
free willPhilosophyPhilosophy
freshwater vs. saltwater economistsEconomics
Friend of the Court filingLaw
FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt)Social psychology
fundamental attribution errorExperimental findingPsychology
future valueEconomics
gainTermArtsIn audio recording, a control that allows more or less of the source sound into the channel being recorded.
game theoryMath
Gates' LawTheoryPhilosophyThe idea that software development speed halves every 18 months, negating the acceleratory effects of Moore's Law and preventing computing from leaping greatly forward.
Gaussian distributionTermStatisticsthe Normal distribution
GDP (Gross Domestic Product)ModelEconomicsThe sum of all public and private goods produced within a given period; a measure of a country's economic health.
general relativityTheoryScience
general willModelGovernment
generalists and specialistsPhilosophy
genetic algorithmsScienceAn approach to AI based on evolutionary models, in which multiple candidate solutions to a problem are generated randomly by mutation and recombination, then iterated over thousands of generations through fitness functions to weed out the best of each generation.
germ theory of diseaseScientific Law
Gettier problemPhilosophy
gilding the lillyMetaphorArtsSpeaking so floridly of a subject that one actually tarnishes its natural beauty.
GOFAITechnology"Good Old-Fashioned Artificial Intelligence" β€” reference to the style and general algorithmic approach of early artificial intelligence work, which fell out of popularity over the decades in favor of more organic neural net and evolutionary approaches.
Golden calf
Golden MeanAncient WisdomPhilosophyAristotelian theory of an ideal balance point between the many extremes we face in life; he advocated harmony between the various spheres of life for an experience of happiness.
Golden RuleAncient WisdomCulture"Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you" is the essence of this ancient wisdom, often used as a shorthand version of Jesus's core teaching.
Goldilocks ZoneModel
gold standardLegal precedentEconomics
gravityScientific LawScience
gravity wavesPhysics
habeas corpusLegal precedentLaw
habitusTheorySocial psychology
Hanlon's RazorModelPhilosophynever attribute to malice what is adequately described by carelessness
hard determinismPhilosophy
hearts and mindsPolitics
hedge fundsEconomics
Heisenberg Uncertainty PrincipleTheoryScience
hexadecimal numbersTermMathbase 6
heuristicsModelPsychologyMental shortcuts that we do as a matter of routine, especially when we're stressed or under other types of cognitive constraints.
hormesisScienceWhen a small dose of a toxic substance is actually beneficial to the living thing that ingests it
iatrogenicsHealthharm done by the healer
ice core datingMethodScience
id, ego, superegoModelPsychologyFreud's psychological model of the conscious and unconscious mind.
implicit costEconomics
Imposter SyndromeModelPsychologyA psychological pattern in which one doubts their own accomplishments and has a generalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
index number; indexingStatistics
inferior goodsEconomics
inflection pointMathThe point of a curve at which a change in the direction of the curve occurs.
intellectual propertyLegal precedentEconomicsIP
interest rateEconomics
internal rate of return (IRR)Economics
Internet of Things (IoT)TermTechnology
interventionismSocial psychology
Invisible HandTheoryEconomics
IP addressesTermTechnology
iron law of oligarchyTheoryPoliticsPolitical theory positing that no matter how democratic a group may start out, over time it will develop into a bureaucracy ruled by a small handful.
It from BitTheoryPhysicsJohn Wheeler's theory about the fundamental informational nature of the universe
Keynesian economicsTheoryEconomics
Keynesian PutModelEconomics
Kronos EffectModelEconomicsthe tendency of a successful corporation to seek to acquire and/or drive its upstart competitors out of business
Laffer CurveTheoryEconomics
law of excluded middle
Law of Large NumbersScientific LawMathAs the number of coin tosses approaches infinity, the number of heads encountered will converge on 0.5; helpful in calculations of probability.
least-barricaded gateMetaphorPoliticsTrotsky's metaphor of how social revolutions can take hold more easily in already weakened societies.
