Perceptual Control Theory (PCT)

In a response to the fabulous vision statement thread, Don Clark had
occasion to point to and compliment a recent paper of mine. Thanks, Don.

In an earlier post, Fred Nickols discusses Perceptual Control Theory
as articulated by William T. Powers. See:
Fred's paper is quite good (thanks to Fred for introducing the
subject), so I encourage you to read it.

The link Don gives above is to the message in which I announced the
availability of the paper. The direct link to the paper in question is as

In his paper, Fred discusses the difference between behavior and
performance. What Jack describes above is behavior. But is our job
really to change behavior or to enable people to perform? For quite
some time the learning profession has followed the behavior
stimulus-response model, which is based upon Newtonian cause-effect
relationships. See figure 2:

However, this one-way causal chain leaves a lot of questions opened.
That is, it places all the control in the external environment and none
within the learner's internal system or self. The causal loop model or
circular causality model, see figure 3 in the above link, places most
of the control back within the learner. That is, while the learner is
influenced by the environment, the environment does not solely
determine the learner's performance. Rather, the learner's actions are
determined by what she senses (perceives) within the environment in
comparison with her goal (reference level).

Don touches on an important point, one I've always referred to as "the
locus of control." When we posit the locus of control over behavior and
performance as being external to the individual, we are essentially telling
management that employee behavior and performance can be controlled by
management. That is pure nonsense. To be sure, employee behavior and
performance can be influenced by management but, short of irresistible
coercion, they cannot be controlled by management. By the same token, just
because the locus of control over behavior rests with the individual, it
would be equal nonsense to claim that employees are impervious to
management's efforts to influence behavior and performance.

The locus of control over behavior rests with the individual. The locus of
control over performance, depending as it does on the actions of the
individual as well as other actors and factors, rests jointly with
management and the employee. Even together, they do not always control all
the other actors and factors affecting performance so, even when working
together, their control is far from complete. When management and the
employees are at odds with another, control over performance suffers even more.

Anyway, thanks again to Don for recommending the paper and I'd be delighted
to hear from any others who find the time to read and ponder it.

P.S. I'm sending a copy of this message to some other folks who have an
interest in PCT.


Fred Nickols
"Assistance at a Distance"
Distance Consulting


At 10:31 AM 7/17/2003 +0000, you wrote: