Proximal and distal controlled variables (was ..(was..))

[Martin Taylor 2009.03.29.23.24]

[From
Fred Nickols (2009.03.20.1504 PDT)]

Well,
I asked because I think the conversation ties to something
I’ve been toying with lately. The notion of proximal vs distal
controlled variables. The proximal controlled variables are those we
can
observe on a direct and immediate basis; they are close by in space and
time. Distal CVs are far removed in space and time. In a more
concrete vein, executives take actions now that they “hope” will
have the desired effects later. They are trying to control distal CVs
but
owing to the distance between their actions and any effects on those
distal
CVs, they have to imagine the effects (not to mention envision or
imagine the
linkages between their direct, immediate actions and the effects on
those
distal CVs at some later time and place). I’m poking around in this
because if I can’t tie PCT to anything except proximal CVs it won’t
be of much interest to anyone in the workplace.

I
sure wish someone smarter than me was working on this.

I’m sorry to have delayed this response for so long. I’ve been busy
both on and off CSGnet, and I had rather hoped someone else would have
responded before now.

You are addressing something that Bill mentions in the very last
paragraph of LCS III. I hope Bill won’t mind a quote of a couple of
sentences from the prepublication draft. Here’s what he says:

“I don’t dispute the claim that brains, at some level of organization,
contain models of the environment. I do dispute the claim that this
level of organization can control anything very fast or very
accurately, in comparison to the kinds of negative feedback control
that I propose to exist at the lower levels of organization, the kinds
explored in this book.”

The control you are asking about is neither fast nor accurate. As
Rabbie Burns famously said: “The best laid plans of mice and men gang
oft agley” (I think I probably misquote). Planning is control in
imagination of things that may never occur – else why would we have
“Plan A” and “Plan B”? Such planning must involve some kind of dynamic
model of the world, in which one can ask the question: “What would
happen if I were to do X?” Only when the answer is a reduction in the
error of the perception being controlled in imagination is it probable
that the person would actually do X. This is quite different from the
continuous real-time correction of error that we usually consider, and
it seems to me to be almost necessary when the environmental feedback
transport lag is measured in days or even years (and perhaps even when
it is measured in minutes under some conditions).

Military planners not only control with the environmental feedback path
substituted by a speeded model in their imagination; they also put the
model of the environmental feedback path into a speeded model in the
external environment in which independent actors form part of the
speeded environmental feedback path, rather than the whole path being
constructed in the person’s imagination. They call it “war gaming”, and
use it to try to see whether one kind of strategy will provide a better
result than another. As Bill and Burns both point out, the actual
effect on the controlled perception when the action is performed in the
real world is likely to be rather different from the result of control
in imagination.

Why would people control “distal” variables in imagination rather than
doing the more direct PCT process of influencing the controlled
perception directly? One reason is that it is reorganization that has
set up the lower-level, quicker, control systems so that the outputs do
usually influence the inputs in the proper direction without too much
effort wasted in side-effects. At higher levels, where the
environmental feedback transport lag is both slow and diffused over
time, reorganization takes a long time; consider how long it takes for
a child to develop social skills, as compared to how long it takes the
same child to learn to run and catch a ball. When it comes to the sort
of management decisions that concern you, the controlled perceptions
may well be being constructed at, say, the program level, for the first
time. The executive may have well reorganized lower-level control
systems whose perceptions contribute to the newly constructed
perception that is to be controlled over some long time, but there is
no corresponding organization of the actions of those lower-level
systems. Like the perception to be controlled, the output organization
must be constructed for the new purpose. That, I suspect, is what
“planning” means.

Martin

[From Bill Powers (2009.03.30.0857 MDT)]

[Martin Taylor
2009.03.29.23.24]

[Fred Nickols (2009.03.20.1504
PDT)]

Well, I asked because I think the conversation ties to something I�ve
been toying with lately. The notion of proximal vs distal
controlled variables. The proximal controlled variables are those
we can observe on a direct and immediate basis; they are close by in
space and time. Distal CVs are far removed in space and
time.

