Making models

By David

Good consultants spend more time thinking about their clients’ challenges than the clients themselves – and making models is a big part of this.

It follows that at the start of each project we spend a lot of time making models. It’s the best way to get under the skin of a project. Models are great at focusing a group. We do it to understand situations better, and it helps our teams visualise and think through a design challenge from all angles. Model making sits at the core of product discovery.

The models that I’m referring to here aren’t deliverables, but they could be if we polish them up, but in most cases this is a waste of valuable time. I see models as necessary discardables, their purpose is to move you along, without them you’re not going anywhere.

Systems Approaches to Managing Change highlights two interesting things about models that are worth considering.

Models are subjective.

As with any model, viewpoints are inevitably partial in the sense of being both incomplete and of being viewed from a particular or partisan perspective necessarily based on it’s particular purpose.

Subjectivity is good here, it gives you a place to start when faced with a blank canvas. The sole reason for making models is to change them. Good models change shape as soon as you start showing them to people because the partisan perspectives start breaking down when more minds start looking at a problem.

Models are wrong.

Constructing a model is a practical way of visualising the key elements of a problem. Statistician George Box once said, ‘Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.’ Models are always wrong in that they don’t serve as detailed illustrations of the problem. This is also why they’re right. The simpler you can make the model, the easier it is to understand a problem.

Models lose their power when they grow too complex, and when they are ‘finished’ they no longer draw ideas out of us.

Making better models

It turns out that the two weaknesses of models are also their strengths. But it takes courage to take the first step and risk being subjective and wrong. But if you think about it, when you start exploring, you can’t start out any other way.