Models aren’t useful.

Those who think about knowledge work love models, preferably drawn as wheels or quadrants. We generate vast numbers of them. They’re not terribly useful.

These days I filter a lot. I pay attention to the ones that get traction. There are several alternatives to Cynefin (I like the work of Tom Graves) but who really cares. Likewise, there are enough service management frameworks to fill a library, and new ones every day. They fight for attention. Listening to the debates is occasional enlightening and usually tedious for me. I’m glad others delight in it, because the outcomes are better. I wait for one to emerge from the brawl.

Practically, they’re all of little use. A moment of enlightenment, a light shone in a corner for those of us who philosophise about work. But not very useful at the coal face.

In fact, often harmful. Trying to impose one theoretical model on a workplace is damaging. They’re thinking tools not blueprint templates.

A few resonate with people who do actual work. They prove to be genuinely useful ideas to talk about in the workplace. Agile is the obvious example.

But mostly, their place is in the ivory towers, where people like me – and probably you if you’re reading this – toss them around. Their existence is essential, as there should be a theoretical underpinning to the ways we do work, but the actual work practices grow to fit the specific situation, and should rise from those doing the work.

The intersection is in those who advise and coach on better ways of working. They/we need to know the theory, in order to give direction and shape to the advice, steering workers as they devise their ways of working. Those doing the work don’t need to know the theory, the models.a d frameworks, unless they are curious or sceptical. Dont lead with it; provide it as footnotes. Distill it down into a set of guiding principles. Embed it in policy. But don’t try to shape the actual workflows with it.

This is why cross-functional teams are so successful. They don’t try to organise around conceptual functions. They organise around work to be done. They’re shaped by delivery not theory.