You are addressing something
that Bill mentions in the very last paragraph of LCS III. I hope Bill
won’t mind a quote of a couple of sentences from the prepublication
draft. Here’s what he says:

“I don’t dispute the claim that brains, at some level of
organization, contain models of the environment. I do dispute the claim
that this level of organization can control anything very fast or very
accurately, in comparison to the kinds of negative feedback control that
I propose to exist at the lower levels of organization, the kinds
explored in this book.”

Permission gladly granted.

Martin, I believe the muse was upon you when you wrote this reply to
Fred. A very clear and expert discussion on which I would not try to
improve.

Best,

Bill P.

···

The control you are asking about
is neither fast nor accurate. As Rabbie Burns famously said: “The
best laid plans of mice and men gang oft agley” (I think I probably
misquote). Planning is control in imagination of things that may never
occur – else why would we have “Plan A” and “Plan
B”? Such planning must involve some kind of dynamic model of the
world, in which one can ask the question: “What would happen if I
were to do X?” Only when the answer is a reduction in the error of
the perception being controlled in imagination is it probable that the
person would actually do X. This is quite different from the continuous
real-time correction of error that we usually consider, and it seems to
me to be almost necessary when the environmental feedback transport lag
is measured in days or even years (and perhaps even when it is measured
in minutes under some conditions).

Military planners not only control with the environmental feedback path
substituted by a speeded model in their imagination; they also put the
model of the environmental feedback path into a speeded model in the
external environment in which independent actors form part of the speeded
environmental feedback path, rather than the whole path being constructed
in the person’s imagination. They call it “war gaming”, and use
it to try to see whether one kind of strategy will provide a better
result than another. As Bill and Burns both point out, the actual effect
on the controlled perception when the action is performed in the real
world is likely to be rather different from the result of control in
imagination.

Why would people control “distal” variables in imagination
rather than doing the more direct PCT process of influencing the
controlled perception directly? One reason is that it is reorganization
that has set up the lower-level, quicker, control systems so that the
outputs do usually influence the inputs in the proper direction without
too much effort wasted in side-effects. At higher levels, where the
environmental feedback transport lag is both slow and diffused over time,
reorganization takes a long time; consider how long it takes for a child
to develop social skills, as compared to how long it takes the same child
to learn to run and catch a ball. When it comes to the sort of management
decisions that concern you, the controlled perceptions may well be being
constructed at, say, the program level, for the first time. The executive
may have well reorganized lower-level control systems whose perceptions
contribute to the newly constructed perception that is to be controlled
over some long time, but there is no corresponding organization of the
actions of those lower-level systems. Like the perception to be
controlled, the output organization must be constructed for the new
purpose. That, I suspect, is what “planning” means.

Martin

No virus found in this incoming message.

Checked by AVG -
www.avg.com

Version: 8.0.238 / Virus Database: 270.11.31/2029 - Release Date:
03/29/09 16:56:00

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.30.1221 MST)]

Thanks to Bill and Martin both. I think I understand what
Martin is saying and it confirms my own thinking. I’ll try to be
brief.

Managers and execs “try” to control certain
variables in the workplace that are often far removed in space and time from
the effects of their direct actions. So, they imagine or hope that the
actions they take “over here” (in the here and now) will have the
desired effects “over there” (at some later time). The really
good managers and execs also work hard at understanding the linkages between
the actions they can take and the effects they seek. But, as noted,
the effects they seek are distant from the actions they can take. All
they can do is “set the wheels in motion.” Complicating
matters, not only are the linkages between actions and effects dimly perceived
(or not known at all), the feedback loop is broken, corrupt or simply
non-existent. So, they act on the basis of what they believe, hope or
imagine will happen as a result later on.

