All Models are Wrong…

Perhaps it is best to think of these first few posts as an introduction of sorts. The project here at Adult Academy is to offer a method of maximizing the traits of ingenuity, resilience, and confidence in individuals. We think this is particularly critical for adolescents and young adults,1 and that by helping adults – as parents and mentors – to achieve these skills they can pass them down. I argue that if we strive for living the “FIGI MANTRA.” that we will enable our charges to thrive, regardless of the difficulties they face.

Toward that goal I’m going to focus on Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs). The KSA model looks at the understanding we have of how a process works (Knowledge), our facility with executing procedural tasks (Skills), and how we synthesize those elements to accomplish an objective (Ability). Taken as a whole then (in today’s current learning lexicon) KSA’s are roughly analogous to competencies.2 I’m going to outline key abilities I think everyone of us need to have (look back to Begin at the Beginning to get a sense of what those are), and offer knowledge and skills to help reach those abilities.

Models are abstractions that we use to draw a boundary around an aspect of real life so that we can study it more explicitly.

I’m also going to be offering up models for structuring our thought and our mentoring method.  Primarily, I use a model of human needs that I call the Humanistic Needs Approach (HNA).

The HNA is a reimagining of the famous Hierarchy of Needs postulated by Psychologist Abraham Maslow. It offers  that human needs, rather than being strictly sequential3, are interconnected and mutually supporting. Further, the HNA views certain needs as Acute Needs4, others5 as Persistent needs, where cultural and particular variation is more common, and lastly individual needs.   The graphic above represents this simply: items in red indicate human universals which have minimum thresholds6; those in yellow are persistent needs which we all have but where greater variation is allowable; those in white are where the greatest range of individuality ranges. Through the HNA treatment I believe that we can gain a more nuanced understanding of the conditions required for human thriving while acknowledging that we do have needs, and insecurity of those needs increases fear. Further, by allowing for a greater specification of Acute human universals in contrast to Persistent and Individual Needs we have a model that allows us to represent the reality of the human condition more fully.

However, I want to offer a word of reminder. As statistician and mathematician George Box opined “[E]ssentially all models are wrong, but some are useful…”7

Models are abstractions that we use to draw a boundary around an aspect of real life so that we can study it more explicitly. That boundary will always have some ambiguity in it – we won’t always know exactly what is or is not covered within the boundaries of the model. That’s because the universe doesn’t organize itself around our models, rather our models are attempts to explain the universe. Further, models of human thought and behavior cannot account for every variable that goes into predicting what someone will do; as a result we have to accept a degree of imprecision in their results.8

This is why it’s important that we keep in the back of our mind that all models are wrong.

Even ours.

  1. For my purposes I’m going to define adolescence as the period from 9 to 18 years old and young adulthood as 18 to 25. This range involves a lot of physical, social, and cognitive development from the onset of puberty to the maturation of the adult brain.
  2. There are a ton of buzz words thrown around in education to get at the end state of “I see a problem and can solve it.” I’m applying the KSA model as explained above and acknowledge that my concept of it does not totally align with the way others use it.
  3. As is suggested in Maslow’s visualization
  4. We all need to breathe; brain death starts to occur after 4 to 6 minutes without oxygen
  5. For example our diets
  6. the Acute Needs at the base are conditions that if not met result in our deaths in minutes to hours
  7. Box, George E. P.; Norman R. Draper (1987). Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces (Wiley Series in Probability and Statistics)“, p. 424, Wiley.
  8. This is why studies of human behavior with correlations of 20 to 30 percent are often considered “definitive”.As Mark Twain once said, “There are liars, damn liars, and statisticians.” Or, in the words of the famous sage Homer Simpson, “Oh people can come up with statistics to prove anything Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.