10 Free Tools to Make Yourself Smarter

10 Free Tools to Make Yourself Smarter

By Theo Winter White

Being "smart" isn't all about your IQ score.

Even those with high IQs and elite educations, such as Harvard medical students, can fail miserably at tests that focus on rationality rather than intelligence.

Smart decisions are ultimately the result of having good mental tools or equipment—often referred to as mental models—including models that identify how the mind is systematically prone to irrationality and misjudgment—called cognitive biases.

The leading thinking on human judgment tells us that being smart is much less a matter of trying to be smart as it is a matter of trying to be less stupid. White

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While acquiring lots of knowledge about human psychology may seem like an intelligent first step towards wisdom, you don't want to go overboard. Freud is history's most influential psychologist, and did he ever produce some irrelevant mental models.

It's important to not just acquire lots of concepts for the sake of feeling smart, but to seek out the critical mental models—the "80 or 90 important models," as Charlie Munger said, "that will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly‑wise person.”

To this end, I've rounded up some of the most trusted resources for adding new and important mental models for navigating business, as well as a few of my favourite tools for sharping the general mental weaponry.

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1) This Charlie Munger Video

Warren Buffett’s indispensable billionaire business partner, Charlie Munger, has been called arguably the world’s smartest investor. At the core of Munger's educational philosophy is gathering the big ideas from many fields to form an interdisciplinary web of mental models. You can listen to Munger’s famed 1995 talk on The Psychology of Human Misjudgment for free. The book Poor Charlie’s Almanack expands and refines the ideas in the speech.

Because the full talk runs over an hour, you may like to start with this 15-minutes abridged/animated version:

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2) These 3 Online Learning Sites

Three of best websites for online learning that repeatedly come up in “top 10” lists are:

Khan Academy: Sal Khan and his team have created the industry standard for free online education. Great for learners of all ages, the website contains video tutorials on every topic you need.

Coursera: With 24 million registered users and going strong, this is one of the world's most popular destinations for serious online education. The site offers hundreds of courses with certificates and degrees from top universities and institutions.

TED: You've probably seen at least one idea worth spreading from TED.com, but you may not know its spin-off channel TED-Ed.com—which has some of the most impressive animated lessons you'll find anywhere.

Want to be a better storyteller?

Here is a beautiful 5-minute animation from TED-Ed on the Hero's Journey model:

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3) This Reasoning Styles Test

ClearerThinking.org has a great range of tools, mini-courses, and articles that teach reasoning and critical thinking skills by drawing on ideas from cognitive science, mathematics, and economics. Among these tools is a free rationality test (not the same as an IQ test). The survey shouldn't be treated as a scientifically valid measurement tool but it is generally well designed, pleasantly confusing, and will only take about 10-20 minutes to determine which of the 16 reasoning styles is your closest fit.

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4) PersonalMBA.com

The Personal MBA is without doubt one of the most useful business books ever written. Its author has compiled an extensive yet beautifully concise list of business concepts with relevant examples—all the essential ideas you would expect to master while getting your MBA. Many of the concepts are available to read for free online. Start here with 40 concepts from Chapter 1: Value Creation.

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5) Pocket

The universally accessible wisdom of humanity is distributed across two main resources: printed books, and the web. Amazon.com is pretty much a one-stop shop for finding books and assessing their quality. Finding the best online content is another matter. There exist many online tools for curating articles, and getpocket.com/explore is one that I highly recommend. You can find what’s trending, check out their "must-reads," and gulp down as much knowledge as your brain (and schedule) permits.

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6) This Article on 190 Mental Models

I have referenced this medium article in my writing previously; however, it is so good it bears mentioning more than once. (In my opinion, it's one of the most useful articles on the web.) Inspired by Charlie Munger, the author has put together very succinct descriptions of key concepts from a range of fields including philosophy, reasoning, investing, managing, marketing, and productivity.

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7) These 2 Blogs on Decision Making

Farnam Street is my favourite blog on the web right now, with summaries of mental models and tools that are the best you'll find anywhere. There are 125,000 subscribers to the newsletter, which goes out once a week. It's my second favourite newsletter (after Pocket Hits).

The video introduction to Farnam Street: White

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You Are Not So Smart is another extremely popular blog (based on the bestselling book by the same name). A recent viral comic you may have seen from The Oatmeal (You're Not Going to Believe What I'm About to Tell You) was based on the 3-part series on the backfire effect from the podcast associated with this blog.

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8) Rhetoric 101: Logical Fallacies

Even if you're not a professional debater and hated studying mathematical logic in school, understanding the common rhetorical fallacies like the ones on this page will help to sharpen your arguments faster than virtually anything else. Awareness of these common fallacies allows you to quickly detect flaws in others’ arguments, avoid being deceived or manipulated against your will, and can save you from needlessly pursuing lines of reasoning that should be immediately recognised as dead ends. The link above is from The Art of Manliness, part of a terrific series called Classical Rhetoric 101.

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9) Meditation

Initially sceptical, last year I delved into the scientific literature to understand whether the hype around meditation in the workplace was well-founded—particularly mindfulness meditation (MM). I was surprised to find dozens of studies supporting improvements in cognitive performance. For example, working memory capacity—one of the key aspects underpinning IQ—can be boosted after several weeks of MM training. An article published in Inc. Magazine reported that meditators using a particular technique made an average gain in IQ of 23%. Also remarkable: there is evidence showing that a relatively short period of meditation leads to increased grey matter in the hippocampus (the area of the brain involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation). Read more about the research.

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10) Harry Potter

Not the brilliant and delightful work by J.K. Rowling. I'm talking about Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. This truly remarkable piece of fan fiction is designed to bring to life a huge number of scientific principles and reasoning concepts for readers of all ages. Many resources on reasoning suffer from being boring, academic, and stuffy—but not this one. You don't need to be a Harry Potter fan to enjoy smart concepts told through a compelling narrative device. Free PDF here.

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