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12 Ways to Get Smarter in One Infographic



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Cognitive Bias Infographic

12 Ways to Get Smarter in One Infographic

View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

The level of a person’s raw intelligence, as measured by aptitude tests such as IQ scores, is generally stable for most people during the course of their adulthood.

While it’s true that there are things you can do to fine tune your natural capabilities, such as doing brain exercises, solving puzzles, and getting optimal sleep—the amount of raw brainpower you have is difficult to increase in any meaningful or permanent way.

For those of us who constantly strive to be high-performers in our fields, this seems like bad news. If we can’t increase our processing power, then how can we solve life’s bigger problems as we move up the ladder?

The Key: Mental Models

The good news is that while raw cognitive abilities matter, it’s how you use and harness those abilities that really makes the difference.

The world’s most successful people, from Ray Dalio to Warren Buffett, are not necessarily leagues above the rest of us in raw intelligence—instead, they simply develop and learn to apply better mental models of how the world works, and they use these principles to filter their thoughts, decisions, strategies, and execution.

This infographic comes from best-selling author and entrepreneur Michael Simmons, who has collected over 650 mental models through his work. The infographic, in a similar style to one we previously published on cognitive biases, synthesizes these models down to the most useful and universal mental models that people should learn to master first.

Concepts such as the 80/20 rule (Pareto’s principle), compound interest, and network building are summarized in the visualization, and their major components are broken down further within the circle.

Mental Model Examples

Example #1: Pareto’s Principle (80/20 Rule for Prioritization)

In a recent Medium post by Simmons, he highlights a well-known mental model that is the perfect bread crumb to start with.

The 80/20 rule (Pareto’s principle) is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who was likely the first person to note the 80/20 connection in an 1896 paper.

In short, it shows that 20% of inputs (work, time, effort) often leads to 80% of outputs (performance, sales, revenue, etc.), creating an extremely vivid mental framework for making prioritization decisions.

80-20 law Pareto's principle

The 80/20 rule represents a power law distribution that has been empirically shown to exist throughout nature, and it also has huge implications on business.

If you focus your effort on these 20% of tasks first, and get the most out of them, you will be able to drive results much more efficiently than wasting time on the 80% “long-tail” shown below.

Power law distribution

Example #2: Metcalfe’s Law (Network Building)

Metcalfe’s Law is one of network effects, stating that a network’s value is proportional to the square of the number of nodes in the network.

From a mental model perspective, this is a useful way to understand how certain types of technology-driven businesses derive value.

If you have a smart grid that is only connected to one power source, that’s alright—but one connected to many different energy sources and potential consumers is much more useful for everyone on the grid. Each additional node provides value for the rest of the connections.

Metcalfe's Law illustrated

This mental model can be applied outside of strict technology or business terms as well.

For example, if you build a personal network of connections, each additional relationship can provide more value to the other people in your network. It’s the same principle that Harvard or other prestigious universities operate on: the more value a student can get from the alumni network, the higher price they can charge for tuition.

It’s hard to compete with a fully formed network at scale, as they create massive economic moats for the owner. Modern social networks and messaging apps like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Snapchat all operate with this in mind.

The Power of Mental Models

These are just two examples of how powerful mental models can be effective in making you think clearer and work smarter.

If you want to be a top performer, it’s worth looking into other mental models out there as well. They can help you better frame reality, so that you can harness your intelligence and effort in the most effective way possible—and it’ll allow you to deliver results along the way.

This post was first published in 2018. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.

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Ranked: America’s Best Universities

Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.



Ranked: America’s Best Universities

The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.

“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:

  • Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
  • Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
  • Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
  • Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
  • Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.

The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.

From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.

Which are the Best Universities in America?

At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.

Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.

RankSchool NameStateTuition
1Princeton UniversityNew Jersey$59,710
Institute of
3Harvard UniversityMassachusetts$59,076
3Stanford UniversityCalifornia$62,484
5Yale UniversityConnecticut$64,700
6University of
7California Institute
of Technology
7Duke UniversityNorth Carolina$66,172
9Brown UniversityRhode Island$68,230
9Johns Hopkins
9Northwestern UniversityIllinois$65,997
12Columbia UniversityNew York$65,524
12Cornell UniversityNew York$66,014
12University of ChicagoIllinois$65,619
15University of
California, Berkeley
California$48,465 (out-state)
$15,891 (in-state)
15University of
California, LA
California$46,326 (out-state)
$13,752 (in-state)
17Rice UniversityTexas$58,128
18Dartmouth CollegeNew Hampshire$65,511
18Vanderbilt UniversityTennessee$63,946
20University of Notre DameIndiana$62,693
21University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor
Michigan$57,273 (out-state)
$17,786 (in-state)
22Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC$65,082
22University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina$39,338 (out-state)
$8,998 (in-state)
24Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania$63,829
24Emory UniversityGeorgia$60,774
24University of VirginiaVirginia$58,950 (out-state)
$22,323 (in-state)
University, St. Louis
28University of
California, Davis
California$46,043 (out-state)
$15,266 (in-state)
28University of
California, San Diego
California$48,630 (out-state)
$16,056 (in-state)
28University of FloridaFlorida$28,658 (out-state)
$6,381 (in-state)
28University of
Southern California
32University of
Texas, Austin
Texas$41,070 (out-state)
$11,698 (in-state)
33Georgia Institute
of Technology
Georgia$32,876 (out-state)
$11,764 (in-state)
33University of
California, Irvine
California$47,759 (out-state)
$15,185 (in-state)
35New York UniversityNew York$60,438
35University of
California, Santa
California$45,658 (out-state)
$14,881 (in-state)
35University of Illinois
Illinois$36,068 (out-state)
$17,572 (in-state)
35University of
Wisconsin, Madison
Wisconsin$40,603 (out-state)
$11,205 (in-state)
39Boston CollegeMassachusetts$67,680
40Rutgers University,
New Brunswick
New Jersey$36,001 (out-state)
$17,239 (in-state)
40Tufts UniversityMassachusetts$67,844
40University of WashingtonWashington$41,997 (out-state)
$12,643 (in-state)
43Boston UniversityMassachusetts$65,168
43The Ohio State UniversityOhio$36,722 (out-state)
$12,485 (in-state)
43Purdue University,
Main Campus
Indiana$28,794 (out-state)
$9,992 (in-state)
46University of
Maryland, College
Maryland$40,306 (out-state)
$11,505 (in-state)
47Lehigh UniversityPennsylvania$62,180
47Texas A&M UniversityTexas$40,607 (out-state)
$12,413 (in-state)
47University of GeorgiaGeorgia$30,220 (out-state)
$11,180 (in-state)
47University of RochesterNew York$64,384
47Virginia TechVirginia$36,090 (out-state)
$15,478 (in-state)
47Wake Forest UniversityNorth Carolina$64,758
53Case Western
Reserve University
53Florida State UniversityFlorida$21,683 (out-state)
$6,517 (in-state)
53Northeastern UniversityMassachusetts$63,141
53University of
Minnesota, Twin
Minnesota$36,402 (out-state)
$16,488 (in-state)
53William & MaryVirginia$48,841 (out-state)
$25,041 (in-state)

MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.

Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.

For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.

As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.

However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.

Best University versus Best “Fit”

Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.

Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.

In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.

Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.

However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.

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