||Modeling Language Spotlight
January 22, 1997
Editor's Note: When I first encountered this model in 1984
it struck me as one of the most interesting and useful of the models. Yet it
is one of the least used and explained in the entire modeling language. In part
this is due to the somewhat ambiguous and general meaning of the terms. This
article should help Knowledge Workers in the network and our clients to grapple
with the model in a productive, yet challenging fashion.
Like the other models of the MG Taylor Modeling Language,
the Appropriate Response Model is protected by copyright. You can use it
only by meeting these four conditions.
The Basic Model
The Appropriate Response model is used as a filtering tool in the Engineering
stage of the Creative Process to test various designs
for fitness before one, several, or a composite of them is chosen for implementation.
The model has six elements grouped into two sets of three. The
first set includes functional qualities: Efficacy, Scope, Nature. The second
set embraces living system capabilities: Sustainability, Self-Correction, Anticipatory.
These divisions seem somewhat arbitrary. The ability of a system to anticipate
future events can be seen as either a functional quality or a living system
capability. However, the ability to extrapolate events into the future, the
ability to use this extrapolation to correct behavior in real time, and the
ability to grow and reproduce oneself are characteristics that clearly set living
systems apart from mechanical or non-living systems. A hammer produces a desired
effect (efficacy), is built with a particular scope of work in mind (scope),
and has qualities that keep its parts requisite with each other (nature). However,
it is not sustainable; rather it degrades and is incapable of reproduction.
It embodies no ability to correct itself or learn. And it certainly cannot anticipate
future results--I have a thumb that can testify to that fact!
Here's a graphical representation of the model. Following that
is a table which defines each element of the model.
||This word suffers from infrequent use these days, but it's an elegant
term whose meaning fits the model superbly. It's defined as "the
power or capacity to produce the desired effect." By contrast,
the word effective means "having the intended or expected effect."
The difference lies in the use of the word "power." An efficacious
design exudes power and this power is efficiently directed to yield
||This element contains the power inherent in the first element. An
excellent design should properly fill its niche and not strive for too
much, nor suffer from a timid presence. The boundaries of the design
must be clearly defined. This does not mean they must form a contiguous
presence, only that by some combination of matter, energy and information
the solution is able to distinguish itself clearly from other elements
in its environment.
||True to Nature
||A design that is true to nature is composed of elements that support
one another, that do not conflict, and whose capabilities are mutually
requisite. In a growing seedling, the roots, stem and leaves all remain
requisite with one another: the leaves don't photosynthesize too much
or too little, the stem is sized just right to provide structural support
and the transport of materials up and down. A design should be elegant,
all of its parts fitting together in a pleasing fashion that makes people
want to employ it.
||Designs, or solutions to problems are living systems. As such, they
must include the apparatus and processes necessary to use models based
on past experience, along with current data gathering to make predictions
concerning the future behavior of other systems in the environment.
At the lowest level, this serves survival; at higher levels, anticipatory
hardware and software enable systems to effectively collaborate with
one another to support both the homeostasis and evolution of their collective
||Once a system can make predictions about the future, it must compare
these predictions with its current behavior and implement changes to
adjust its behavior to bring it into harmony with its future models.
In this sense it's bringing its vision of the future back to the present.
||Finally, a system must be able to survive birth, grow to maturity,
and reproduce itself. It must do this without depleting the systems
that support its growth, otherwise it will cause its own demise.
Appropriate Response and the Creative
It might help to read a more detailed article on the Seven
Stages of the Creative Process model to supplement the following discussion.
The Appropriate Response model is really a gate that divides one
stage of the creative process from the next. It's a gauntlet of rites of passage
as an idea moves from vision to building and use.
At left is a diagram of the Creative Process
Model. There are seven stages beginning with Identity at the top, cycling through
Insight and Engineering at the bottom, and ending with Using, which leads to
Identity again. Each stage is color coded: Identity is red, Vision orange, Intent
yellow, Insight green, and so on. Surrounding each stage are smaller circles,
color coded to match the seven main colors of the model's stages. This means
that the model is recursive and fractal. The Vision stage, for example, is composed
of its own Identity, Intent, Insight, Engineering, Building and Using stages.
After all, visions are engineered, built and must be used to be of value.
No one moves around the model in a lockstep, linear fashion. A
group may get an idea in Vision that pops them straight through Insight to Engineering.
There the idea is challenged and perhaps retreats back to Identity for reevaluation
based on new insights. An unforeseen problem encountered in Building will send
a design team back to Engineering or Vision for modification. For purposes of
this article, however, it will be convenient to imagine a group moving deliberately
through the model from one stage to the next.
