Models let you watch, but the picture above is not what we mean. We mean that it is only possible to give meaning to data if we have a model of the situation in advance.
In the hilarious video by John Cleese What playing cricket looks like to Americans a game – is it a game anyhow? – is described minutely but completely incomprehensible because we have no reference to interpret what we watch. It illustrates the difference between data and information. There is a lot of data, but no information at all, unless we were explained the rules of the game – or whatever it is.
When we interpret data – that is transforming the data into information – it is important to realise consciously what kind of model we use to give meaning to the data. It is very useful to apply several models in order to attain a range of possible explanations the data relates to. See our earlier blog post about the use of models like Multifocal Thinking and Patterns in Organisations, about different models to look at phenomena in organizations.
To illustrate the importance to design your own models and play by your own rules, watch the video below how a woman hacked on-line dating by not accepting the standard questionnaires – reflecting a kind of thinking, thus a model – but designing her own 72 data points. A funny video, but notwithstanding serious instructional about how models direct data gathering.
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Mental Models I Find Repeatedly Useful
2019 UPDATE: Since this post came out, I co-authored a book about it called Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models. You can order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.