The Skill of the Year for 2021 Is Modeling

July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021 Jamie Notter

If the word of the year for 2021 (my last post) is intentional, then the skill for 2021 is modeling—being able to quickly build and modify models that explain what drives your success, how you do your work, and how you will grow moving forward.

This hit me during a session I was doing with one of our coaching clients. I was helping them map out their 2-page strategic plan, which includes descriptions and metrics related to where they are headed, ranging from a 20-year “BHAG” (big, hairy, audacious goal, a la Jim Collins), down to quarterly priorities and metrics both at an organizational level and an individual level. That line of sight from short term to long term is critical, but it can also be a challenge, because the hard truth is you can’t really draw a solid line between 3 months and 20 years. Obviously there is way too much that you can’t predict over that time span, so you need to be ready to erase and redraw your lines.

Heck, as 2020 taught us, you can’t always connect three months with one year (or maybe even four months!). This is where the importance of modeling comes in. We can’t predict the future in a linear way, but we can build a model for how we think things will work.

A model is basically an incomplete or smaller version of something that you can use as a guide. And my favorite saying around models is, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” When thinking about strategy, we need to be good at modeling. We need to come up with a model for growing our organizations that spreads out three to twenty years. It must have clear steps in it, like first we build this capacity, then we grow to that level, then we add on these capacities to take us to the level beyond that.

Is the model guaranteed to be right? Of course not—all models are wrong. But the work of modeling is critical for guiding your short-term decision making. Without the model, your short-term moves are kind of random.  But with a model, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your short-term moves with the model in mind, helping you to build better and more effective models in the process. Your models will never be “right,” but they could be a heck of a lot more useful.


Photo by Sam Moqadam

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.