Conant-Ashbey Theorem

By David

I came across the Conant-Ashbey Theorem recently. It states:

Every good regulator of a system must be a model of that system.

It got stuck in my head longer than it logically should – I guessed that there must be something to it that I’m just not seeing. Then we worked on a gamification project, and it started making sense. In plain English it could mean: To tune a system you need a good analytics model of that system.1

Why is this important?

During the design phase of a project we rarely think about designing control mechanisms that allow us to fine tune our designs when they are out in the world. Instead, we unleash variables in the world that run wild and soon disappear from sight.

Design with an analytics model upfront

Analytics not only tell us if our designs are doing their jobs – designing with a good analytics model in mind gives us levers to pull when they are not.


  1. Paraphrase by Phil Barrett.