Models

“All models are wrong, some are useful”

George E.P. Box

In a period of ambiguity, this quote seems more and more appropriate. People are trying to make sense of the COVID-19 world and models can help, even if they are wrong!

Models, in this context, are structures that help us make sense of situations. It can help us normalise things we may not be used to. People are generally comfortable with familiarity.

I come from a learning & development background and in that industry there are more “models” and frameworks than you can poke a stick at. Which isn’t surprising as the profession is duty bound to make sense out of many changing circumstances and people’s resistance to change. Many of these models are being challenged lately. Maybe they always have been and social media only amplifies the noise.

Myers-Briggs (MBTI), DiSC, HS LSI, learning styles. The list goes on.

I’m okay that they are wrong or misleading or unscientific. Because I don’t think any of the models are 100% true 100% of the time.

But they can be useful.

Just like story telling can be useful, or using analogies. The story, or analogy, is not the specific truth but is an attempt to make sense of a situation to aid the listener in understanding it from their perspective.

If a model is being presented as scientifically true when it isn’t, it needs to be called out. But I do see people completely dismissing any value that might be gained from such models. Which is just as simplistic. Is there no value in the model?

Recently, someone commented on an article they were enjoying until the writer used the term “learning styles”. They just stopped reading from that point! Is it possible to look past the phrase and continue to enjoy the point the article was trying to make?

I agree with Mr Box. All models are wrong. But we can learn from them, therefore they are, or can be, useful.

I was taught to take everything with a pinch of salt. Results of any assessment are a “guideline” rather than a rule.

As a bad example, when I was learning about MBTI (this link refers to criticisms of the model), one of my colleagues exclaimed to another “That’s a typical INTJ comment!” pigeon-holing the individual immediately! For me, that was the best learning in how not to apply a model! Maybe a better response might have been “that’s an interesting perspective, could you elaborate?”

Perhaps we could be a bit more curious about styles: learning, thinking, behavioural or otherwise. The INTJ is a label but it’s just that – a label. It’s not the whole story.

Let’s look at an analogy: “tags”.

One way to allocate information in a database like Evernote is to “tag” a document. A tag is a word or term that denotes a piece of information the document refers to.

For example, a tag of “rice” might be assigned to a cooking dish that requires rice or is heavily rice based. If you searched for the tag “rice” in Evernote a range of items where “rice” is significant will come up. It helps in searching for rice dishes rather than scrolling through every entry!

But the tag is not the dish.

The tag is an indicator and you want to know more, dig in, be curious about what context the tag makes.

Similarly, the label/tag “INTJ” is not the person. It may prove useful as a starting point which may also demand that you enquire, be curious and/or dig in to know more about the individual.

MBTI talks about preferences, not absolutes.

Learning styles talks about Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic learning modes. But please don’t create a course or event solely based on one mode. (Note there is a degree of critique on Learning Styles but also note 58% agreed that students “learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style .”) (*DTTBOWTB)

DiSC talks about behavioural styles. Dominant, iNfluence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. These are aspects of observable behaviour. It can be useful. Imagine a “High I” talking incessantly over a customer they are trying to sell to. Not ideal. You can address that and see if it is a dominant behaviour.

This is not a treatise on the defence of models. Far from it. You will see there are many critiques. Some may argue that if we can’t rely on them then what value are they?

The value, as I see it, is a starting point for conversations, for considering how we move forward in relationships. Putting things within a loosely held construct. And a willingness to flex when necessary as well as develop a sound knowledge of those we interact with.

Not everyone will act according to their preferred style all the time.

Love your models, use them carefully but also be curious.

(DTTBOWTB: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!)

On Being a Higher Performer

This one is straight from James Clear‘s email I received last week.

When doing performance reviews (let’s accept for a minute they are a good thing and well executed), staff often ask how they can achieve higher than the average (aka, doing the job).

I have come across a few managers who aren’t prepared to have this conversation. My conclusion is managers are afraid staff will seek ways to achieve what they have said and will be forced to give higher ratings. That’s just … weird!

I think James sums up the higher scales nicely: (italics are my comments):

The 3 Levels of Employees:

Level 1 — You do what you are asked to do. (This is “doing your job.”)

Level 2 — Level 1 + You think ahead and solve problems before they happen. (I don’t think this applies to the immediate job. That would be considered continuous improvement or identifying something that needs to be fixed to do the job properly.)

Level 3 — Level 2 + You proactively look for areas of opportunity and growth in the business, and figure out how to tap into them. (This is organisational or department-wide. Maybe seeing a significant risk to the business and developing a solution.)

If a company is going to have rating scales, companies (i.e. managers) need to be able to have a conversation about the scales and how to achieve them.

Note 1: For the record, if you do conduct Performance Reviews, they really should be just regular conversations summarising what both parties already know.

Note 2: I am trying to improve my writing and was taught (eons ago) that if you have the word “that” near the beginning of a sentence, you can actually delete everything up to and including the “that” and the sentence will still make perfect sense, and likely be more clear.

Here is paragraph 3 (above) in it’s original state:

What really mystifies me is that I have come across few managers who are even prepared to have this conversation. My conclusion is they are afraid staff will then go seeking to achieve exactly what they have said and then they will be forced to give higher ratings.