What I’ve spent a large part of my work life doing is “mapping”
what I call “the performance architecture” of organizations, more
specifically, three domains of performance: (1) organizational (typically,
financial), (2) operational (usually process), and (3) human (behavior and
performance). I’ve also spent a great deal of time investigating
the linkages and connections between and among these three domains of
performance. I love PCT because it provides a firm basis on which to tackle
the human performance domain. I also think the more general concept of
negative feedback loops provides a solid conceptual basis for attempting to
identify how the direct and immediate effects of human behavior “ripple
through” the structure and make themselves felt elsewhere. Knowing
those linkages allows one to identify those distant effects and thus provide
feedback in relation to the efficacy of the actions taken.

I don’t for a moment view PCT as having the answer to
those larger, structural questions, but I liked the notion of people acting in
accordance with the imagined or hoped for effects of their actions.

‘Nuff said. I won’t trouble the list any more
with this extension of PCT into a non-PCT world.

Regards,

Fred Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting LLC

nickols@att.net

www.nickols.us

image00217.jpg

"Assistance at a Distance"SM

···

From: Control Systems
Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Bill
Powers
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2009 8:04 AM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal controlled variables (was …(was…))

[From Bill Powers (2009.03.30.0857 MDT)]

[Martin Taylor 2009.03.29.23.24]

[Fred Nickols (2009.03.20.1504 PDT)]

Well, I asked because I think the conversation ties to something I’ve
been toying with lately. The notion of proximal vs distal controlled
variables. The proximal controlled variables are those we can observe on
a direct and immediate basis; they are close by in space and time. Distal
CVs are far removed in space and time.

You are addressing something that Bill mentions in the very
last paragraph of LCS III. I hope Bill won’t mind a quote of a couple of
sentences from the prepublication draft. Here’s what he says:

“I don’t dispute the claim that brains, at some level of organization,
contain models of the environment. I do dispute the claim that this level of
organization can control anything very fast or very accurately, in comparison
to the kinds of negative feedback control that I propose to exist at the lower
levels of organization, the kinds explored in this book.”

Permission gladly granted.

Martin, I believe the muse was upon you when you wrote this reply to Fred. A
very clear and expert discussion on which I would not try to improve.

Best,

Bill P.

The control you are asking about is neither fast nor
accurate. As Rabbie Burns famously said: “The best laid plans of mice and
men gang oft agley” (I think I probably misquote). Planning is control in
imagination of things that may never occur – else why would we have “Plan
A” and “Plan B”? Such planning must involve some kind of dynamic
model of the world, in which one can ask the question: “What would happen
if I were to do X?” Only when the answer is a reduction in the error of
the perception being controlled in imagination is it probable that the person would
actually do X. This is quite different from the continuous real-time correction
of error that we usually consider, and it seems to me to be almost necessary
when the environmental feedback transport lag is measured in days or even years
(and perhaps even when it is measured in minutes under some conditions).

Military planners not only control with the environmental feedback path
substituted by a speeded model in their imagination; they also put the model of
the environmental feedback path into a speeded model in the external
environment in which independent actors form part of the speeded environmental
feedback path, rather than the whole path being constructed in the person’s
imagination. They call it “war gaming”, and use it to try to see
whether one kind of strategy will provide a better result than another. As Bill
and Burns both point out, the actual effect on the controlled perception when
the action is performed in the real world is likely to be rather different from
the result of control in imagination.

Why would people control “distal” variables in imagination rather
than doing the more direct PCT process of influencing the controlled perception
directly? One reason is that it is reorganization that has set up the
lower-level, quicker, control systems so that the outputs do usually influence
the inputs in the proper direction without too much effort wasted in
side-effects. At higher levels, where the environmental feedback transport lag
is both slow and diffused over time, reorganization takes a long time; consider
how long it takes for a child to develop social skills, as compared to how long
it takes the same child to learn to run and catch a ball. When it comes to the
sort of management decisions that concern you, the controlled perceptions may
well be being constructed at, say, the program level, for the first time. The
executive may have well reorganized lower-level control systems whose
perceptions contribute to the newly constructed perception that is to be
controlled over some long time, but there is no corresponding organization of
the actions of those lower-level systems. Like the perception to be controlled,
the output organization must be constructed for the new purpose. That, I
suspect, is what “planning” means.

