• Publications

Models Schmodels (One Size Never Fits All)

By Katherine Craig

May 2012

I have a secret: I like to read Surfer magazine, and not just for the awesome pictures of the ocean. I like looking at the buff surfers. They look like a perfect balance of skill, luck and good looks. They also look unapproachable. What would I say to one of these bad boys if I were to meet one? I know I would be daunted by their careless disregard for mere mortals like me.

I feel this same way about business theories and models - the kind in print. They also seem like the perfect balance of skill, luck and good looks. Even the layout of these books and articles seems to say, "We are very, very educated. You might understand this if you think very hard, but it probably won't work in your office." I often feel defeated before I even start.

Not all theories and models have this effect on me, though. I have fallen head over heels in love with some of them - I hear them whispering in my ear and I develop delusions of office grandeur. I rhapsodize how my office could be magically transformed in just SIX EASY STEPS! When I finally, begrudgingly, admit defeat a few months later, I can't help but feel a little betrayed and suspicious. Does it ever work for anyone in six steps? Were they easy steps? Mine frequently resembled 150 rambling staggers.

So what is the appeal? Why are we drawn to these things like Icarus to the Sun? We want something to make the workplace better instantly. More often than not our daily grind is just that, a grind. We are looking for anything that will make our work life not only make sense but easier to deal with. Statistics say that we are carrying a bigger workload now than we did ten years ago. Thus, the search continues to ease the burden.

For the sake of clarity let's define a theory. Here’s a definition from Dictionary.com: "a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact". No wonder they never seem to work when you take them from the book to the office! Status is still conjectural?

Business models are defined as the way that a company plans to generate revenue. Investopedia.com explains that the term 'Business Model' is "a buzzword that everybody used (or overused) during the dotcom boom. In fact, poorly thought out business models were the downfall of many dotcoms." This definition isn't much more of a comfort than the definition of a theory, and not a process you want to stake your reputation at the office on.

Fundamentally, both theories and models (surfer and business) are like looking for love in all the wrong places.

Where do we go for the right answers? As a coach I am asked this question every working day. Here's a crazy concept for you: no one knows your workplace like you do, and you know what will work and why. Every workplace has its own unique fingerprint. Sure, workplaces share a lot of commonalities but there is no universal solution that will fit every workplace. That is the fundamental reason for frustration and failure.

Each theory and model offers some insight and opportunity for reflection. But you can't take each one verbatim and try to implement. You need to read as many as you can, then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I like this theory/model/strategy?
  • What is it saying to me?
  • What aspects of this could I use?
  • How would I implement these aspects?
  • What parts won't work for me?
  • How could I package the parts that would be useful so I could talk to others about how to try this out in our workplace?

Bottom line? Be practical and realistic. There is no quick fix. Theories and models are beautiful from afar because that is how they are designed. The real thing, the thing that works, comes from you. Don't worry if it's a little ugly; when it works it will be beautiful. Because it works.

Katherine Craig is the founder & CEO of Spearhead Executive Coaching, a dynamic organization dedicated to helping individuals and companies achieve greater success through the delivery of high-performance coaching programs. To comment on her story, send a message to Katherine@spearheadexecutivecoaching.com.