GOING DEEPER: The Foundations of Modeling
What Is Modeling?
Human experience has structure, and modeling is the process of usefully describing those structures of experience that give rise to human abilities. This makes it possible for us to pursue the acquisition of abilities found in other individuals (“exemplars”) for the purpose of our personal evolution (or, of course, to make those abilities available to other people). Since a model is a co-creation of the modeler and the exemplar, the most important attitude the modeler brings to this process is one of intense curiosity about human experience.
People ask us, "What do you do?" Our answer, "We do modeling." This is inevitably followed by a long moment of silence while the other person stares at us, trying to imagine what we have to do with chic anorexics parading down catwalks to show off this year’s latest evening wear and bikinis. We want to be helpful, so we explain, "Modeling is the process of creating useful descriptions of the structure of human abilities." This explanation immediately evaporates the model in the bikini, of course. And, really, this is a shame; before our explanation, at least they had a model in a bikini to imagine.
Still, the definition "Modeling is the process of creating useful descriptions of the structure of human abilities," is modeling in the proverbial nutshell. And like every nut, packed inside that shell is all the information needed to grow the tree of modeling. And there is a lot packed in there, as you will see. At least this time we are not engaged in a chance meeting on the street. We have the luxury of more time. So, let’s see how we can crack this nut.
Maps and Models
When we want to go somewhere we use a map. Maps identify significant aspects of a particular area, show us how these elements relate to each other, and provide guidance as to where and how to move within that area. Of course, no map is as detailed as the place it describes. A map of the United States that contained all the information that could be mapped would have to be as big as the United States itself (at least). This means that the intended use of a map necessarily defines and limits the kind of information that it portrays. A map of the United States that shows cities and highways allows us to efficiently travel from one place to another. Our vacation map shows us roads, cities, campgrounds and national parks. But it does not help us decide where to start a wheat farm. For that we need a map that shows areas of annual rainfall, seasonal temperatures and length of growing season. A map never contains within it everything that is true of the terrain it covers. What a map does do is capture what is essential for a particular use, presenting only what we need to know to get around effectively.
Models are much like maps. Models are representations that describe essential structures; that is, they capture the elements, patterns and relationships characteristic of something. Obvious examples are the model airplanes, boats and cars one finds in hobby stores. But a plastic model of a Space Shuttle is not a Space Shuttle. It does, however, have the same shaped wings, fuselage and tail, the same arrangement of windows, rocket thrusters and landing gear. And all of this is on a smaller scale. This plastic model captures enough of the essential elements (wings, fuselage, thrusters) and patterns of relationships (wings are set parallel at mid-fuselage, thrusters at the rear end of the fuselage) for us to recognize it as a representation of a Space Shuttle.
The presence of models in our lives, however, goes way beyond that of toy space ships. Models not only capture structures, but also establish structures that influence and guide our experience and behavior. For instance, architects create two-dimensional and three-dimensional models of buildings, which are in turn used by their clients to have enough imagined experience of an actual building to make decisions regarding its aesthetics, functionality and so on. Those same architectural models rendered in more detail (blueprints) serve to guide the builders through every step of constructing the structure. Similarly, a dressmaker uses paper patterns to guide the cutting and piecing together of material into a dress. A recipe is a model of how to create a particular dish. A street map is a model of how your city is organized with respect to its streets, important buildings, parks, and so on, allowing you to move efficiently from place to place.
Not all models are so obvious, however, and so the distinction between a description of something (a model) and the thing itself can become blurred. For instance, Freudians talk about the appetitive id and the superego that keeps that voracious id in check. As soon as we find examples in our experiences matching these distinctions, they quickly become real to us, forgetting that they are ways of talking about experience. Forgetting this, we soon find ourselves talking and thinking about our egos as though they actually existed in us in the same way we have hearts, livers and brains. But just as the blueprint is not the building, the id, ego and super ego are not human psychology. They constitute a model of human psychology, as do the Jungian archetypes and collective unconscious, the parent, adult and child of Transactional Analysis, and behaviorism’s instrumental learning. And each of these models leads to very different understandings of human experience.
In fact, models are operating in every aspect of our daily lives. Other examples of pervasive models are the constitutions that guide our governments and the legal codes that define our civil behavior. Subtler models are the cultural and social conventions that pervade virtually every human interaction. The existence and workings of our social models typically become obvious only when we find ourselves in another country in which models of relationships, government, politics and so on are very different from our own. Even the structuring of these sentences is a function of a particular model of grammar (one of many possible among human languages).
