Models muddling models

For the man with a model, every problem can be solved. Be aware of problems the model cannot solve. Ignore the model, not the man.

Harish Jose notes that any model will stop being a model, because it’s no longer useful. via @wordpressdotcom .

He cites Ashby.

I would like then to start from the basic fact that every model of a real system is in one sense second-rate. Nothing can exceed, or even equal, the truth and accuracy of the real system itself. Every model is inferior, a distortion, a lie. Why then do we bother with models? Ultimately, I propose. we make models for their convenience.

I added this comment:

Years ago I asked a group of system thinkers: “What’s your favourite model?”. One answered: “Claudia Schiffer”.So we call a mannequin (which has been derived from the Dutch word for small man, “manneke“) a model too. Off course, reducing her to three numbers.

On the other hands, it shows that any body (autonomous naturally auto-poetic) has become a model of its “territory” too. A fashion model on the cat walk, a manager in an organization (called “a role model”) and a systems thinker as a model modeller.

Furthermore, the very word “small man” for a model, points to the (model) Law of Requisite Variety. Any it-self organizing organism organizes a self organizing (meta) model of itself, required “by law” to be as complex as its environment (which I like to call “domain”, as this also induces behaviour to “dominate” the environment – now aptly called “territory”).

Building on this:

These types of models I will call explicit-models and model-in-use. These models explicitly refer to a reality “out there”, which become “real” through putting these to the test and prove their accurate truth for you. You enact these models, adapting it until it fits your purpose. This I call realizing or “actualizing reality”. In Dutch I can use the words “verwerkelijken van werkelijkheid”.

The obvious success of using a model-in-use will increase your self-esteem. William James already established that. The success of a model will attract others people, who will adopt this model as their own “truth”.

As it now involves self-esteem, the model better be more successful. After some time, the number of people adhering to the model becomes a token of its success. People will convene around a convenient model, organising conventions, meetings…. As other people adopt the model, it becomes what I call a “model-espoused“.

Please note that the model-in-use didn’t change. The use of the model-in-use changed. I could also say, that perceptions of the model have been changed. Its success no longer rests on its success in applications, but in its ability to engage others. Did I already mention Agile?

Every group of people will implicitly establish around a model-espoused of itself based on an explicitly successful model-in-use from the past. The group will separate itself from other groups, create an identity, requiring involvement and establish clear boundaries. It will adopt this model as its foundation – usually attributed to a “father” or “patron”. The model-espoused will also become the model shaping the future.

You can only questioned it by risking to become an heretic or a schismatic. Or you’re the non-believing external “other”.

The sure sign of a crisis, will be the establishment of an absolutely unchangeable model. The model now mainly has its use as establishing an establishment based on past successes.

These model-espoused have to be defended by this group, tribe, society,… . You could also call them a “paradigm”. They’ve become a “<model>-ism”.

Any anomaly – pointing at inaccuracies of the model – will either be suppressed, ignored or ridiculed (yes, I do also mean MMT). The people of the group will think they have to require engagement, trust in the model, coming together more often and silence “counter productive” voices.

Harish considers the temporary nature of a model in his notebook.

The final aspect of model-making is to take into consideration the temporary nature of the model. Again, paraphrasing Ashby – We should not assume the system to be absolutely unchanging. We should accept frankly that our models are valid merely until such time as they become obsolete.

Some implications for facilitating change

Facilitating groups in changing their patterns (model) isn’t made easy by the patterns themselves, as Machiavelli already showed. Most managers usually focus on implementing what already has been established – proven – or framing a new paradigm within the old.

As a matter fact, when I became manager production in an high tech electronics industry, growing at about 8% a year, the first thing I said to my workers, was: “don’t be surprised when you’ll be fired in the years to come, as your work will disappear”. The only thing I didn’t expect was that this was the reason I was the first to go. Well, I was till young then.

All groups get stuck in their “paradigm”, model-espoused, routinely “defending” their turf. NEVER underestimate the power of routines.

As the (wo)men in the management team have established the biggest stake in continuing the viability of their model, all facilitation is also about changing the structure using power. This starts even before your intake. Don’t address it and don’t ignore it. Resistance to change is also energy.

They may require you to understand their business and business model. It can also be a pre-emptive, so they need not apply what will be suggested from your sessions by saying “the consultant didn’t understand our work”. So always assimilate by using a few (three to five) of their key-words to suggest you know what they’re talking about. I usually pick them up in my way to the interview.

The most important thing to do is, “Go Slow“. Check your assumptions. And theirs.

When you sense something regarding their situation, say so, without attributing your feelings to the client. Check if they’ve got the same feelings and how they deal with them. Or acknowledge their feelings.

For instance, when your client assume there is a lot of resistance, asked them for concrete examples.

If they ask you to agree on an opinion, say something like “That may be so. Thank you for sharing. I’ll try to remember it.”

Also inquire on their questions on having to involve you, an outsider. There is always resistance against an outsider and it’s better to talk about it in a non-threatening way.

Before accepting an assignment, always establish your conditions. When your client asks you a difficult task, just state your conditions. “I may do that, but I have to charge you for <conditions>”.

Second thing is, keep space to manoeuvre.

You don’t know. You won’t fail because you don’t know something. You’ll fail because you stick to something you think you know, which isn’t true.

The same holds for people in organizations. Their use of a model-espoused prevents them from perceiving anything outside their frame, their model.

It might work well, when you acknowledge “I don’t know”. Perhaps even, when you think you do know.

You cannot “solve” their problems. Promise to get three to six options from the group to be facilitated to improve their situations and say something like: “in many organizations, managers find it difficult to implement ideas they didn’t think of”.

Always exchange written notes on what you think has been agreed upon.

About Jan Lelie

Met diversiteit kom je verder, wanneer je elkaar beter begrijpt.  Jan Lelie kan helpen. Ik faciliteer besluitvorming met behulp van mijn mind@work methode. Sommigen noemen het agile, anderen lean of serious play. Het zit er allemaal in. Daarnaast geef ik workshops en master classes aan professionals die zelf beter willen faciliteren.
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