lecturing birds how to flyMetaphorMetaphor
length contractionModelPhysics
less is morePhilosophyMetaphor
L'etat c'est moiPhilosophyPolitics"I am the stateβ€œ
lifeboat ethicsPhilosophyPhilosophy
light-weight processComputer Science
limit of a functionTermMath if the graph of an equation seems to approach a numerical value but never quite reaches it, we say that number is the limit of the function (approaching from the negative or positive direction; sometimes directionality is important)
limiting factorModelSystems Theory
linear regressionMethodMath
local minModelSystems Theoryidea that to grow out of a stasis or plateau, you likely have to endure a period of "setback" that is a lower dip or minimum value from where you are now, but is what's required to get over the activation energy to reach the next level
locus of control
logical fallaciesPhilosophy
long tailModelMathIn a power law distribution (of population, ages, items, etc.), the region of the graph that tapers off quickly after the initial segment of high data points
loss aversionExperimental findingPsychology
Lost EinsteinsTheoryCulture
loyalists and mercenariesMetaphorSystems Theory
maker's time and manager's timeModelSystems Theory
mandalaAncient WisdomReligionIntrocate and elaborate patterns created with colored sand by Buddhist monks, who blow away their creations at the end to signify their celebration of impermanence.
ManichaeanAncient WisdomPhilosophya narrowly-defined dualistic worldview of good against evil
man on horsebackMetaphorSynonym for a demagogue. Comes from French general Georges Ernest Boulanger, and refers to a military leader who presents himself as the savior of the country during a crisis and either assumes or threatens to assume dictatorial powers.
map is not the territoryMetaphorMetaphorA phrase reminding us that our mental picture of a thing is not the same as the actual thing itself
margin of errorMathStatisticsHow much uncertainty there is in the results; a percentage the estimate may be bounded by.
marginal benefitEconomics
marginal costEconomics
marginal returnsEconomics
marginal utilityEconomics
market shareEconomics
Markov chainTermMath
Maslow's Hierarchy of needsModelPsychology
meanMathStatisticsThe average value of the numbers in a data set; take the sum of all values and divide by the total number of values in the set.
medianMathStatisticsLike mean, another way to describe the central tendency of a data set.
Median Voter TheoremTheoryPolitics
megalopsychonPhilosophyPhilosophyConcept in Aristotelian ethics of living with grandeur and taking risks with dignity; being nonsmall
mens reaLegal precedentLaw"guilty mind" β€” establishing the intent of a perp can help to establish criminal liability
meritocracyModelSystems Theory
mirror neuronsExperimental findingScience
modeMathStatisticsThe frequency with which each data point exists in the set.
monopolyModelEconomicsMarket condition in which there exists only one seller of a resource.
monopsonyModelEconomicsMarket condition in which there exists only one buyer of a resource.
Moore's LawTheoryTechnologyNamed after Gordon Moore, the model predicts the doubling of transistors on a circuit of equivalent size every 18 months to 2 years. This has many consequences for both technology and economics, including the predictable drop in price of generating the same amount of computing power each period.
moral hazardModelEconomicswhen one party takes on additional risk, knowing that other parties will bear the brunt of the risk in event of a loss
Moravec's Paradox
MVP (minimum viable product)TermEconomics
naive cynicismPsychologyState of mind in which people believe others to have more egocentric bias than is warranted or is actually the case.
Narcissus & EchoAncient WisdomMetaphor
Nash EquilibriumTheoryMath
nasty, brutish, and shortTheoryPhilosophy
natural lawsScience
natural selectionScientific LawScience
necessity is the mother of inventionCommon WisdomCulture
negative externalitiesModelEconomics
negative interest ratesMethodEconomics
neomaniaExperimental findingSocial psychologylove of the modern for its own sake
neural netTermTechnology
net present value (NPV)ModelEconomics
neuroplasticityExperimental findingScience
Newton's first lawScientific LawScienceAn object in motion will tend to stay in motion, unless acted upon by a force.
Newton's second lawScientific LawScienceF = ma, or an object of mass m feeling a force F will tend to accelerate by an amount a.