So, blueprints, recipes, road maps, psychologies, legal codes, social conventions and grammars are all models. What all of these models have in common is that they provide structures that guide our experiences and behaviors in the contexts to which those models apply. The street map shows us how to get home, the thriller genre specifies how to put the audience on the edge of their seats, and from the legal presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” flows a river of Miranda rights, bail, juries of one’s peers, evidence procedures, and so on.
These models are not the things they describe (a blueprint is not the building, and codes of conduct are not people behaving civilly with one another), but are descriptions of the structures that make those things (buildings, civility, sentences, apple pie) possible. In the same way, a model of a human ability is a description of the essential structures that make it possible to manifest that ability. And the structures of human abilities are not built out of bricks, laws, grammars or apples, but out of experience.
Experience and Structure
If instead of modeling we were learning woodcarving, we could simply start chiseling away at wood. Anyone can do that. But we may be able to chisel to more purpose if we first have some understanding of the wood itself; what it is made of and how it grows, how it is layered, creating a grain with a certain direction and density, and so on. Understanding the nature of the wood with which we are working makes it possible to avoid splintering the grain, to select the right chisel and angle of cut. As modelers, our wood is experience itself.
But what is experience?
The immediate difficulty in defining experience is the fact that it is difficult to contemplate anything that is not experience. What is there that is outside of experience? Of course we can postulate the existence of something outside of our experience, but the moment we give it any form whatsoever - a name, an image, a place to be - it is no longer outside of our experience. We do not need to have direct contact with Santa Claus, the bogeyman, Satan, or angels for them to become a part of our experience. For example, imagine right now a creature with phantasmagoric qualities. Regardless of how amorphous, bizarre and indescribable to anyone outside of you this imagined creature may be, it is at least part of your experience. And through the magic of words, gesture and images, it could perhaps become a part of other people's experience as well. (This is not to say that there are not things operating outside of your experience. There certainly are. But unless and until they affect your experience you would not know about them - because they are not in your experience. And again, merely representing something is sufficient for it to affect you. Learning that whales communicate with "songs" unique to each individual may affect you in many ways - for instance, suddenly perceiving them as individuals rather than as members of a "herd" - even when you have never had the direct experience of hearing them sing.)
The things you perceive around you now are part of your experience. But as suggested above, so are things you imagine. Experience is not merely what you can perceive through your sensory systems right now. In addition to "sensory experience," we also have "representational experience." That is, we perceive - are aware of - internal representations. For instance, imagine: Walking outside right now... Remembering a conversation with a friend... Recalling the smell of fresh cut grass. These are all internal representations of events, rather than direct sensory experiences. Nevertheless, these memories and imaginings are experienced - they come into awareness - and often to a degree that is every bit as compelling as actual sensory-based experiences.
Experience is not restricted to conscious awareness. All of us respond to things outside of consciousness, becoming aware of their impact only when that unconscious sensation or perception changes dramatically. For instance, perhaps you have had the experience of feeling your body relax when the refrigerator (finally!) stops its incessant thrumming. You were not aware consciously of that thrum and its affect on you at the time, but you were nevertheless experiencing it. Your body was thrumming right along with it. It was a part of your ongoing, unconscious experience, until the dramatic drop in your body tension brought it into conscious awareness. Similarly, all of us have examples of being affected by ideas, thoughts or memories that were out of conscious awareness, but compelling nonetheless. We perhaps recognized that we were being affected, but had no conscious awareness of what was causing it until some event or revelation brought that unconscious ongoing experience into conscious experience.
As you read these words, you may be aware of hearing them with your internal voice, recalling a conversation with a friend about consciousness, noticing how your hand rests on the table, and hearing the sound of cars passing outside. All of these sensations and thoughts combine to be your experience at this moment. Experience in the moment, then, is the sum total of everything that you are sensing "outside" and "inside" your body (whether consciously or unconsciously) plus everything that you are thinking (again, consciously or unconsciously). Thinking includes the entire panoply of internal processes, such as detecting, remembering, sorting, associating, computing, judging, imagining, and so on.
Having talked a bit about experience, we can now make a distinction between "experience" as life events (e.g. the time when you were thrown from a horse, your first kiss, bowling a 300 game) or "experience" as acquired skills (e.g. you can type, conduct negotiations, care for children), and our use in the context of modeling, namely, "experience" as responding to input (e.g. the weight of a book in your hand, feeling curious about an idea, the images connected with that idea).
