$240 MBA

An MBA costs a non-trivial amount of money. I think that’s partially why I’ve had numerous folks ask me for an alternative. How about reading a few books instead? That’s often my suggested (and quite inexpensive) alternative. People pursue advanced degrees for a variety of reasons, so this alternative doesn’t make sense for everyone. But if you find mental models fascinating, I recommend starting with the following 7 books. These books will help you to become a more effective thinker and decision-maker, to see and understand the fundamental inter-relatedness of life (and business), and to figure things out faster.

Another great resource is Farnam Street Blog. Shane (the author) does a far better job discussing mental models than I do.

By the way, the cost of these books was $240 on amazon when I priced them out. Some were priced through an Amazon affiliated seller, and things change, but this should work as a general guide.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack By: Charles Munger $54

Poor Charlie’s Almanack is, to date, the most complete work on the concept of mental models (although the complete works of Herbert Simon would be a close second). And mental models provide the framework for better decision-making. If you’re looking to improve your decision-making abilities, a careful reading of this book will do it.

Seeking Wisdom By: Peter Bevelin $30

Seeking Wisdom builds upon Poor Charlie’s Almanack with additional detail in certain areas. Bevelin has a slightly different interpretation of the behavioral traps that we all face everyday, so it will help you to compare this book to Poor Charlie’s Almanack in building your own set of mental models.  Together, these books will give you a strong decision-making framework.

Principles of Economics By: Greg Mankiw $79

It’s hard for me to understand how you can be effective in business without at least a basic primer in Economics (unless the core concepts just come naturally to you).  The problem is that most of the texts are brutal to read, and while this text is long (and maybe boring in a few spots), it’s worth it.  It beautifully incorporates models from multiple disciplines into an understanding of economics. And it discusses the two most important mental models available: cost-benefit analysis and opportunity cost.  The price is annoying, but it’s expensive for a reason.  In order to stay in the $79 range, go with the 5th Edition.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion By: Robert Cialdini $11
Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive By: Robert Cialdini $11

Cialdini is now retired from Arizona State, so I don’t think you’ll be taking his courses.  But, you can read his books, and they are incredibly helpful in explaining psychology (in the context of behavioral traps).

Judgment in Managerial Decision Making By: Max Bazerman $44

Where Robert Cialdini focuses on the the behavioral trap aspect of psychology (I think he calls it “Social Influence”), Max Bazerman focuses on the negotiating aspect of psychology.  Unless you’ve found some way to avoid negotiating in life (hint: you haven’t), you might as well have a framework to deal with it.

Moonwalking with Einstein By: Joshua Foer $11

It makes sense to permanently store the mental models you’ve learned (which include behavioral traps) in memory. Josh walks you through how to use a very old memory technique to memorize list structures. Use it.