How tightly tuned are the synaptic and intrinsic properties that give rise to neuron and circuit function? Experimental work shows that these properties vary considerably across identified neurons in different animals. Given this variability in experimental data, this review describes some of the complications of building computational models to aid in understanding how system dynamics arise from the interaction of system components. We argue that instead of trying to build a single model that captures the generic behavior of a neuron or circuit, it is beneficial to construct a population of models that captures the behavior of the population that provided the experimental data. Studying a population of models with different underlying structure and similar behaviors provides opportunities to discover unsuspected compensatory mechanisms that contribute to neuron and network function.