Science of Self ™ Knowledge Centre

Making Sense of Personality - 7 All-Star Mental Models

Jun 11, 2019

“I basically load my head full of mental models… the really smart thinkers are clear thinkers and they understand the basics at a very, very fundamental level.”— Naval Ravikant (Farnam Street Podcast, best podcast episode I’ve listened to in years)

What do Batman and James Bond have in common?

Let me count the ways: They belong respectively to two of the longest running and most successful film franchises (neither of which have been entirely immune to the epidemic of passable movies), both action icons are known for using high-tech gadgets to foil the “same old dream” of the big bad bosses (world domination), they’re both orphaned loner-types with secret identities capable of affecting a charming exterior, who are, in spite of some seriously self-destructive streaks, ultimately committed to a cause greater than themselves (Bond, his country; Batman, his city), whose ice-cold, calm, and collected demeanours mask deep character damage — damage connected with, and seems to power, an extreme form of heroism that blurs the lines between grandiosity and selflessness, law enforcer and lawbreaker, man and monster, human and superhuman. And, most importantly, they both drive really cool cars. (Not Tesla cool but, hey, still pretty cool.)

They’re also expert at reading people. 

James Bond Casino Royale

Casino Royale (2006), MI6’s best poker player faces off against math genius and supervillain, Le Chiffre.

Can we ever expect to size up people and situations like these silver screen stars?

Maybe not on the same level — their lives are the stuff of fantasy, after all — however, we have the technology to make you better, stronger, faster, and understand the common tools used to make sense of personality. Naval Ravikant and Shane Parrish, two of the most trusted minds on the planet, suggest that a good place to start with any complex subject is the fundamental models and principles to serve as a solid frame or base to organise, clarify, and connect ideas. Shane, a former Canadian spy, runs the world’s best blog on decision making, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of free, accessibly written model summaries to upgrade and challenge your thinking, having recently compiled a Great Mental Models book as well as an “all-star team” of 9 mental models. 

  • Fury: “We need to find more.
  • Coulson: “More weapons?
  • Fury: “More heroes.
  • Coulson: “You think you can find others like her?”

— Captain Marvel (2019) 

In a similar vein, always mindful of the Hemingway principle to write the truest sentence you know and inspired by advice that one shouldn’t just write what you know, but what you want to know, I’ve assembled a shortlist of remarkable personality models. It represents some key insights I’ve gained from over 10 years in the talent assessment industry, and it’s also a stepping stone on my journey towards building a more complete understanding of a subject that endlessly puzzles and fascinates me: people.

The first 5 are what I’d consider must-know personality models (which even if you don’t especially like are important to be aware of) and the last 2 are personal favourites that I think are worthy of consideration. All right, heroes to the rescue…

Big Five

The “Big Five” is the most well-known and academically accepted model of personality in psychology. Just about every psychologist knows (or should know) this model. It’s not as widely known in business — if you mention it with average Jane/Joe manager, you'll probably get a blank stare. Several independent sets of researchers were involved in the development and clarification of the Big Five dimensions over several decades. These five overarching domains are viewed as representing the core set of human personality traits, though not all personality researchers agree that these reflect the most basic grouping. The term “Big Five” — also known as the Five-Factor Model (FFM) — refers to a general classification framework rather than a specific assessment. There are many instruments based on the Big Five.

  • Openness to Experience vs. Closedness: more curious or more conservative
  • Conscientiousness vs. Disinhibition: more organised or more carefree
  • Extraversion vs. Introversion: more outgoing or more reserved
  • Agreeableness vs. Antagonism: more cooperative/warm or more cold/detached
  • Neuroticism vs. Emotional Stability: more anxious or more self-assured

> Read More


Known as the most widely used personality inventory in the world, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has significant brand recognition both inside and outside of business, with passionate supporters and detractors alike. Based on the thinking of Carl Jung and developed in the 1940s by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs, MBTI is commonly used in the workplace to improve self-awareness, communication, and team effectiveness, however it is unethical to screen out job applicants based on one’s type according to the ethical guidelines set by the Myers & Briggs Foundation. Unlike the Big Five model, MBTI is a propriety product. The brand is owned by CPP, who became the exclusive publisher of the Myers-Briggs instrument in 1975. The following 8 letters provide 16 possible “type” combinations, which can be expressed as ISTJ, ENFP, INTP, etc.

Preference for where you focus your attention:

  • (E) Extraversion: the outer world of people, activities, objects
  • (I) Introversion: the inner world of ideas, thoughts, memories
Preference for gathering information:
  • (S) Sensing: the five senses (real, actual, hands-on, detail)
  • (N) Intuition: patterns and meanings (possibilities, associations, big picture)
Preference for making decisions:
  • (T) Thinking: objective analysis (impersonal reasoning, ‘tough-minded’)
  • (F) Feeling: subjective values (sympathetic reasoning, ‘tender-minded’)
Preference for approaching the outer world:
  • (J) Judging: planned and orderly (decisions are made)
  • (P) Perceiving: flexible and spontaneous (options are kept open)

> Read More


There are hundreds of versions of DISC on the market. The theoretical foundations of all modern-day DISC assessments are based on the 1928 book “Emotions of Normal People” by William Moulton Marston (he used the terms Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance). DISC can be seen as a replacement to the four temperaments model, the prevailing conception of personality in the West for thousands of years. Whereas MBTI and the Big Five describe personality, which we can’t access directly, DISC deals with observable behavioural tendencies. Publishers of the various DISC tools have different approaches to scoring, training, and reporting: One publisher may represent the DISC factors as a bar graph, another may use a circular diagram, another may classify a respondent under a single letter, and another may use figurative characters (such as the Rooster, Peacock, Dove, and Owl version). Interpretations of the DISC model have evolved over the years. This is a very brief overview, based on the version that we prefer from TTI Success Insights.

