No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man. – Heraclitus
What do you do when you learn something new – perhaps a tip in a book or a concept in a podcast?
Let’s take something like meditation, for example.
Meditation is now big business – with an app that helps you and lots of people talking about the benefits of spending time meditating.
The techniques you learn range from sitting quietly to counting your breath, from repeating a mantra to thinking thoughts of loving-kindness towards others.
But – what’s the point? Why would you engage in anything like this?
The difficulty for most people is getting to grips with the difference between methodology and method – and it’s something that takes time to wrap your head around.
Methodology can be thought of as the “principles of method” – a set of ideas that underpin an approach to a particular real-world problem situation.
For example, if you’re unhappy at work because of how much you have on and how stressed you are, then you have a problem situation.
There can be any number of reasons why you’re unhappy – some internal and some external.
In such a situation, the principles of how you might deal with the situation is by becoming more aware of how you feel inside, by recognising the signs that you are getting stressed and trying to get more control over your responses.
In this specific situation one method to become more aware of what is going on in your mind is meditation.
So, in this example the methodology is all about becoming more aware of what is causing your unhappiness while the method is to use a meditation technique.
This is something experienced practitioners realise.
For example, if a student finds it hard to sit cross legged then sit on a chair.
If meditation doesn’t help then try something else – perhaps spend the time journalling or painting or learning a skill.
There are many methods that can be used to deliver the overarching principles articulated through methodology.
The diagram above sets out this concept using the LUMAS model, following the design set out by Peter Checkland.
This is how things change in real life.
You’ve probably heard someone say something on the lines of, “Follow these steps exactly and you’ll get the results I’ve had.”
What this means is that while they’ve achieved something worth studying, they don’t really know how they got there.
Because what they’re doing is confusing their method with methodology – by taking what worked for them in one time, one situation, one set of environmental conditions and assuming that the same thing will work across all times, all situations in all conditions.
The easiest way to think about this is direct marketing.
For example, let’s say your real world problem situation (S) is that you need customers for your business.
You’re the user (U) in this situation and you look around for a methodology (M) that’s going to help you.
Looking back as far as you can you come across perhaps the Robert Collier Letter Book, which summarises the entire methodology of direct response marketing with these words, “Study your reader first – your product second. If you understand his reactions, and present those phases of your product that relate to his needs, then you cannot help but write a good letter.”
Now, in your actual situation (A) it’s 2000 and emails are just getting popular.
So, you start sending out emails, maybe millions of them.
And because they’re so new and cool people open them and you make lots of money.
You now have a new situation – an improved on.
The mass of emails yields learning – you learn that the more emails you send the more business you get and so you double down.
As do others.
And then, users drowning in a sea of spam start to tune out, things are invented to block you and now you have a new problem.
The methodology hasn’t changed – get to the user with the right message – so you try adwords and you then try social media and now whatever the latest form of advertising method happens to be.
Now, here’s the thing to take away.
When someone teaches you a method – it’s quite likely that it’s too late to use it.
It’s already been used, wrung dry, it’s old news.
What is usually longer lasting, perhaps even eternal, is methodology.
Understand your user and create a message that explains what he or she needs and wants to know.
The LUMAS cycle is never-ending – for as long as you’re in business – but the situations are always new.
The trick is to never stop learning.