DOES EXPERIENCE HAVE STRUCTURE?
Charles Ames created a most incredible room. You look through a hole in the wall at one end of the room as two people enter it from either side. The person on the left is dwarfed by the window and walls and appears to be a midget. The person on the right, however, is clearly a giant, his head barely clearing the ceiling. A miracle occurs when these two people walk past each other to switch places. As they cross the floor you see the giant shrink and the midget expand! Ames created this very compelling illusion by constructing the room so that it looks square and regular from your point of view, but is in fact very eccentric in its angles. The right corner is near you while the left is actually far away.
There are dozens of other well-known examples of perceptual illusions, including Necker cubes and M.C. Escher's "impossible" paintings. What is perhaps most remarkable about these illusions is that knowing they are illusions - indeed, even taking them apart to see how they are constructed - does not stop you from experiencing the illusion. Perception, then, is not strictly a matter of simply recording or taking in that which is being perceived. What we perceive is a product of the interaction between what is "out there" and the perceptual structures we are using to make sense of what is "out there." Sensory system illusions reveal the extent to which underlying perceptual structures generate our perceptions.
The impact of underlying structures extends into every aspect of human experience. Many such examples can be found in Edward T. Hall's books in which he compares the experiences of time and space in different cultures. In The Dance of Life, for instance, he describes fascinating experiments by Alton De Long on the influence of scale on the perception of time. De Long created environments that were 1/24 th, 1/12 th, 1/6 th and full scale, then had his subjects "project" themselves into the test environment and imagine interacting with the human figures he had placed in there. The subjects indicated when they thought thirty minutes had passed, while De Long kept track of the actual time. The result was that subjects who were "in" the 1/6 th scale room had sixty minutes of subjective experience in ten minutes. Similarly, five minutes elapsed for a sixty minute experience in the 1/12 th scale room, and two and a half minutes in the 1/24 th scale room. Apparently our sense of time is predicated on relative movement through space. If our subjective sense of time is to remain constant, then, being in a smaller space requires speeding up to get in a "normal amount" of movement and interaction in the limited space available. (Edward T. Hall, The Dance of Life, pp. 136-138)
The De Long research, the Ames room and other sensory illusions point to the existence and pervasive influence of underlying structures in experience. But does the influence of structure extend only as far as sensory perceptions? Can we identify structure operating at the level of human abilities, most of which involve not only sensory perceptions, but behaviors and cognition as well?
During World War II, Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. His body had been confined, but not his mind. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl had many profound and moving things to say about his experiences, and about what it means to be a human being in such horrific circumstances. In particular, he tried to understand how it was that some prisoners seemed to give up hope (and usually soon thereafter die), while others maintained hope in the face of constant physical, emotional and psychological battering, and persevered (even when facing death). Frankl recognized four patterns that were characteristic of those who continued to hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
The first of these common patterns was believing that whatever has been lost could be regained, that "health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society - all these were things that could be achieved again or restored" (Frankl, p.103). The second pattern they shared was that of realizing that the future was unknowable and, so, could in an instant bring about significant changes - including good changes - in their situation. Frankl describes the third pattern:
"But I did not only talk [to my fellow prisoners] of the future and the veil which was drawn over it. I also mentioned the past; with all its joys, and how its light shone even in the present darkness. Again I quoted a poet - to avoid sounding like a preacher myself - who had written, "Was Du erlebst, kann keine Macht der Welt Dir rauben." (What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.) Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind." (Frankl, p.104)
And the fourth pattern characteristic of those who continued to hope was that they maintained a compelling future, that is, they were responsible for something or someone in the future and, so, had to live to fulfill that responsibility:
"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the 'why' for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any 'how.'" (Frankl, p.101)
So, what is "structure"? In the context of modeling, structure is the set of interacting elements of experience that make it possible to manifest a particular ability. The four elements that Frankl identified - believe that what has been lost can be regained, recognize that the future is unknowable, recognize that one's past and thoughts are not lost, and have a compelling future - together constitute the structure underlying the ability to hold onto to hope, even when one is in a horrible situation.
These are not isolated examples. In fact we can look at virtually any human ability and find that there is always an underlying structure that generates that ability. You can test this out for your self right now with a small experiment: Select one of your own abilities - for instance, the ability to dance gracefully, or find solutions to business problems, or enjoy making cold calls, or explain math to children - and identify just one belief you are holding when in that context. (For example, suppose you are good at explaining math to children, and that you believe "Every child is capable of learning.") Now imagine you are in that context, only this time you are holding a belief that is opposite from the one you identified. (In our example, you would imagine explaining math to a child while believing that "not every child is capable of learning.") What happens to your ability? You probably found yourself feeling somewhat different, making different assessments in the situation and saying and doing things differently. In fact, inverting that one belief may have even entirely undermined your ability.
