Theory or Model?

During an event I was running last week I was asked what the difference is between a Model and a Theory. The short answer is that a Model ‘represents’ and a Theory ‘explains’.

A Theory usually starts with a number of assumptions, which are then tested. The assumptions generally relate to a logical chain of objective reasoning. The testing leads to conclusions and possible further testing. And a Theory is born. The theme for the testing of any effective Theory is that of validity.

A Model, in the learning and development  environment, is generally accepted to be a symbolic or graphic representation of a theory, system or intricate process. It will often show the inter-relationship between the differing aspects of the theory.  It is intended to explain and as such is often a simplification and does not contain all the detail. The theme for the testing of and effective Model is that of utility.

Incidentally, this reminds me of a quote I once read somewhere – and successfully remembered for some reason. It was explaining what a Model was and it stated, “A Model is a theoretical reflection, an approximation of reality, but like a map it helps us see the ground a little more clearly”. I do wish I could forget some of these things I have learned in the past and remember things that are of more use.

Anyway, a week before being asked the Model and Theory question – during a management development programme – I was asked what was the best Theory that I knew. I found (and find) this a very difficult question to answer. It’s a little like asking me what my favourite piece of music is – it will depend on the situation and circumstances. Having said that, whilst it will depend on the setting, I would probably have to go for Transactional Analysis (TA). I would choose TA for a number of reasons:

  • It is perhaps the most versatile Theory I know in that it is applicable to so many situations.
  • It is fundamental to so many situations as it improves communications and assists in building rapport.
  • It is relatively easy to understand.
  • I have witnessed more personal and professional development by individuals and teams through the application of this Theory than any other.

This Theory was developed by Dr Eric Berne in the 1960s and has since been popularised in books such as his own, “Games People Play” and Harris’ “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”.

Berne developed the theory that at various times individuals behave in different ways which are identifiable through different types of behaviour. These different types of behaviour he called “ego-states” and he labelled named them as “Parent”, “Adult” and “Child”.

According to Berne (and no one has really threatened this theory in the intervening years) people are always operating in one of these three ego-states.

The ego-states are so named because they reflect behaviour typically exhibited by parents, adults and children. It should be understood from the outset, however, that the states have nothing to do with actual ages. For example, a 5 year old person can be in the Adult or Parent ego-state, and a childless person can be in the parent ego-state.

Earlier this year, having delivered a session on TA on a Leadership Programme, I found that one of the delegates had found the input so impactive, he had resigned from his job and returned to his native France to find an ex-girlfriend as it had enabled him to understand why the relationship had initially failed. I say initially failed as they are now back together again.

Whilst this level of impact is an extreme example, it is testament to the powerful understanding this theory can deliver when applied to personal or professional situations.

In my next blog, I will explain more about TA.

Paul

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