Martin

No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
Version: 8.0.238 / Virus Database: 270.11.31/2029 - Release Date: 03/29/09
16:56:00

[From Fred Nickols (2008.03.30.1359 MST)]

A quick P.S. to this portion of my post below…

Ø I
don’t for a moment view PCT as having the answer to those larger,
structural questions, but I liked the notion of people acting in accordance
with the imagined or hoped for effects of their actions.

A better way of saying what I’m trying to say is that
managers and execs acting in the here and now to realize certain results later
on are still acting in accordance with PCT. At all times they are acting so as
to keep their perceptions aligned with their reference signals. It’s
just that when the results they’re after are far removed in space and
time, their reference signals (which amount to saying “in this situation,
do X”) are rooted in their understanding of what later effects certain immediate
actions will bring about.

I think the answer I’m looking for isn’t in how the
negative feedback loop operates but in how those reference signals get
established (and changed).

Regards,

Fred Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting LLC

nickols@att.net

www.nickols.us

image00217.jpg

"Assistance at a Distance"SM

image00217.jpg

···

From: Control Systems
Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Fred
Nickols
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2009 12:32 PM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal controlled variables (was …(was…))

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.30.1221 MST)]

Thanks to Bill and Martin both. I think I understand what
Martin is saying and it confirms my own thinking. I’ll try to be
brief.

Managers and execs “try” to control certain
variables in the workplace that are often far removed in space and time from
the effects of their direct actions. So, they imagine or hope that the
actions they take “over here” (in the here and now) will have the
desired effects “over there” (at some later time). The really
good managers and execs also work hard at understanding the linkages between
the actions they can take and the effects they seek. But, as noted,
the effects they seek are distant from the actions they can take. All
they can do is “set the wheels in motion.” Complicating
matters, not only are the linkages between actions and effects dimly perceived
(or not known at all), the feedback loop is broken, corrupt or simply
non-existent. So, they act on the basis of what they believe, hope or
imagine will happen as a result later on.

What I’ve spent a large part of my work life doing is
“mapping” what I call “the performance architecture” of
organizations, more specifically, three domains of performance: (1)
organizational (typically, financial), (2) operational (usually process), and
(3) human (behavior and performance). I’ve also spent a great deal
of time investigating the linkages and connections between and among these
three domains of performance. I love PCT because it provides a firm basis
on which to tackle the human performance domain. I also think the more
general concept of negative feedback loops provides a solid conceptual basis
for attempting to identify how the direct and immediate effects of human
behavior “ripple through” the structure and make themselves felt
elsewhere. Knowing those linkages allows one to identify those distant
effects and thus provide feedback in relation to the efficacy of the actions
taken.

I don’t for a moment view PCT as having the answer to
those larger, structural questions, but I liked the notion of people acting in
accordance with the imagined or hoped for effects of their actions.

‘Nuff said. I won’t trouble the list any more
with this extension of PCT into a non-PCT world.

Regards,

Fred Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting LLC

nickols@att.net | www.nickols.us

DistanceConsuling_600dpi

"Assistance at a Distance"SM

From: Control Systems
Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Bill
Powers
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2009 8:04 AM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal controlled variables (was …(was…))

[From Bill Powers
(2009.03.30.0857 MDT)]

[Martin Taylor
2009.03.29.23.24]

[Fred Nickols (2009.03.20.1504 PDT)]

Well, I asked because I think the conversation ties to something I’ve
been toying with lately. The notion of proximal vs distal controlled
variables. The proximal controlled variables are those we can observe on
a direct and immediate basis; they are close by in space and time. Distal
CVs are far removed in space and time.

You are addressing something that Bill mentions in the very
last paragraph of LCS III. I hope Bill won’t mind a quote of a couple of
sentences from the prepublication draft. Here’s what he says:

“I don’t dispute the claim that brains, at some level of organization,
contain models of the environment. I do dispute the claim that this level of
organization can control anything very fast or very accurately, in comparison
to the kinds of negative feedback control that I propose to exist at the lower
levels of organization, the kinds explored in this book.”

