I’ve made the argument that the boxes and lines of models don’t matter as much as the content that occupies those boxes. I’ll go one step further. What really matters is the messiness that underlies that content. Models attempt to simplify and create meaning. The content within the model is just the aggregate representation of the situation in an organization at any given moment in time. Change the context and circumstances, and you will likely wind up with a very different representation that leads to very different interpretations and conclusions. Simplicity is a distraction. If you want to really know what is going on, then you need to embrace the messiness.
We have a tendency to be in love with our models, frameworks and methodologies. As I’ve written about before, obsessing about our processes and structures too much—or reinforcing them too formally—is never a good strategy. Nonetheless, we need some structure to work with and guide us in making sense of the world. A realization came to me while thinking about one particular model this week, that highlighted a particular tension. The more we know and apply our models, the less likely they are to bring about new ways of thinking. That creates a bit of a problem to solve.
How do you make sense of a high stakes situation where your credibility and confidence are being challenged? What is the appropriate response when you are in front of a hostile executive, with no option to phone a friend? The right answer always depends, and what it depends on is your ability to take a read of the influences at play and what they might mean. That is where models come in. With the right model, you can gain insight on what is happening and make a meaningful determination of your next move. Here’s how to do it.
Models are how we make sense of the world. We tend to do far better with simple models that provide specific insights, rather than grand theories that attempt to reduce everything down to a single, unified perspective. The challenge is how to identify relevant models, and build an inventory that makes sense for us and our experience. Some models are generic and broadly applicable. Others are specific and focussed. Some models you will be introduced to, others you will discover and some you will build. In all instances, it’s about knowing the meaning you need to create and the perspectives that matter.
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.