Of diagrams and poker chips


One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons has the Pointy Haired Boss coming to Dilbert and saying “I saw the code for your computer program yesterday. It looked easy. It's just a bunch of typing and half the words were spelt wrong”. In the same way, I've been bitten a few times by assuming a level of modeling knowledge in my audience that didn't exist. So today I'd like to explore a metaphor for this to drive this point home.

Takeaway: When showing a visual model to someone not familiar to modeling, you may be confronted with questions that you take the answers to for granted – because you work in that environment every day. So, it's useful to have ready answers to the questions.

I was watching a poker tournament on television while eating at a bar near my hotel once. Now I have a very basic knowledge of poker, and it was purely because it was what the screen was showing, but what struck me was the sheer frenetic energy being shown. When they show poker games in movies, it's all a case of glances around the table and silent, motionless contemplation. But not professional poker players. They spend all their time rearranging their chips. The sound of poker is the sound of chips being arranged continuously, as if it was a support group of OCD sufferers

But the essential point is this – an outside observer, who had no knowledge of what poker was, and who saw these poker championships on TV, could quite easily come to think that the objective of poker was to arrange the chips in a way to counter the arrangements of all their opponents at the table. After all, that's what they are doing the whole time that they are there. It's their observed behavior.

It's an example of how what someone sees – the primary physical activity – is not necessarily what is being accomplished in the activity. In the same way, modeling can be deceptive to an outside observer, as they will not see what the actual primary activity is.