Newton's third lawScientific LawScienceWhen 2 objects interact, they each apply force on the other in equal amounts magnitude, in the opposite direction.
noosphereThought ExperimentData scienceSphere of human thought β€” all interacting minds on earth. An early 1900s concept from Teilhard de Chardin
nominal figuresEconomics
Normal distributionScientific LawMath
normal goodsEconomics
normalized weighted averageStatistics
normative and descriptivePhilosophy
novus ordo seclorumSymbolGovernmentA new order for the ages; Latin phrase seen on the American dollar bill.
null hypothesisMethodScience
observer effectExperimental findingScience
Occam's RazorTheoryPhilosophyA philosophical rule of thumb that favors the simplest explanation. Also known as the "law of parsimony."
octal numbersMathComputer Sciencebase 8
opportunity costModelEconomicsWhat you miss out on by using a resource in a certain way -- what you would have done with the resource otherwise; what alternative use you would have put it to.
orders of magnitudeScientific LawMath
ordinally ranked dataStatistics
organizational debtEconomics
out-group biasExperimental findingSocial psychology
outlierModelMathData points that fall well outside of the normal distribution or expected distribution of a data set.
paradoxModelLogicA self-contradicting statement or logically impossible event.
paragonModelCultureA standard against which something can be judged β€” an exemplar example of a thing
Pareto PrincipleExperimental findingEconomicsAnother term for the 80/20 Rule
path dependentMathComputer Science
Pavlovian responseExperimental findingScience
pax RomanaLegal precedentHistory
pearls before swineMetaphorCultureThe sense of wasting one's efforts for people who don't really appreciate them.
P/E RatioMethodEconomicsPrice to earnings ratio: standard measure of relative stock performance
permutationsMathComputer Science
Peter PrincipleTheorySystems TheoryTheory that individuals within corporate and other organizational hierarchies will rise to the highest level at which they become incompetent in their job duties.
phase shiftScientific LawScienceThe ability of matter to change phases, most famously water from liquid to ice to vapor and back again.
philosopher kingsAncient Wisdom
Philosopher's StoneUnsolved Mystery
phonemesExperimental finding
plant a seedMetaphor
Platonic formsModel
PlatonicityPhilosophyadherence to crisp abstract theory & forms that blind us to the mess of actual reality
Plato's CaveModelPhilosophyAllegory in Plato's Republic about a cave dweller whose only picture of reality is the shadow on the cave wall thrown by the fire.
point of no returnMetaphorCulture
Pollyanna PrincipleModelPsychologyThe tendency for people to remember pleasant events more accurately than unpleasant ones.
positronScientific LawPhysicsan antimatter electron
Potemkin Village EffectModelSystems TheoryTendency of systems to create the appearance of functioning normally β€” to appease the operators who wish it so β€” even when they are not.
present valueEconomicsThe expected current value of an income stream.
price ceilingEconomics
price floorEconomics
prima facie
principle of indifferenceStatisticsIn probability, when there is no basis to choose some outcomes as more likely than others, they are given equal weight (1/2 chance of a particular side of a coin, 1/52 to get a particular card from a deck, etc.).
Prisoner's DilemmaThought ExperimentMath
private equity (PE)MethodEconomics
probability distributionMathStatistics
Procrustean bedAncient WisdomPhilosophySynonymous with ruthlessly enforcing conformity, the phrase comes from a Greek tale of extreme "form fitting" on the part of Poseidon's son Procrustes, a robber who is said to have attacked victims by cutting off men's legs or stretching them on racks accordingly to fit an iron bed size.
profitLegal precedentEconomics
propagandaMethodSocial psychologyoriginally, a way to "propagate" any idea; used by both sides in WWI, it thereafter took on a sinister connotation when American & British citizens felt hoodwinked by their govt's use of it
proper framePhysicsin physics, the frame of reference that accelerates with you and determines your age
prospect theoryPsychology
proximate causeLogic
proxy warTermPolitics
punctuated equilibriumModelScience
putting legs on a snakeMetaphor
Pygmalian EffectSocial psychology
Pyrrhic victoryMetaphorHistoryA victory in which the costs of winning far outweigh the rewards.
quantum computingMethodComputer Science
quantum entanglementTheoryPhysics
quantum physicsScience
quid pro quoLegal precedentLaw
r > qModelEconomicsThomas Piketty's elegant demonstration of the rise of inequality
random walksMath
rangeStatisticsIn a set of numbers, the difference between the highest value and the lowest value in the data set.
rara avisAncient WisdomCulture"Rare bird" in Latin; similar to an outlier. Someone who stands out.
rate of returnEconomics
reality testingModelPsychologyDiscerning the difference between inner and outer, and seeing events as they really are, and not just what we want them to be.
