Unorthodox roles of formal models

Ernest N. Prabhakar (
Tue, 2 Sep 1997 12:45:54 -0700 (PDT)

This is very Dilbert, but is actually from a dry business article I
was studyingL "Game theory and the evolution of strategic thinking.",
by A.E. Singer. Since we have so many model-builders here, I thought
it would be a good reality to check for us to realize how models are
actually used. He doesn't claim this is a complete list, but it is
pretty funny/impressive. That this is not meant to be critical,
merely descriptive, merely heightens the mockery.

Note how the last sentence makes it sounds like they are finally
rediscovering Kuhnian thought. Sheesh, businesspeople. I am *so*
glad I'm not going to B-school.

-- Ernie P.

Some unorthodox roles of formal models

Several studies have identified unorthodox roles of formal (quantitative or mathematical) models in organziations... Each of these roles is quite plainly social, as well as analytical and cognitive. Indeed, it has increasingly become recognized by management scientists that the building and validationg of all formal mathematical models are "not only cognitive activities, but also social activities."

(i) Political roles

a. status-symbols When managers who understand and operate the model acquire status and power based upon this experise

b. pliers When the need to estimate model parameters enables managers to extract confessions, or assumptions, from subordinates, or squeeze them into line

c. batteries When the participants in a detailed analysis tend to increase their psychological coimmitment to any resulting prescriptions (i.e., the illusion of control)

(ii) Soft roles

a. platforms When models become an arena or platform for an organized discussion, or reflection

b. Socratic tutors When models enable thier users to learn, or to educate themselves, by means of structure inquiry. For example, presentations of the Prisoners' Dilemma Game sometimes evokes questions about possibilities for cooperation

c. keys When models become like a set of keys which will "open doors for the actors and allow them to procede"

(iii) Ideological roles

a. rituals When the process of model-building serves to reinforce a culture of profit-maximazation in an orgnaization

b. glue When models bind or unite managers (or team members) together, behind a common set of goals, concepts and vocabulary

c. filters and switches When a model serves to direct (or re-direct) attention towards (or away from) particular aspects of a managerial problem, such as the social and moral aspects

d. memes When models functions as units of cultural transmission. Like popular tunes, they leap from mind to mind and affect the behavior of the "infected" entities