I’ve ranted about best practices many times before. Nonetheless, it is human nature to want there to be a right answer, to know that we are doing the right thing and to believe that the actions we take are defensible. Normal to want, impossible to get. The reality is that we live in a complex and nuanced world, and we need varied ways of making sense of it. We need effective ways to evaluate our options, understand the implications and assess whether we are making the best decision at the time. That’s where models come in.
Simple models can provide powerful insights. So what does a simple model look like, and how do you develop one? And in particular, how do you ensure that it focusses on the things that matter most? Making choices in design—what to include, and what to leave out—are fundamental. A thought exercise in reinventing the project plan.
There are times that I marvel at the value that a simple model provides. And yet we often go out of our way to make things difficult, to be as detailed and comprehensive as we can. Rather than looking for what is essential, we ask for everything. Yet simple models can have surprising depth behind them. And they can be extraordinarily powerful in helping to make sense of complex situations.
While models can be awesomely useful, they are ultimately just constructs that were created because they were relevant to someone at some point. What’s more important is understanding where our models come from in the first place: how they are created, how they evolve and what they connect back to. We forget their underpinnings at our peril. But unfortunately we do that a little too often.
We fall in love with our models, our processes and our standards. They’re helpful when they help us to make sense of the world, but they can also get in the way. What we sometimes forget is that they were all invented to provide a perspective on a problem. That means we can change them, adapt them, evolve them and dispense with them when they stop providing value.
How much guidance do we need for a model to actually be useful? The very value of models is that they are abstractions. They provide ways of taking complex situations and simplifying them through structure, categories and labels. They make the infinite shades of grey a little bit more black and white.