received wisdomAncient WisdomReligion
red shiftScientific LawScience
reductio ad absurdoAncient WisdomPhilosophyCollapsing things too far, in a way that destroys real significance.
reductio ad finemAncient WisdomPhilosophyTo analyze to the end β€” break the concept down into its conponent parts.
redundancyMethodSystems TheoryHaving multiple pathways within a system to accomplish the same task or achieve the same objective.
reference framePhysicsA frame that does not accelerate; also known as a Lorentz frame.
regnat populus
regression analysisMethodStatistics
reincarnationUnsolved MysteryReligion
reinforcing loopSystems theory
relativityTheoryPhysicsEinstein's central insight that the experience or perceived passage of time depends greatly on the conditions of the observer, particularly with respect to velocity and gravity
resilienceModelSystems TheoryAbility to bounce back into shape after having been pressed or stretched; elasticity. The ability to recover quickly.
respice finemAncient WisdomPhilosophy"Consider that you will die" β€” i.e. live life as you would in order to be proud of it by the time it's over.
res publicaAncient WisdomGovernmentpertaining to the state
ripple effectExperimental findingScience
riskLegal precedentEconomics
risk-weighted assets (RWAs)Economics
root causePhilosophy
Rosetta StoneExperimental findingHistoryMetaphorically, a key to unlocking the secrets of a given thing.
rounding errorMath
rule of lawLegal precedentPhilosophy
run on the bank
Schelling's Tipping Model
SchrΓΆdinger's CatTheoryPhysics
search intentTermMedia
second-order thinking
selection biasExperimental findingPsychology
set theoryMath
ship of TheseusAncient WisdomMetaphor
SIFIEconomicssystemically important financial institution; post-2008 financial crisis designation for banks deemed "too big to fail" (currently, firms holding more than $50b in assets)
sigmaStatisticsstandard deviation, named for the Greek letter denoting the statistical term
signal pathPhysics
significant figuresMathaka "sig figs"
sine waveMathPhysics
Single point of failure (SPoF)TermComputer ScienceA part of a system that, when it fails, brings down the entire rest of the system or stops it from working properly
singularityTheoryScienceA black hole.
SIR modelModelSciencecontagious disease modelling based on possible patient states (susceptible, infected, recovered)
site navigationMethodComputer Science
six degrees of separationExperimental findingPsychology
six sigmaMethodStrategyMotorola-originated concept of ensuring quality control to a very fine point, by ensuring that parts or other production outputs are manufactured to be within a certain quality range up to 6 times the standard deviation.
situational preparednessMethodStrategy
skin in the gameAncient WisdomEconomicsWhen someone has a stake in the outcome, they are more likely to keep their word in assist its fruition.
slope of a lineMathStatistics
social contractLegal precedentPhilosophyProfoundly impactful document in political philosophy from Jean Jacques Rousseau in 18th c. France, refuting the rights of monarchs to rule the people
Socratic methodMethodPhilosophyTechnique of instruction or conversation where the teacher or moderator proceeds by asking the student or pupil a serious of questions, enticing her or him to come up with their own answers to the issues related to the subject at hand.
special relativityScientific LawScience
speech act theoryTheoryPhilosophyBritish philosopher J.L.Austin's concept that all uses of speech carry a performative aspect.
speed of light (c)Scientific LawScienceapprox. 300 million meters per second
squaring the circleUnsolved MysteryA notorious philosophical problem first posed by Plato, the phrase has come to be used to allude to the grandiosity and infeasibility of someone's plans.
standard deviationMathStatistics
standing wavesTerm
stare decisisLegal precedentLaw"It has been decided" β€” terminology used by a judge or court to indicate that the matter before them has already been decided by a previous ruling.
state of natureThought ExperimentPhilosophy
status quoTermCultureThe way things currently are.
stochastic terrorismTermSocial psychology
stocks and flowsModelSystems Theory
StoicismAncient WisdomPhilosophy
Streisand EffectMetaphorSocial psychologyWhen the act of attempting to hide information only makes it more prominently spread, especially via the Internet.
strict father moralityGeorge Lakoff's terminology to describe the conservative worldview.