Permission gladly granted.

Martin, I believe the muse was upon you when you wrote this reply to Fred. A
very clear and expert discussion on which I would not try to improve.

Best,

Bill P.

The control you are asking about is neither fast nor
accurate. As Rabbie Burns famously said: “The best laid plans of mice and
men gang oft agley” (I think I probably misquote). Planning is control in
imagination of things that may never occur – else why would we have “Plan
A” and “Plan B”? Such planning must involve some kind of dynamic
model of the world, in which one can ask the question: “What would happen
if I were to do X?” Only when the answer is a reduction in the error of
the perception being controlled in imagination is it probable that the person
would actually do X. This is quite different from the continuous real-time
correction of error that we usually consider, and it seems to me to be almost
necessary when the environmental feedback transport lag is measured in days or
even years (and perhaps even when it is measured in minutes under some
conditions).

Military planners not only control with the environmental feedback path
substituted by a speeded model in their imagination; they also put the model of
the environmental feedback path into a speeded model in the external
environment in which independent actors form part of the speeded environmental
feedback path, rather than the whole path being constructed in the person’s
imagination. They call it “war gaming”, and use it to try to see
whether one kind of strategy will provide a better result than another. As Bill
and Burns both point out, the actual effect on the controlled perception when
the action is performed in the real world is likely to be rather different from
the result of control in imagination.

Why would people control “distal” variables in imagination rather
than doing the more direct PCT process of influencing the controlled perception
directly? One reason is that it is reorganization that has set up the
lower-level, quicker, control systems so that the outputs do usually influence
the inputs in the proper direction without too much effort wasted in
side-effects. At higher levels, where the environmental feedback transport lag
is both slow and diffused over time, reorganization takes a long time; consider
how long it takes for a child to develop social skills, as compared to how long
it takes the same child to learn to run and catch a ball. When it comes to the
sort of management decisions that concern you, the controlled perceptions may
well be being constructed at, say, the program level, for the first time. The
executive may have well reorganized lower-level control systems whose
perceptions contribute to the newly constructed perception that is to be
controlled over some long time, but there is no corresponding organization of
the actions of those lower-level systems. Like the perception to be controlled,
the output organization must be constructed for the new purpose. That, I
suspect, is what “planning” means.

Martin

No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
Version: 8.0.238 / Virus Database: 270.11.31/2029 - Release Date: 03/29/09
16:56:00

( Gavin
Ritz 2008.03.31.10.32NZT)

Fred I have been asking those questions for quite some time and never received any
satisfactory answers the last answer was neural functions. The major problem and
discussion I had in this list and off line with Martin was that the reference signal
is an intention (and goal) if this is so it opens a whole new argument about tensions and motivations
within the human organism. Which in many ways opens questions about PCT’s
circular causality ie its axioms.

I have developed a model of motivation
nothing like Maslow’s, or other motivation theories its sole purpose was to measure
motivation in the workplace (to which it has succeeded). In many ways
this model is like the reference signal because my model says that the
motivational tensions are internal to the motivated individual. My model works
on this simple
premise of tensions between “hoped for advantages and feared disadvantages”
of actions. Which I call the fundamental formula, this formula is simply a polar one. The
key to the model of course is knowing what specifically all the hoped-for and
feared actions are.

Further Elliot Jaques model of logic deals
with another aspect of managerial decisions making and again this is like the reference
signal, with both models together I have been able to map relatively well an individuals
capability and motivations within the workplace, what I cannot do is measure temperament
I was hoping that PCT would help with that so far it has not, it has added
other aspects though that needed answers but as I am no longer in the field of human
resources (and consulting) these ideas have taken a back seat.

Regards Gavin

[From
Fred Nickols (2008.03.30.1359 MST)]

A
quick P.S. to this portion of my post below…

Ø I don’t for a moment view PCT as having the answer
to those larger, structural questions, but I liked the notion of people acting
in accordance with the imagined or hoped for effects of their actions.

