Clarity through modeling

posted on February 03, 2024

Questions often become clearer once you've put together a credible model of the system you're investigating.

A sensitivity analysis of the model (i.e. change some inputs of the model, and see how much the outputs react) can help you understand the dynamics of the system, and gain same familiarity with the most important points of leverage or risks.

Althought the model won't be a perfect representation of the system you're seeking to understand1, I'm still often surprised how a model can make tangible what was previously a hazy concept, and provide a greater degree of intuition around how the system acts.

Models can be powerful arguments for or against something. A conversation can be moved from the abstract to the concrete, debating inputs or the structure of the model. This can be distracting if taken too far, but often advances the discourse.

In my work, I've used models to make the case for investment in certain areas (e.g. ramping up hiring of a critical role), or to argue against the pursuit of a particular line of business. I've used novel visualizations to demonstrate how diseases are represented in various populations, suggesting care management capabilities to invest in.

Models—whether spreasheets or graphs or maps—are powerful tools for communication. Reach for them more often.

Some examples of simple public models that help make complex concepts understandable:

  1. The map is not the territory. This means you must be wary of models leading you astray. 

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