A PCT intro to Business management (BPR & TQM)

A PCT intro to Business management (BPR & TQM):

Subject: Human dimension & Feelings

Posts from the archives of BPR-L:

Date: 28 May 1994

Author: Dag Forssell


My professional background is that of engineering manager with marketing responsibility in an industrial manufacturing company. I am now an independent educator.

I have been interested in TQM (Total Quality Management) , particularly the Deming Management Philosophy, for several years, but only recently heard of BPR-L (Business Process Re-engineering) and through it QUALITY and TQM-L. I have listened in on all three, and find that human issues are discussed with vigor:

Loads of research, and plain old common experience, indicates that the human element is the most critical, yet hardest to get right, part of any change effort. Business Process Reengineering is not exempt from this.

-robert padulo on BPR-L, May 5, 1994

There is a strong lack of attention to the human aspects of TQM implementation, and the implications are many and somewhat profound for everyone involved!

R. Ivan Blanco on TQM-L, May 23, 1994

The human emotion has proven to be the most complex of ingredients in any effort for implementation of any plan anywhere on earth.

Sandra M. Winn on TQM-L, May 24, 1994

Managers strike fear into the hearts of employees because that is the way we have all been brought up, (from fear of parent, to fear of God, to fear of teacher). … Psychology tells us that a certain level of fear & pressure is necessary to assure focus. …

Kevin Laframboise on QUALITY, May 23, 1994

Dale Worley guesses (guessing is the essence of internet communication):

My guess would be that it is beneficial to the company to have workers be afraid.

Seems to me that it would not be beneficial. Fear and the high stress and anxiety ridden environment engendered by fear should lead to a significant underutilization of the workforce skills, not to mention the detrimental effect on safety and health of the worker. …

Michael Koopman on QUALITY, May 23, 1994

These issues are important for our well being and productivity.

I have come to believe that the basic reason it is so hard to get the human element right is that people lack a theory of human behavior that fits the way human beings work.


This post introduces an emerging science called Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), that does explain the way human beings work. From the perspective of PCT, people engaging in debates about emotions and other aspects of the human dimension take for granted many things that just are not so. It will take some time to explain why. A short post commenting on any one issue might be confusing. I believe the best contribution I can make to the practice of TQM and BPR is to simply invite you to study the perspective of PCT yourself, so I’ll post this introduction on all three lists.

I know from experience as well as PCT that new information that does not fit the ideas a person already has learned and decided to believe in is either not comprehended or resisted as a disturbance.

PCT does not fit well with today’s predominant understandings. I shall introduce it as clearly as I can, point out the contrast with current science and offer literature and other references. Please excuse some redundancies. I believe it is desirable to illustrate the concept several ways, in order to connect with existing ideas and interests at different levels and areas of experience. This post is no longer than some conference announcements, so I won’t apologize for length.

I have organized this post under these headings:

  • Introduction
  • Purpose
  • Background
  • Excerpts from a PCT Introduction and Resource Guide.
  • Other comments
  • Feelings explained
  • Analogy
  • Free information


Current social science has ignored the purposiveness of human behavior, considering purpose unscientific. So models of human nature assume that behavior is an effect that is caused – by external stimuli or internal (mental) events. Perceptual Control Theory puts the purpose back into behavior; and it not only shows that purpose is real and scientific, it shows that you can do scientific research of much higher quality when you deal with the real phenomenon – purposeful behavior.

Purposeful behavior is also known as “control” – it is the process of producing intended results doing whatever is necessary to make these results happen.

The basic principle of control was introduced into behavioral science in the 1940’s by Norbert Wiener’s book: _Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.

The technical concept of control proved easy to misunderstand. People interpreting Wiener’s presentation using their existing event-based framework created the impression that control is a step by step process, internal to the organism. This allowed the incorporation of cybernetics into the basic cause-effect scheme. It also allowed the understanding of cybernetics and control theory to mean control of the organism’s actions or output, a mis-understanding that is widespread to this day. As a result of these early misunderstandings, every psychologist, cognitivist and behaviorist alike, KNOWS that the cybernetic model, also known as the negative feedback model, can’t explain human behavior.

PCT does not build on Wiener’s work, but has been developed independently based on physics, neurology, and engineering science and is testable to the standards of these sciences. – Meaning correlations in the high 90’s in tests to date.

In the field of social science, with a multitude of verbal theories, none of which can be tested clearly, it seems customary to respectfully accept them all. But PCT challenges both the core assumptions and the conclusions of the well established and widely quoted social sciences and therefore the expertise and life work of many famous scientists. Publication in relevant journals has been resisted by reviewers who dismiss PCT as old hat and without merit. PCT is presently understood by a rather small group of people.

I hope this introduction will be read by independent thinkers in business, engineering, schools, homes, – anyone who is concerned about human relationships and not satisfied with the psychological and sociological explanations offered today.

As you study the literature and duplicate the experiments, you will be able to demonstrate the principles and basic observations of PCT to yourself. Once you grasp the structure and logical implications of PCT, you can begin to reconsider many things you already KNOW. You can do this as you apply the PCT explanation to questions that arise in daily life. This process can take months and years, but will be well worth it. You will find that the new science of PCT is clear, deep and already quite well tested in simple experiments. Application guidelines are available, but since situations vary, the principles of PCT are themselves the simplest guide. When you have internalized PCT, you will have a different mindset about human behavior – your own and that of those around you.