Repeat this little experiment with any ability you wish, changing any element you identify as part of your experience (belief, feeling, pattern of thinking, behavior) while manifesting that ability. You will discover that making even one change does, in some way, affect the manner in which you manifest your ability. Some changes will have a small or subtle impact, and others will utterly change your responses in that situation. But in all cases, any change will affect you.
The simple experiment you just ran with yourself is actually quite profound in its implications. First of all, it demonstrates that:
There are structures underlying human abilities.
That is, underlying each of our abilities there is a set or array of elements of experience that make it possible to manifest that particular ability. Second, the experiment demonstrates that:
Human experience is systemic in nature.
When you ran the experiment with yourself you probably noticed that altering that one belief resulted in some change in your behavior as well, or what you were feeling changed, or you started noticing different things in the situation. If instead you try the experiment again, but this time alter only your behavior, you will discover that this also changes other aspects of your experience (how you are feeling, what you are thinking, even what you are believing). In fact, changing any one element of an ability will have ramifications throughout many or all of the elements of that ability (though, as we shall see, to varying degrees and of varying kinds, depending on the system and the nature of the change). The underlying structure operates as a dynamic system, and not a simple checklist of elements. The third point made by this experiment is that:
You can change your experience by changing its underlying structure.
Clearly, abilities have underlying structures, and changing those structures systemically transforms the ability. If instead of merely imagining the belief change you tried in your thought experiment, you integrated that change as a consistent aspect of your experience whenever you actually manifested that ability, you would be feeling, thinking, and behaving differently. That is, you would have changed.
STRUCTURE AND THE ACQUISITION OF ABILITIES
It is one thing to recognize that structure gives rise to the experiences and behaviors that make up our abilities, and quite another to assert that it is possible to acquire new abilities by taking on the structures that give rise to them. After all, there is certainly more to any ability than just the structure. There are also the myriad details, points of information, subtleties of behavior, and subtleties of understanding that, taken together, are the ability itself in action. The structure, then, is clearly not the ability; the structure is what organizes all of those points and subtleties into the ability. A pile of bricks, window frames, and doors is not a house. Neither is a blueprint a house. A house is what happens when the bricks, windows and doors are organized in relation to one another according to the structure prescribed by the blueprint.
Now a door opens for us. Behind that door is the idea that the cultivation of an ability - any ability - in a person who does not already have it would be immeasurably assisted by acquiring the appropriate underlying structure. This may sound like a radical notion, but it is not. Modeling is, in fact, something all of us already have done and occasionally still do.
As children, all of us were "natural" modelers, devoting ourselves to acquiring the structures we needed to use language, understand the nuances of social interactions, ride a bicycle, do algebra, behave ethically, study, work, entertain, learn, and so on. This modeling was generally implicit. That is, we acquired our models through trial and error, learning to use what worked and was reinforced. (Of course, in this same way we also acquired abilities that may not have served us well as we matured, such as the ability to be violent, or the ability to procrastinate, or the ability to hide our feelings.)
In addition, most of us have had role models, people who impressed or inspired in ways that made us want to emulate them. Your role models may have been a mother, father, grandparent, sibling, teacher, neighbor, or even a character in a movie or book. In these cases the modeling you did was probably both explicit and implicit. Once a person attained the luster of a role model, you probably explicitly (consciously and intentionally) started to emulate that person's appearance, patterns of speech and movement. You tried to say things the way that person said them, do what she did, read what she read, think the way she thought. In the process of matching yourself to the role model's behaviors, you were also implicitly learning (modeling) some of the subtler, presuppositional aspects of their world.
A similar, though more formal example of natural modeling occurs in any apprentice relationship, such as when one is the personal student of a Zen master, journeyman carpenter or a corporate executive. Unlike emulating a role model, an apprenticeship is an explicit modeling relationship in which the master of an ability is trying to pass on that ability to the apprentice. In addition to teaching the student to emulating the outward manifestations of the ability, the teacher often also tries to impart the subtler aspects of the ability, such as how the student needs to think about what he is doing, what he should care about and what he should ignore, and perhaps even help him cultivate feelings appropriate to the ability. But what are the necessary aspects of the ability that somehow need to be imparted if the student is to eventually master it himself? That is, what is the underlying structure that naturally gives rise to that ability?