The group begins in Identity. It conducts an environmental scan and assembles
a model that represents the behavioral modes and evolution of the environment.
This model is the product of the Identity stage of the creative process. For
it to be truly useful it must pass the criteria of the Appropriate Response.
The team asks itself the following questions:
- Efficacy: does the environmental model embody the power
to generate an understanding of the forces at work and our position relative
to these forces?
- Scope: does the environmental model have enough breadth
to serve as a useful tool? Does it cover the necessary variables and patterns?
- Nature: do the pieces of the model fit together and support
one another, or are there gaps? Are some portions of the model strategic and
others philosophical, creating a mismatch in performance and meaning? Is the
model free of "impossible physics", or behaviors that are beyond
the envelope of sustainable performance of the systems it is modeling?
- Anticipatory: Can the model be used to anticipate future
events? If the model is rolled back to some past time, can it predict the
present? Does it make useful predictions as well as some surprising ones?
- Self-Correcting: When the model is "run" does
it rapidly careen out of control, or are there feedback loops built in that
allow a tug and pull between homeostasis, or balance, and growth or evolutionary
pressures embodied in positive feedback loops?
- Sustainable: Is the model resilient under a variety of
different inputs? Can the model reproduce itself (be so elegant and attractive
that people will be drawn to use it)?
These are not easy questions to think about, much less answer definitively.
Generally, groups are more comfortable answering the first three questions.
We're comfortable thinking about whether a solution will accomplish its objective,
if it's the right size for the job, and whether its pieces will work together
in concert. These are all mechanical, mostly linear ways of thinking. Direct
cause and effect.
But we're not skilled at thinking about living systems in terms of their ability
to reproduce, or as webs of feedback loops all processing messages simultaneously,
or as cybernetic systems that predict the future in order to survive.
Our business plans usually include a set of goals, an organizational chart,
a description of products, perhaps a description of the processes required to
create the products, and a set of financial specifications that detail what
success looks like. These components are all necessary but they only address
the first three aspects of an Appropriate Response. This means that up until
now, we've been building enterprises that are like machines. In the future,
this will not do. We will have to GROW enterprises that are more like living
||Personal Journal Assignment
Take some time to think about your enterprise from the vantage point of
Living Systems Capabilities. Challenge yourself and write components of
a business plan that explains:
- the mechanism of self-correction including positive
and negative feedback loops
- the anticipatory mechanism that the enterprise uses
to scan the environment and predict the future (Miller's Living Systems model addresses this mechanism from an information management
- the sustainability of the enterprise, and how it
goes about reproduction
There are times, of course, when we want to design
and build machines and machine-like organizational components. In such cases
it would be reasonable to use the functional qualities half of the model.
Here's an intriguing idea. The molecules that make
up living cells can be thought of as little machines. In a sense, a cell is
composed of a myriad of little machines, along with some structural components,
information-bearing molecules, and other molecules that serve as raw materials.
How do we get a living system out of non-living entities? The answer is that
the quality we call life is an emergent property that results from the catalytic
relationship that these molecules have with one another. They facilitate one
another's work and one another's reproduction, assembly and repair. This facilitation
process allows them to anticipate, self-correct and sustain themselves. So,
when you're applying the Appropriate Response model to your enterprise, don't
look for the component of your organization that's responsible for anticipation
or self-correction, or sustainability. Look instead for a web of components
and processes that allow these attributes to emerge.
Using the Model in DesignShop® Processes
Finally, a note concerning the use of the Appropriate Response model in DesignShop
processes. If you intend to have the participants use the model directly in
breakout groups, it would be wise to give it a fairly robust introduction. Cover
the terms and what they mean. It may also be necessary to go into more detail
or have the participants directly experience the meaning of the living system
Use the model when writing assignments and during the walkthru
to test the power and presence of your design before the DesignShop event.
The metaphors exercise (usually Day 1, Scan) is a good way
to introduce participants to the model. For example, a team could be assigned
an ant colony and asked to describe it in terms of the six elements of the
Participants can also be asked to directly relate the model
to some historical situation, the emergence of the automobile and associated
industries, for example. This is another good Scan exercise.
Use it as a business plan template in Focus or Act. This type
of assignment will fail unless the participants have had adequate opportunity
to learn about living system capabilities. Allow all of the teams to use
traditional business plan templates but have one team use the Appropriate
Response model as a template instead.
Use it as a Day 2 (Focus) or Day 3 (Act) exercise straight
out of the box. Once the participants have developed interim problems or
solutions, have them use the Appropriate Response model as a filter to test
the resilience of their work.
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