Model This!

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I was just reading Seth Godin’s post on A Million Blind Squirrels and it brought me back to an ongoing debate I’ve had with certain folks in the NLP and personal development community about the utility of “modeling” successful people as a tool to accelerate your own success.

I’ve already expressed my concern about the loose definition of modeling and how difficult and often poorly executed it is in real life.

But, Seth brings up a powerful, related point. Even if you could create a viable model for someone’s behavior and emotional processes and then step into it, a solid chunk of that person’s success has to do with the unique outside circumstances that existed at moments in time that can never be precisely replicated.

All the modeling in the world wont allow you to recreate those identical circumstances. And, that outer world is equally important in how the people you seek to model became successful.

Does that mean I believe modeling is a useless exercise?

No. But, it’s not the end all be all. It has it’s limitations and challenges and, truth be told, they are sizable (beyond the fact that what most gurus really preach is not modeling, but simply copying universal traits and behaviors).

So, study the greats, but don’t surrender the quest to cultivate your own your own intelligent processes to often-fabricated half-pieces of the puzzle divined by reverse-engineering someone else’s journey.

As always, just thinking out loud.

What do you think?

Let’s dicuss…

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16 responses

16 responses to “Model This!”

  1. I learned about modeling in my Psychology class this year and I do agree with you about knowing the limitations about the skill. We all model in one way or another those who we believe are successful, but there is definitely a line between modeling and cloning.. part of modeling should be to know when the individual made a mistake or a choice that you should do differently.

  2. As with most things, I think balance is key. It’s important to have models, to see what others are doing, but it’s also so important to have your own ideas and crete new and exciting things. It’s a fine line to balance between the two, but I don’t think it has to be black and white. We don’t have to always follow models, but we don’t always have to blaze our own paths either. Great topic to think about…thanks!

  3. Patty says:

    I agree with “Positively..”–it is a question of balance. While it is usually the case that having a model to follow can help, a truly revolutionary idea is likely to meet opposition from such a model. So do you move forward with your idea anyway, or do you try to couch your idea with a symbol or myth that will resonate better with a model sample? I can see both sides, and I guess it comes down to what you feel right in your gut…which is, of course, truly unscientific 🙂

  4. Enrique S says:

    I can see the value in emulating the habits of a successful person. At work, we share “best practices”, which allows others to avoid common pitfalls, and help with their own success. It works to a degree.

  5. I’ve always been the sort to see what works for others (or doesn’t) then modifying my actions to fit what I see – of course putting my own twist on it because I’ve always been a bit on the independent side. 😉

    The best example is see what trouble my older siblings got up to then either not doing it, or figuring out a way that my parents wouldn’t find out.

  6. “Even if you could create a viable model for someone’s behavior and emotional processes and then step into it, a solid chunk of that person’s success has to do with the unique outside circumstances that existed at moments in time that can never be precisely replicated.”

    That’s flawed logic. If that were the case, a large part of Career Renegade would be worthless. All those great stories that shared many of your experiences teaching us subtle lessons wouldn’t work because of those unique circumstances.

    Those unique situations don’t have to be replicated – that’s the whole point of modeling in the first place: If we had to replicate the situations, it would take us the exact same time and effort to replicate the skill. Instead we can (when done right of course – which is a completely different discussion) dramatically reduce the time it takes for skill acquisition.

  7. There’s modeling and then there’s imitating. Unless you know a little bit about NLP, you don’t know the distinction.

    People often imitate, not model. They’re like “Cargo Cults” in that way.

    Some people make it easy to model them by actually teaching you how and providing the tools to do it. Brian Clark comes to mind for this, as well as Jonathan’s work in Career Renegade.

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    Great comments, as always, gang!

    The confusion comes when people confuse the term “modeling” with “studying, learning, adapting and applying “relevant” bits of knowledge, strategies and actions.

    Modeling is literally reverse-engineering the internal processes of a single person, then effectively “installing” this precise system in another person with the expectation that the new person will then get the same results attained by the person who was modeled.

    Modeling is an exceptionally rigorous and exacting process that requires substantial amounts of observation, data and skill. I know people who’ve been practicing it for decades and they’re still just getting good at it.

    That’s very different from studying the experiences, solutions and outcomes of a “broad spectrum” of individuals who’ve succeeded, exploring and adopting the approaches and solutions “that work for you” and uncovering “common” strategies. Very, very different.

    The case studies in Career Renegade are examples of the latter, not the former. That’s their utility. They don’t provide anywhere near enough information to create or install a legitimate model for anyone studied. Nor was that their purpose.

    But, they also serve a second critical purpose. They serve as proof that other people with “similar” traits, backgrounds, knowledge and skill were able to do what the book’s reader would like to do. And, that allows for the cultivation of a level of belief in success that is critical in inspiring action.


  9. Ah, well, geez, I didn’t understand it like I thought I did. Okay, learned something new today… 🙂

  10. Emulating the best traits and success strategies of others is admirable, but modeling another is futile. No matter how hard you try to internalize someone else’s system in an effort to get the same results, you’ll never exactly succeed.

    The problem is that whatever we take in becomes part of us, our beliefs, our perceptions, all in interaction with our circumstances. The authentic self has to make adjustments to make the imported system work. Thus, even though the results may appear to casual onlookers to be the same as the original model, they never really are.

  11. […] Jonathan at Awake at the Wheel talks about the pros and cons of “modeling” yourself after successful people; […]

  12. When it comes to modeling, the only thing you can really do is model their characteristics, not the specific plans, due to the aforementioned external factors. The only thing you can do is try to replicate the internal factors, and adapt them to your unique situation.

  13. Amber says:

    Having mentors is one thing, but modeling yourself after someone is downright dangerous. We must dare to be ourselves. To find what makes us unique and then harness it into business and life. People can tell when you are not being yourself. The ego or imitation of another’s ego is highly visible. It’s by tapping into who you are that you find the most power. Don’t miss the chance to know who you really are. Maybe we haven’t done enough internal digging 🙂

  14. sms lån says:

    I often encounter modeling in MLM presentations and like most of you, I believe that the success of following a certain model is not guaranteed because each one of us have unique situations and w differ in perceiving things. Everybody will be successful by now if modeling really works…

  15. Interesting observations on modeling. I think that if you look at it as a general principle, rather than a specific procedure, than it can be more useful. I have looked at a number of people who have careers I admire, and who have had accomplishments that I might like to replicate in my own life, but what works for one may not work for everyone. The path and the end result are not one and the same. For me, the “model” serves as the inspiration. Sometimes just knowing they are there gives me “permission” to take that crucial first step.