An excellent and particularly accessible example is given in Dr. Betty Edwards' approach to drawing. As an art teacher she was baffled by the fact that some students readily learned to draw while others seemed never to "get it." In her, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Edwards writes:
"Well," I would say carefully, "you look at the still-life and you draw it as you see it." "I was looking at it," the student replied. "I just don't know how to draw that." "Well," I would say, voice rising, "you just look at it..." The response would come, "I am looking at it," and so on. (p. XI)
Demonstration and remonstration produced little success. So Edwards looked deeper, into how those who can draw well are thinking about and seeing their subjects. The result was a model and, from that, techniques that make drawing an acquirable skill for anyone. The efficacy of her approach was brought home to us by Janet Pesvner, a student in one of our modeling seminars. In her work as a speech therapist she uses drawing as a means of helping her students to learn self-monitoring and to discover that they can change their behavior by changing their perceptions. The students begin by taking 10 minutes to make their own drawing of a line drawing she shows them. Following the model described by Edwards, she then spends 5 minutes discussing with them how to look at what they are drawing. This is followed by 5 minutes during which they reassess their first drawing and then 10 minutes more to make a second drawing. A few examples of the results can be seen in Figure 1.
THE ADVANTAGES OF MODELS
Modeling and the acquisition of abilities, then, is something we can do deliberately. But why bother? As we discussed above, it is something that all of us already do informally and naturally. So why do we need to create a formal modeling process for the acquisition of abilities?
The first and primary reason is that the informal modeling that all of us engage in is haphazard. Whether we are talking about childhood trial and error, emulating role models or apprenticeship, what we learn depends for the most part upon our picking out of the welter of observed experience those elements of experience and behavior essential to manifesting an ability. Of thirty children in a classroom learning drawing, some will "get it" and others will not. As we have already seen, being able to draw is not a genetic endowment, but an ability made possible by having the necessary underlying conceptual and motor structures. Those children who "get" drawing either walked in the door with those underlying structures or were able to intuit and absorb them from the descriptions and examples given by the teacher. Other children presented with the same descriptions and examples do not divine the necessary conceptual structures and, so, drawing remains a realm of mystery and confusion to them.
All informal modeling experiences are haphazard. What we end up learning is a function of what the parent/model/mentor does, what they know about what they do, how they convey what they do, the understandings and abilities the student has to begin with, the student's ability to notice patterns and make sense of their experience, and so on. All of these variables create a myriad of opportunities for essential elements of an ability to either not be conveyed by the parent/model/mentor or, if conveyed, missed or misunderstood by the student. Imagine instead that the drawing teacher has an explicit understanding of the essential cognitive and conceptual elements that underlie the ability to draw. And further imagine that the first thing the teacher does is to make sure that all of the students have access to those cognitive and conceptual elements. Having the underlying structure does not mean that now the students can draw beautifully; what it does mean is that now they can learn to draw beautifully. All of them.
That is a pretty ambitious set of words: "All of them." How can we say that?
Well, if human abilities have underlying structures, then presumably anyone who has the underlying structure for a particular ability can develop that ability. Notice that it is "can," not will. Having the structure does not in itself confer the ability. Actually manifesting the ability requires that the structure be applied until a rich supporting set of skills, understandings and distinctions is generated. (We will have more to say about this in the Going Deeper essay on Acquisition.) The structure creates the framework upon which we usefully and effectively hang our experiences.
So, the underlying structure does not guarantee the expression of the ability. But without the underlying structure, we can never manifest the ability. (It is true that all of us have the experience of operating in a context for which we did not initially have the underlying structures. After a period of fumbling and confusion and mistakes and triumphs, we eventually acquired the necessary abilities. But what was happening as we struggled was that we were acquiring, piece by piece, the essential structural elements of that ability. Sometimes that was from observation of how others handled that context, and sometimes it was through making an analogy between the context and a similar one in which we already had the necessary abilities.) If it is important to you to have access to a particular ability, then, at some point you must acquire its underlying structure. One way to do that is to, in a sense, apprentice yourself to that ability. Emulate what is obvious and, through trial and error, try to discover its inner workings, its underlying structure. Another approach is to first identify what are its essential inner workings and adopt those, then emulate the ability. Now all of your experiences will be guided and tempered by that structure, freeing you to devote your attention and learning to gaining further useful distinctions and a facility with the ability.