A
better way of saying what I’m trying to say is that managers and execs
acting in the here and now to realize certain results later on are still acting
in accordance with PCT. At all times they are acting so as to keep their
perceptions aligned with their reference signals. It’s just that
when the results they’re after are far removed in space and time, their
reference signals (which amount to saying “in this situation, do
X”) are rooted in their understanding of what later effects certain
immediate actions will bring about.

I
think the answer I’m looking for isn’t in how the negative feedback
loop operates but in how those reference signals get established (and changed).

Regards,

Fred
Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting LLC

nickols@att.net | www.nickols.us

image00217.jpg

···

"Assistance at a Distance"SM***

From: Control
Systems Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Fred Nickols
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2009 12:32
PM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal
controlled variables (was …(was…))

[From
Fred Nickols (2009.03.30.1221 MST)]

Thanks
to Bill and Martin both. I think I understand what Martin is saying and
it confirms my own thinking. I’ll try to be brief.

Managers
and execs “try” to control certain variables in the workplace that
are often far removed in space and time from the effects of their direct
actions. So, they imagine or hope that the actions they take “over
here” (in the here and now) will have the desired effects “over
there” (at some later time). The really good managers and execs
also work hard at understanding the linkages between the actions they can take
and the effects they seek. But, as noted, the effects they seek are
distant from the actions they can take. All they can do is “set the
wheels in motion.” Complicating matters, not only are the linkages
between actions and effects dimly perceived (or not known at all), the feedback
loop is broken, corrupt or simply non-existent. So, they act on the basis
of what they believe, hope or imagine will happen as a result later on.

What
I’ve spent a large part of my work life doing is “mapping”
what I call “the performance architecture” of organizations, more
specifically, three domains of performance: (1) organizational (typically, financial),
(2) operational (usually process), and (3) human (behavior and
performance). I’ve also spent a great deal of time investigating
the linkages and connections between and among these three domains of
performance. I love PCT because it provides a firm basis on which to
tackle the human performance domain. I also think the more general
concept of negative feedback loops provides a solid conceptual basis for
attempting to identify how the direct and immediate effects of human behavior
“ripple through” the structure and make themselves felt
elsewhere. Knowing those linkages allows one to identify those distant
effects and thus provide feedback in relation to the efficacy of the actions
taken.

I
don’t for a moment view PCT as having the answer to those larger,
structural questions, but I liked the notion of people acting in accordance
with the imagined or hoped for effects of their actions.

‘Nuff
said. I won’t trouble the list any more with this extension of PCT
into a non-PCT world.

Regards,

Fred
Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting LLC

nickols@att.net | www.nickols.us

DistanceConsuling_600dpi


"Assistance at a Distance"SM***

From: Control
Systems Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Bill Powers
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2009 8:04
AM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal
controlled variables (was …(was…))

[From
Bill Powers (2009.03.30.0857 MDT)]

[Martin
Taylor 2009.03.29.23.24]

[Fred Nickols
(2009.03.20.1504 PDT)]

Well, I asked because I think the conversation ties to something I’ve
been toying with lately. The notion of proximal vs distal controlled
variables. The proximal controlled variables are those we can observe on
a direct and immediate basis; they are close by in space and time. Distal
CVs are far removed in space and time.

You are addressing something
that Bill mentions in the very last paragraph of LCS III. I hope Bill won’t
mind a quote of a couple of sentences from the prepublication draft. Here’s
what he says:

“I don’t dispute the claim that brains, at some level of organization,
contain models of the environment. I do dispute the claim that this level of
organization can control anything very fast or very accurately, in comparison
to the kinds of negative feedback control that I propose to exist at the lower
levels of organization, the kinds explored in this book.”

Permission gladly granted.

Martin, I believe the muse was upon you when you wrote this reply to Fred. A
very clear and expert discussion on which I would not try to improve.

Best,

Bill P.