  • (D) Dominance: outgoing and task-focused (Direct, Assertive, Forceful, etc.)
  • (I) Influence: outgoing and people-focused (Sociable, Talkative, Enthusiastic, etc.)
  • (S) Steadiness: reserved and people-focused (Amiable, Accommodating, Gentle, etc.)
  • (C) Compliance: reserved and task-focused (Analytical, Careful, Precise, etc.)

> Read More

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow is best known and remembered for his hierarchy of needs, one of the most commonly taught models in business and education, first published in his 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow suggests we have five innate needs or motivations, arranged in a “hierarchy of relative prepotency,” which will tend to direct and influence our behaviour. Broadly speaking, we must mostly satisfy a lower-level need before we can focus our attention on the next need in the hierarchy. Maslow’s theory was based on his general observations of people rather than empirical data. He allows for many exceptions and reversals in the order, however the theory is extremely difficult to test/verify and is perhaps best used as a general heuristic or rule of thumb with broad value rather than being looked upon as a scientifically sanctioned model. From top to bottom, short and sweet:

  • “Need for self-actualisation” (personal growth, creative expression)
  • “Esteem needs” (achievement, respect from others, self-respect)
  • “Love needs” (relationships, social connection, intimacy)
  • “Safety needs” (security, freedom from fear)
  • “Physiological needs” (food, water, sex, sleep, even temperature)

> Read More

Emotional Intelligence

  • Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is now firmly established in business as a term that, for many professionals, replaces “people skills” and “soft skills.” EI came into the public spotlight when Daniel Goleman published “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ in 1995”; however, the study of different forms of intelligence began long before the book. Goleman’s model is what’s referred to as a “mixed model” of emotional intelligence and it is important to note that there are many other models, descriptions, and measurement approaches to the concept of EI (including, of course, robust scientific disagreements). Goleman’s original model (1995, 1998) outlined five main constructs, also referred to as dimensions, domains, or pillars of emotional intelligence: 1. Self-Awareness 2. Self-Regulation 3. Motivation 4. Empathy 5. Social Skills. Goleman later revised his model to four core factors:
  • 1. Self-Awareness: "concerns knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.
  • "2. Self-Management: "refers to managing ones’ internal states, impulses, and resources.
  • "3. Social Awareness: "refers to how people handle relationships and awareness of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns.
  • "4. Relationship Management: "concerns the skill or adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others."

(Above definitions from “How Emotionally Intelligent Are you?” Daniel Goleman,, 2015)

> Read More

Spranger’s 6 Attitudes

Eduard Spranger (1882 – 1963) was a German philosopher and psychologist who proposed six basic “attitudes” or “values” that drive human action, determine what people love and hate, like and dislike, find purposeful or pointless, fun or boring, motivating or disengaging. Many companies have since used Spranger’s work to create tools to measure people’s core values (including one we sell called the Motivators assessment, pardon the personal bias). The more modern assessments tend to use updated terminology, however Spranger’s original insights are still highly illuminating. The attitudes in their highest, rawest expressions are:

  • Theoretic Attitude – a pure scientist or scholarly type who holds knowledge and truth in the highest regard.
  • Economic Attitude – a pragmatist who “in all the relations of life prefers utility to all other values.
  • Aesthetic Attitude – a creative type interested in beauty, balance, form, harmony, experience, impression, and expression.
  • Social Attitude – a caring soul whose fundamental nature is driven by the desire to help others.
  • Political Attitude – a power seeker concerned with influence, leadership, status, self-determination, and independence.
  • Religious Attitude – a spiritualist concerned with the highest and richest revelations, or the ultimate unity of relations.

> Read More

King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (KWML)

In 1990, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette published the cult classic “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine” which was written to address the prevalence of immature “Boy psychology” in modern society and drew heavily on Jungian archetypes and mythology to suggest there are four basic building blocks or structures of the male psyche that need to be developed and balanced in order for boys to become fully mature men, assisted by “ritual process” or healthy initiations into manhood. Because the model is based on Jungian archetypes, it’s fairly slippery scientifically but nonetheless it’s a fascinating set of ideas, being of particular value to parents of young children. My co-worker keeps reminding me of the sizeable portion of our customers who are parents, so I don’t know if this is helping? Sorry? You’re welcome? The Art of Manliness blog probably has the best article series on KWML. Personally, I can’t go past the video series by Tom van der Linden whose editing is brilliant in ways I think only a small number of people fully appreciate and he provides numerous film examples to give the model context. The central archetypes:

  • King: the calming, ordering, protecting, ruling, centring life energy, which accords with nature, brings fertility to the lands, gives blessings to his people and causes the Kingdom to flourish.
  • Warrior: the doing, fighting, asserting, struggling, strengthening life energy, which is a resistance force to psychological and physical pain, and essential to overcoming obstacles and achieving goals.
  • Magician: the thinking, knowing, strategising, master-of-the-mind life energy, as expressed in the advisor, sage, shaman, mathematician, bookworm, engineer, technologist.
  • Lover: the intuitive, sensitive, empathetic, compassionate life energy, as expressed in the artist, musician, romantic, poet, healer.

> Read More

For additions, edits, or suggested deletions to this list of All-Star Personality Models, feel free to reach out and I will absolutely take the time to consider what you’re saying if you include pictures or film references.

(I just finished watching Captain Marvel and I absolutely freakin’ loved it, hence the strong superhero vibe to this post. She is my goddess Athena and I shall not recognise the authority of any deities before her. All joking aside, it’s an awesome film. Highly recommended.)

“Higher, further, faster, baby.”— Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel, 2019)

Topics: Psychology

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."


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