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Source: Farnam Street and Benedict Evans
Published: April 2016 and March 2017

Mental Models: Second-Order Thinking

Circulated: October 28, 2020

When we solve one problem, we can end up unintentionally creating another problem. Second-order thinking is reasoning further ahead to examine the long-term and often unintended consequences of our decisions.

Second-order thinkers improve their decision making by asking themselves: “And then what?”

Example: moving to electric cars

A first-order consequence is that we will replace the fuel tank with a battery.

A second-order consequence is that we will reduce the number of moving parts in a car, thus greatly reducing the frequency of auto repairs needed. How will this impact car mechanics?

Another second-order consequence is that fuel is bought at gas stations, of which there are about 150k in the USA. What will happen to gas stations?

Bonus: A third-order consequence is that since gas is sold at low-profit margins, these retailers make more money as convenience stores. What happens to the products such as snacks, soda, and tobacco sold there?

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