Of course, even after acquiring the underlying structure, not all of the algebra students will learn algebra (for reasons we explained above). But, for those who do not learn, it will not be because they cannot, but because of other factors, such as motivation. And the same is true of any other human ability we can think of. If it is possible for one person to do, it is possible for anyone to do. Those possibilities are there, resident in each one of us, and waiting only for a good map and a good reason to put the rubber to the road.
Notice that we are saying, "If it is possible for one person to do..." You can model Hank Aaron's ability to hit a baseball and, through that, learn to hit a baseball well. It will not make you Hank Aaron, however. You do not have his body, his personal history, and all of the thousands of other things that go into making him Hank Aaron. Similarly, modeling Einstein's ability to think creatively about problems will not make you Einstein. It won't even make you into a physicist. You will instead apply that newly acquired ability to think creatively to those problems that are of interest to you, and the kind of creative solutions you come up with will be characteristic of who you are. We take up this question, as well as that of motivation, in GOING DEEPER: Acquisition.
We began this essay by defining modeling as "the process of creating useful descriptions of the structure of human abilities." Until now, most of our attention has been on the last part of the definition, exploring the relationship between structure, experience and human abilities. A few things need to be said about "creating useful descriptions," as well.
Models are descriptions. But not all descriptions are equal. A map that helps us get where we want to go is a useful map. And that is just what we want our models to do. A model is "useful" if it helps make it possible for us to reproduce through our own experience and behavior an ability that someone else has. The question is, "Does the model work?" That is the test. The usefulness of a model can be judged in only one place, and that is in experience. It must be tried.
And these useful descriptions are being created by you, the modeler. It is important to remember that a map is not the thing being mapped, but a representation of that "territory." The mapmaker decides what features to use in making the map (roads, rainfall, elevations - an infinite number of possible features), and how to represent them. You are doing the same thing when you model. As you gather information from your exemplar you note those aspects of his experience that you consider significant, and ignore (or not even notice) those that you do not consider significant.
Keeping in mind that the model is something you are creating can serve as an inoculation. Perhaps the deepest pit one can fall into when modeling is thinking you are ferreting out the truth. That often leads to looking for confirmation from the exemplar of what the modeler knows and believes, rather than discovering the ability from the exemplar's point of view. Knowing that you are creating the model will actually keep you more cognizant of the assumptions you are bringing to the process, as well as more interested in the differences between your experience and that of your exemplar. (This is explored in depth in GOING DEEPER: Stepping In.)
In fact, a model is most properly seen as a co-creation, something that emerges as the result of the unique interaction between you, the modeler, and your exemplar. The exemplar is not a frog pinned to a lab tray, passively giving up his internal secrets to the modeler's incisive questioning. Modeling is not something you do to your exemplar. It is something you do with your exemplar. Modeling is a process of interacting with someone until you have created a useful map of how he does what he does. Over the course of a few minutes, hours, days or weeks, you trade information, understandings and descriptions back and forth with your exemplar as the two of you move toward a description of the exemplar's ability that allows you to manifest it as well. It is a process of adjusting your own thinking and experience to be more in alignment with that of your exemplar, until you discover what structure of experience works to manifest the exemplar's ability.
* * *
Discovering what works is not something that necessarily happens automatically just because you are asking exemplars questions about their experience. We are after a level of understanding that is qualitatively different than what we usually get when we talk with others. In modeling, we are seeking a description of those essential patterns that naturally support the manifestation of a particular human ability.
There are three general prerequisites for doing modeling:
1. A methodology for eliciting information. The gathering of information is never a passive act, as if you were some kind of vessel being filled with the explanations of your exemplar. The gathering of information is, instead, an active interaction in which your questions not only invite responses from the exemplar, but influence those responses as well. Because of this, it is necessary to consider how to approach the gathering of information in such a way that it both respectfully influences the exemplar and supports the modeling process.
2. A set of distinctions that identify what is significant or relevant. Human experience is infinitely rich, as is our ability to generate descriptions of those experiences. If we are to discover patterns in that vastness (as well as have a common language to talk about the world of patterns we find there) we need a set of distinctions about the nature and qualities of experience.
3. A methodology for organizing patterns into a model. Ultimately, we will want to transform those patterns we have discovered into some form that makes them accessible, a form that allows ourselves or others to experience those other worlds themselves.
It is a rare privilege to explore another person's experience to the depth and detail you will go when you model your exemplars. And the most important thing you can bring with you on this journey is a fascination with the varieties and qualities of human experience. From that curiosity and wonder everything else will flow.