Sociologist Clark McPhail comments on this process of discovery:

Most people find it very difficult to break out of Stimulus-> Response thinking. Of those who do, most either reject any form of systematic scientific thinking and research on human experience and action and resort to philosophical nonsense or post-modern interpretations and the like; the remainder who reject Stimulus->Response thinking sometimes view cognitive models as a useful alternative to Stimulus->Response models. That was my entre’ to PCT and it took a while to understand that PCT was not about the control of action outputs. My perception is that this always comes as a shock when newcomers realize this counter-intuitive “truth”. It is a disturbing epiphany. They have to start over again and re-think their way back through the entire PCT argument.

Maybe someone should forewarn those who “rush to judgment” that they don’t have it until they can wake up in the morning, walk around throughout the day, and try to fall asleep in wonderstruck realization that “all I know about the world and all I can accomplish regarding what I and others do in the world reduces to my perceptions”.

Excerpts from a PCT Resource Guide.

Here are pages 1, 2 and 8 of the recently compiled -----------

(page 1)


Cut to save space. See the file RESOURCE.PCT

Other comments:

The role of management is to provide leadership and resolve conflict, but ironically, our common practice of suggesting and evaluating behavior as we attempt to lead creates conflict instead of resolving it. PCT explains why.

Behavior is the only thing clearly visible when we look at what another person is doing. Naturally, it attracts your personal attention as you grow up and gain experience. That’s why it is the focus of all mainstream contemporary psychological theories, public debate, and most leadership programs. Unfortunately, this obvious perspective looks only on the outside. Incomplete and therefore misleading, it provides little useful insight into what causes behavior. The many attempted explanations offered in the past have turned into psychobabble which is now part of our language.

For example, feelings such as fear are an important consideration in TQM. But the debate among the participants on QUALITY shows clearly that people have widely divergent opinions about what fear is, what causes it and what to do about it. Contemporary psychology has no explanation for emotions! Nevertheless, people generally agree that emotions are separate from thinking. The writers of the _Star Trek _television show (and participants on TQM-L) have had much fun with this, first with Mr. Spock, and later as the android Commander Data has tried to get an explanation for anger and other feelings from his human companions. PCT offers an explanation for feelings.

The basic concept of PCT is

that our perceptions are the only reality we can know, and that the purpose of all our actions is to control the state of this perceived world.

PCT Resource Guide, p. 3.

From the inside perspective of a living control system, action/ behavior is an automatic result of a comparison between wants and perceptions. IT IS IN FACT INVISIBLE TO THE CONTROL SYSTEM WHICH IS ACTING AT THE MOMENT, although it can be visible to other, parallel perceptual functions. When we realize that people ARE living control systems, and that action is only a means to an end, we realize that to focus on behavior has been a fundamental mistake, and we understand why it is so hard to “learn from experience” by looking at behavior.

PCT explains how thoughts become actions, results and feelings, and its principles can be applied to leadership, coaching, team development, sales, performance reviews, TQM, BPR, vision/mission statements, strategic planning,

any activity involving human motivation and experience. When you understand PCT, you get a whole new picture of human nature and a new perspective on how to deal with people. You understand that human behavior is the control of perception. Feelings explained:

Even with the rudimentary summary offered in “PCT in a nutshell,” above, it is possible to begin to explain feelings. When you perceive something that is very different from what you specify in that regard, a large difference signal results. This signal can give rise to physiological changes through hormonal output functions – to release energy for action, for instance. We experience it as a surge of bodily feeling. Through neural output functions, it also creates output signals for action, which we can perceive as thought, even without actually taking action. (One reason not to take action might be conflicting output signals). We experience the combination of bodily feeling and thought as happiness, anger, nervousness etc. From this simple explanation, it follows that feelings are created by ourselves as a result of our comparison of mental specifications with current perceptions. Feelings are NOT separate from thinking. When you understand where your feelings come from, you can deal with what causes them.


This post has introduced a new way to conceive of behavior. I think that the situation with numerous established experts oblivious to, ignoring (and some refusing to publish articles by) the few proponents of PCT is analogous to the situation in the 1600’s with people who had thoroughly learned the idea and detailed model of how the Sun, Moon, and planets circle the Earth and decided to believe in it, ignoring (and even persecuting) people who proposed the idea and model that the Earth rotates once a day, while it and the other planets travel around the Sun.

You cannot tell the difference easily, but the second explanation has made a big difference for our understanding of the entire solar system and the development of the science of astronomy. The better explanation gave a competitive edge to the astronomers who adopted it, and science started over with the new model. Once you have been taught, you visualize it and take it for granted. But you have to be taught, because the explanation is counter-intuitive. With the new model, you can see that features of the old just are not so – epicycles never existed. It just looked that way.

It is hard to tell the difference between the idea that action is caused by stimuli and the idea that people control what happens to them. But the second explanation does make a big difference for our understanding of all human behavior and the development of the sciences of management. The better explanation will give a competitive edge to leaders who adopt it. Once you have been taught, you visualize it and take it for granted. But you have to be taught, because the explanation is counter-intuitive. With the new model, you can see that features of the old just are not so – stimulus-response never existed. It just looked that way. (But people discuss reward and punishment as if it is real).

The problem of clearly seeing that the Earth rotates stems in large part from your position. You are on the Earth, not looking from above. The problem of recognizing a person as a control system stems also in large part from your position. Even if you are aware of control systems, you are studying the person from the outside, not from the inside.

In each case, the first idea seems self-evident. But once you understand the second idea and its consequences, the first seems limited and wrong.

Best, Dag