selves notice. Our models tell us what is important,
what counts, what to look for. Peter Senge wrote,
“Models [are] so powerful in affecting what we do...
because they affect what we see. Two people with
different mental models can observe the same
event and describe it differently, because they’ve
looked at different details” [ 5]. Under this frame,
models also lead to evidence.
frame + filter
When Judging (Mental)
Models, Consider Four
How does the model fit the evidence?
• Is our evidence relevant?
• Is it reliable?
• Is it sufficiently granular? (Depth.)
• Do we have enough evidence to draw
meaningful conclusions? (Breadth.)
• Are the elements of the model necessary and
• Are the elements of the model “MECE”—
mutually exclusive and collectively
2) LEAST MEANS
Is there a simpler way to explain the evidence?
• Given two models explaining the same
evidence, Ockham told us to prefer the
Is the model internally consistent?
• Is it free from contradiction?
4) PREDICTIVE VALUE
What predictions does the model make?
• Are our model’s predictions consistent with
• Do the model’s predictions help us make
decisions that might have been more difficult
[ 5] Senge, P. M. The
Fifth Discipline: The
Art and Practice of the
New York: Doubleday,
Our models affect what we see.
In a similar way, models already shared within
an organization may limit its ability to see new
evidence, understand changing situations, or act in
its own interest. Old models often resist new ones
and inhibit learning. That’s why organizations need
to expose the fundamental models that guide them
and periodically challenge those models.
Creating or revising a model is meta-activity,
taking us outside the primary activity in which we
were engaged. It requires attention, energy, and
time. But a new or improved model may pay dividends; it may reduce accidents or other unexpected
outcomes, or it may make an individual or group
more competitive. In this way, forming and reforming models may “pay for itself.” Sharing models
may reduce group costs and thus create value. But
the cost of adopting new models can also inhibit
their spread. Adoption requires value that clearly
are explained by
stories are tools
models stories for discussion
[ 6] Star, S. L. and J. R.
and Professionals in
Berkeley’s Museum of
1907 - 1939.” Social
Studies of Science
no. 3 (1989): 387-420.
Agreement and Understanding
Models are closely tied to stories. We explain models by telling stories, and when we tell stories, listeners form models—mental pictures of the actors,
how they are related, and how they behave.
Shared models support discussions. They are
examples of what Susan Star called “boundary
objects,” artifacts that enable discourse at the
boundaries between communities of practice [ 6].
By sharing our models, we may be able to confirm
where we agree—and discover where we disagree.
stories are tools
Models are explained by stories; stories build models.
Models provide a basis for shared understanding,
agreement, and group action. They also build trust
and enable collaboration.
Agreement begins with individual understanding—forming our own models. Through conversation, we begin to understand each other’s models—