strict liabilityLawCrimes which have no mens rea requirement, such as rear-ending of another vehicle (where it is always the rear-enders' fault no matter what the circumstances.
success to the successfulSystems theoryA reinforcing loop within complex system β€” especially economies β€” wherein the spoils of victory include the means to alter the rules of the game further in the favor of the previous winners.
summum malumAncient WisdomPoliticsultimate evil β€” some posit cruelty as this ultimate evil
supply and demandModelEconomics
supply chainTermEconomics
sword of DamoclesAncient WisdomMetaphor
symmetric encryptionTerm
tabula rasaAncient WisdomMetaphorBlank slate
tachyonExperimental findingSciencehypothetical particle that travels faster than the speed of light
tariffLegal precedentEconomics
tempus edax rerumAncient WisdomArts"Time devours everything." β€” Ovid
tempus fugitAncient WisdomTime flies
tempus neminem manetAncient Wisdomtime waits for no man
Third StoryThought ExperimentPhilosophythe story an impartial third-party observer might tell; a version of events any unbiased person could agree on
Thucydides Trap
tilting at windmillsMetaphorArtsA reference to the novel Don Quixote, denoting the ongoing pursuit of useless attacks against an implacable enemy. Ineffectual activity undertaken strenuously and loudly.
time dilationThought ExperimentScience
time series dataMethodStatisticsA collection of measurements taken over time that create a graph when plotted.
time value of moneyTheoryEconomics
tipping pointModelSystems Theory
too many cooks in the kitchenMetaphorCultureA metaphor connoting that too many people are currently involved in the decision-making process.
touchstoneMetaphorMyth/MetaphorA black stone once used to judge the purity of gold or silver β€” now signifying a standard against which something should be judged.
Tower of BabelMetaphorReligionA tale in the book of Genesis in the Bible that purports to explain the origins of different languages, via narrative about God confounding the speech of humans trying to build a tower to reach Him.
tragedy of the commonsExperimental findingEconomicsAn economic term for a situation in which unfettered access to a resource can lead to resource depletion through uncoordinated behavior -- a classic example is overfishing. A commonly-pooled (aka public) resource is overconsumed, but underinvested in.
trickle down economicsMethodEconomicsRight-wing economics, also known as Reaganomics, supply side economics, fiscal conservatism, tax cut policy, and austerity.
trolly problemThought ExperimentPhilosophy
turtles all the way downTheoryPhilosophy
twin paradoxThought ExperimentScience
tyranny of choiceExperimental findingSystems TheoryThe paradoxical effect that having too many options to choose from actually decreases the likelihoof of being able to reach a decision at all.
unionTermMathIn set theory, a union of sets is a set which consists of all the members of all the sets.
universal lawPhilosophyPhilosophy
usuryTermEconomicsThe act of charging interest on borrowed money; for thousands of years there have been religous proscriptions against lending money with interest in various societies.
varianceMathStatisticsThe amount of variation within a data set.
Veil of IgnoranceModelPhilosophyPhilosopher John Rawls' model for making better ethical decisions, in which the decider chooses a course of action based on the predicate that s/he will not know which of the groups or persons affected by the decision they personally would be. This method creates natural incentives to find the fairest outcome for all groups, since the decider doesn't know which group they will "end up in" on the other side of the decision.
Venn DiagramModelMath
via negativaMethodPhilosophyAn indirect description of a thing by describing what that thing is not.
Volcker ruleLegal precedentEconomicsFinancial rule preventing consumer lending banks from speculative trading in securities for their own profit.
vulnerabilityExperimental findingPsychology
wave functionScientific LawScience
wave-particle dualityExperimental findingScience
wheel of lifeSymbolReligion
when life gives you lemonsMetaphorPhilosophyYou try to make lemonade! Another way of saying, "let's try and make the best of this unfortunate situation."
winner-take-all marketEconomics
wisdom of crowdsModelSocial psychologyDerived from the Diversity Prediction Theorem: the average prediction of a group of individuals will be more accurate than the prediction of one average member.
wolves and sheepMetaphorPhilosophy
wormholeTheoryPhysicsA sort of tunnel formed on the surface of a black hole that may connect two different regions of space
worst case scenarioModelSystems Theory
zero sum gameModelMath
z scoreTermStatistics

Comments are closed.