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Mental Model Dictionary + Information Asymmetry

Posted on:October 30, 2017 at 12:00 AM (9 min read)

As I sit on a train on the way to a new adventure, it felt like a good time to whip out the surface and write a new blog post. One of the core fundamentals I’ve listed for achievement needs to be introduced: mental models.

New Project: Mental Model Dictionary

The project’s site details what it is, and what the future state should be. I decided to do this because of the need to explore Polymer 2 and spread the notes from my OneNote notebook to the world wide web.

The intention of a Progressive Web App will allow users to keep it on their home screen for reference.

What are Mental Models?

Mental models are big ideas from various disciplines (Engineering, Finance, Math, etc) that attribute to better decision making. I won’t go into all the details here, because  I hope the new project can enlighten you into mental model thinking.

Why Make a Dictionary of Mental Models?

Essentially it is the new place one can head to see a summary, example, and defense strategy for specific mental model dictionary entries. I couldn’t find this besides bloggers who write about them in longer articles (which are also very helpful).

Currently, the dictionary only has four entries without any searching features – as time ticks this will change!

I’ll be creating my entries (with their corresponding analysis on my blog) and opening entries via crowdsourcing in the future. This quick reference dictionary will provide you with the mental models needed for better decision making, hope you enjoy!!

A New Mental Model Entry: Information Asymmetry

What’s Information Asymmetry?

Information Asymmetry occurs when one party, in a transaction involving multiple parties, has more or more accurate information than the other parties. As the quote goes “knowledge is power” right? By this I mean to state that by one party knowing (information) others don’t, then they have more power.

What is the result of Information Asymmetry

An imbalance in itself means the party with the information now has more power, the other, less.

This can make a huge difference in the result of that specific transaction, and the “why” of the decisions within it. It causes others to feel they are making a great decision or criticism (like Josh explains here – a great example), when in actuality it is in ignorance due to information asymmetry.

Information Asymmetry – a Kaleb Story:

The main reason this has been the new entry of choice, happens to be from my traveling experience this week. Let me attempt relaying my feelings and situations when traveling one particular day to Amsterdam.

The night before:

Like most airlines these days do, Brussels Airline sent a notification to check in 24 hours via mobile or online the night before my trip.

Typically, this makes airport arrival time a bit later, giving yourself a few more moments of peace before heading to the airport or what I also like to call The Land with No Free WIFI.

I should have known I was in for an experience…

My first flight, Budapest to Brussels, checked in no problem, while the second Brussels to Amsterdam continuously displayed an error. With time ticking closer and closer to 11:00 pm and also my 3:50 am alarm, I felt like it was a rational time to instead go old school style – printing out my boarding pass at the airport. Leaving the issue for the morning.

The day of - Budapest:

Checking in… Arriving at the airport around 4:30 am, I walk over to drop off my bag and check in. After handing over my passport, the attendant informs me that I would not be able to have my checked bag transferred to Amsterdam, but would instead have to pick it up at Brussels (meaning go through security again), and then check in there.

I asked for more information, and she informed me the machine wasn’t working and she didn’t know why.

“Could you please call someone to see if I can get this fixed here?”

“No, unfortunately, I cannot.”

Yes, I was slightly worried…

At this point, I am a bit concerned that Google Flights didn’t properly book my flights. I began looking up the flight status by flight number. It was on time, although it wasn’t flying to Amsterdam from Brussels that day.

Heading to the Gate…

I decided to make my way to the gate, hoping the boarding agent would be better equipped to help. As I approached with my Costa Coffee Americano in hand, I hear in an accent:

“Hi, did you bring me coffee along with a question?”

Needless to say, she was very helpful and explained that instead of a flight, I would be taking a train from Brussels to Amsterdam. Unable to print the ticket here, I would need to head to the information desk once arriving in Belgium to get everything sorted out.

Example #1 of Information Asymmetry: By not having any notifications or knowledge of what in the world was going on – it was quite hard to stay 100% sure everything was correct for my travel agenda that day.

Additionally, seeing as I hadn’t looked at their screen or had a ticket in my hand, what assurance was of a train ticket waiting for me once my first plane landed? Little did I know the train station was at the airport, and even with the knowledge of Amsterdam being a neighbor to Belgium, I had no idea how long of a train ride it was, when the train was boarding, or any other necessary information to make sure I was on track time-wise.

Lastly, even if it can be self-blamed here, my lack in knowledge of the language the different agents spoke to each other during interactions increased their “power” if you will (not in a negative way, strictly in terms of knowledge), since I didn’t understand the discussion.

 SN - I’m very thankful that many places in Europe use English to help not only English speakers, but also as a language to help those traveling from non-English speaking countries as well.
 The imbalance of power here – Brussels airlines and agents +1, Kaleb -1.

The Day of – Brussels

Baggage Claim…

Heading off the plane, the first thing I look for? An information desk.

Womp womp, there goes that idea. Not one in sight.

Second thing? Baggage claim. Thank goodness for signs! I see a bag icon and start walking that way.

Eventually, I grab my bag from the carousel and see the information center sign. Winning!

“Hello sir, I was told that my flight would no longer be taking off, and that I would be taking a train instead – but I don’t have a ticket or any knowledge of the train.”

“What airline?”


“Around the corner and up the stairs”

“Thank you.”

Example #2 of Information Asymmetry :

In this gentleman’s mind map, he knows where the check-in desks for Brussels Airlines reside, has had this question asked many times, and knows everything will be fine.

In my head, I’m like OK awesome, let me head upstairs and get this train ticket. I’ll be on the way then. I had no idea that Brussels was even bigger than I imagined!

Trying to find Brussels Airline…

From my very small level of experience in European airports, I’ve learned to look for your flight on this huge board at the front of the check-in centers, as it can help lead you to the correct check-in center for that purpose.

This doesn’t work out quite as well when your flight isn’t on the board.

There are at least 12 different check-in lanes with multiple airlines on each, bustling with swarms of people everywhere rushing to get situated. I began to walk through each one as the first empty round trip resulted in a second.

Finally finding the check-in line for Brussels, I’m first informed not to go to the baggage drop off line, but continue straight to get my questions answered. From there, I am sent to the ticketing desk, and it is there that I’m told to please wait one second as it gets sorted out.

Example #3 of Information Asymmetry: While I am very much unsure at this point whether or not I’m on time or have a ticket, the agent knows that everything will be fine since he handles these situations frequently.

I feel quite powerless since there isn’t much from in my control, while he has the computer with the options to solve the situation. Do I need to buy a ticket? Did I miss it? When does it leave? Maybe I will have to stay in Brussels until tomorrow? Do I need to get out Google Translate?

All of these questions are quite irrational to the informed. One who knows there are multiple trains, and knows the agent will make sure I get the ticket needed. From my side, I didn’t know these details and therefore wasn’t feeling much power in this economic transaction. Especially since the airline didn’t send any notifications of the changes before the transaction.

Ending the story…

In conclusion, I was able to find the right train (after asking for help and feeling like Harry Potter before he walks in Platform 9 and ¾ in his first year), with the ticket printed by the agent in Brussels (thank you!!) and made my way towards Amsterdam.

Overall the experience was not the most fun I’ve had, but it ended up with me being able to write a blog while looking at the windmills outside of a train window in Belgium – what a wonderful way to travel in a new place. Plus, who wouldn’t want a few blips to remember on a new adventure?

Thank you so much for reading and check out the new project if I’ve grabbed your attention to learn mental model thinking with a few laughs from my anecdotal life along the way. I’ll be adding this entry to the dictionary shortly!

One Love,

Kaleb McKelvey