All Models Are Wrong, Some Are Useful

All models are wrong but some are useful.

I’ve used this phrase a million times when talking about business models because it sounds super smart. But I wasn’t sure where it came from.

So so I did a little digging.

Turns out, this axiom was made popular by British statistician George Box in 1978. He argued that most models are inherently incomplete because they are not intended to represent the whole truth.

In fact, he suggested that the only question of interest when it comes to models is, “Is the model illuminating and useful?”

For example, a model we often use in business is a cost-benefit analysis. To help us determine if a particular project or program is worth the investment, we ask ourselves if the possible outputs (usually money) of a particular project or product will be greater than the potential inputs (usually time and money).

Makes sense, right?

A cost-benefit analysis can be an incredibly useful lens for making these kinds of decisions, but it’s incomplete. It doesn’t tell the whole story, and that’s okay.

Mental models can be useful and illuminating even when they are incomplete.

While sifting through my notes from the WorkHuman Conference (more on that in my previous article) I found so many models presented by the speakers. Some really resonated with me, and others just washed over me without much impact.

Today, I’m going to share with you two models which I found both illuminating and useful.

For me, a great model provides me with a meaningful lens through which I can view my understanding and my actions. Both of the models I share below shifted the way I view the topic and gave me ideas for how I can improve my behaviors to get better results.

Let’s dive in.


Model #1: David Rock’s Six Big Employee Conversations


My previous article was also about David’s presentation at the WorkHuman Conference, so you can tell I’m a big fan.

David suggests that there are six essential types of conversations leaders and managers have with employees. It’s my understanding that each has a different purpose, and therefore requires a different approach as a leader.

Looking through this list immediately generated some valuable questions for me and helped me rethink my approach to how we manage others at Mark Fisher Fitness.  

Below are my notes on each of the big six conversations. I found this paradigm very useful in rethinking my conversations with team members and I think you will too.


1. Goal Setting

Ensuring that the team member has clear goals that are relevant to their role and company objectives.

  • How do we track each team member’s goals?
  • How do each team member’s goal relate to each other and our overall company objectives?


2. Everyday Feedback

Giving the team member performance feedback based on articulated standards and general observation.

  • When are the best moments to give everyday feedback?
  • How can I make sure to give five positive comments for every negative one?


3. Regular Check-ins

Checking that the team member is making meaningful progress toward their stated goals.

  • How can we better track each team member’s progress toward their goals?
  • What is our approach to handling team members who are consistently not hitting their goals?


4. End of Cycle Reviews

Taking time to debrief about the team member’s performance in a particular work cycle or project cycle.

  • What are the key cycles that should trigger us to pause and assess our performance?
  • Can we use these conversations to discuss team as well as individual performance?


5. Compensation

Discussing the team member’s satisfaction with their compensation and benefits package.

  • Should we have an open-door policy to these conversations or conduct them at regular intervals?
  • How can we get better at setting expectations for compensation early in our relationship with new team members?


6. Career

Reflecting on the big picture trajectory of the team member’s career — taking time to discuss where they want to go in the next 1-5 years.

  • Again, should these conversations be had “as needed” or scheduled regularly?
  • How much time and energy are we willing to spend on helping team members with career goals that extend beyond our company?


Model #2: Brene Brown’s Anatomy of Trust


My obsession with Brene Brown’s work runs deep.

Here’s a reenactment of my reaction when she came out to speak at the WorkHuman Conference.

I’ll resist the urge to #fanboy about her any further and get right to the point.

I read Brene’s book, Rising Strong, shortly after it was published in 2015 and one of the core ideas presented in the book are her seven elements of trust.

She’s cleverly created an acronym for them, B.R.A.V.I.N.G. to help them be stickier.

Similar to my reaction to David’s model, these seven elements of trust immediately elicited a waterfall of questions and ideas about how I might create more trusting work relationships.

Below, I’ve included a brief description of each element as I understand them. I’ve also shared my notes on how I can better grapple with each concept personally.

For me, trust is the key ingredient in building a powerful work culture. So, I invite you to dive into this model and see how it might inspire more trust and connection among your team.



All relationships need boundaries. Trust requires that you clearly articulate your boundaries and respect those of others.

  • How does each team member make their boundaries clear to everyone?
  • What do we do when those boundaries are violated?



We all want to be the kind of person who is consistently there for the people in our lives we care about most. To build trust, Brown suggests that “you do what you say you will do, and you do it more than once.”

  • What tasks is each team member required to perform consistently and reliably?
  • Where am I showing up the most reliably for others? (How about the least?)



If we are going to trust one another we need to be able to make mistakes, own up to them, and make amends. For accountability to breed trust, then listening, honesty and forgiveness are also essential.

  • How can we use accountability to build more trust on our team instead of less?
  • How quickly can I own my mistakes and make amends?



Trust requires that we only share information that is ours to share. We quickly lose trust with others when they share something that we (or someone else) asked them not to divulge.

  • What standards do we have about what work information can be shared and what belongs in a vault?
  • How do we handle situations when information is inappropriately shared from the vault?



Brown defines integrity as “choosing courage over comfort, what’s right over what’s fun, and practicing your values not just professing them.” I like thinking of integrity as being who you say you are and doing what you say you are going to do.

  • What values am I practicing most consistently? (How about the least?)
  • When am I choosing comfort over discomfort?



We trust those most who can see us and our actions without judgement. If our relationships can be a safe space where we can share openly, then trust is more likely present.

  • How does nonverbal judgement show up in our work culture (i.e. judgement that is felt but not said)?
  • What is the best approach for handling a team member that is often judging others?



This is about generous interpretations. If we have a fight, we want others to have the most generous interpretation of our words and actions as possible. Trust requires us to assume good intent before jumping to negative conclusions.

  • What is my default interpretation when something goes wrong at work?
  • Am I willing to have more generous interpretations for some people over others?


For fun, here’s one last juicy quote from Brene Brown:

“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”


Thanks for reading!

What are your favorite mental or business models? Share them below.

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