The control you are
asking about is neither fast nor accurate. As Rabbie Burns famously said:
“The best laid plans of mice and men gang oft agley” (I think I
probably misquote). Planning is control in imagination of things that may never
occur – else why would we have “Plan A” and “Plan B”? Such
planning must involve some kind of dynamic model of the world, in which one can
ask the question: “What would happen if I were to do X?” Only when
the answer is a reduction in the error of the perception being controlled in
imagination is it probable that the person would actually do X. This is quite
different from the continuous real-time correction of error that we usually
consider, and it seems to me to be almost necessary when the environmental
feedback transport lag is measured in days or even years (and perhaps even when
it is measured in minutes under some conditions).

Military planners not only control with the environmental feedback path
substituted by a speeded model in their imagination; they also put the model of
the environmental feedback path into a speeded model in the external
environment in which independent actors form part of the speeded environmental
feedback path, rather than the whole path being constructed in the person’s
imagination. They call it “war gaming”, and use it to try to see
whether one kind of strategy will provide a better result than another. As Bill
and Burns both point out, the actual effect on the controlled perception when
the action is performed in the real world is likely to be rather different from
the result of control in imagination.

Why would people control “distal” variables in imagination rather
than doing the more direct PCT process of influencing the controlled perception
directly? One reason is that it is reorganization that has set up the
lower-level, quicker, control systems so that the outputs do usually influence
the inputs in the proper direction without too much effort wasted in
side-effects. At higher levels, where the environmental feedback transport lag
is both slow and diffused over time, reorganization takes a long time; consider
how long it takes for a child to develop social skills, as compared to how long
it takes the same child to learn to run and catch a ball. When it comes to the
sort of management decisions that concern you, the controlled perceptions may
well be being constructed at, say, the program level, for the first time. The
executive may have well reorganized lower-level control systems whose
perceptions contribute to the newly constructed perception that is to be
controlled over some long time, but there is no corresponding organization of
the actions of those lower-level systems. Like the perception to be controlled,
the output organization must be constructed for the new purpose. That, I
suspect, is what “planning” means.

Martin

No virus found in this incoming message.

Checked by AVG - www.avg.com

Version: 8.0.238 / Virus Database: 270.11.31/2029 - Release Date: 03/29/09
16:56:00

( Gavin
Ritz 2008.03.31.11.40NZT)

Further to my last email Fred, you use a very American
business school
model in your domains of performance (and considering) the American way has dominated
many aspects of the business world it must be more robust than other ways. Of
this I’m not so sure.

Actually your domains I think can be
blinding to aspects of business as if they don’t exist and not important,
and in many respects your domains also force one to behave as if they are unconnected.

For example a plant requires a number of
factors (say some of your domains) for it to grow (water, sunlight, nutrients)
if any one of these are missing the plant will just not grow, not only deficiency
of one factor is a problem but even if one factor is in great abundance (like
water- the plant drowns) the plant cannot grow. If we take nutrients for that
matter and say one aspect is missing e.g. potash then the plant will also not
grow. Further too much sunlight the plant burns, too little cannot grow. So the
plant requires ALL factors WITHIN boundaries to grow. These are known as the Law of
Liebig and Shelford’s Tolerance.

In human organisations it’s really
the same; unfortunately where the focus is placed is often irrelevant to the business
constraint (the constraint is the one deficient or super abundant factor). I
think your domains of performance suffer from this problem. The fact is some factors are totally
ignored as if they don’t exist. What these factors are is another
discussion.

The fact that you have finance as a domain
already colours your perception.

E.g. Shelford’s Tolerance Law was
exceeded within “the fear of poverty and the hoped-for advantages of massive
wealth ie greed- factor” human motive hence the great problem economic we
now face.

QUESTION how is this relevant to PCT.

Regards

Gavin

[From
Fred Nickols (2008.03.30.1359 MST)]

A
quick P.S. to this portion of my post below…

Ø I don’t for a moment view PCT as having the answer
to those larger, structural questions, but I liked the notion of people acting
in accordance with the imagined or hoped for effects of their actions.

A
better way of saying what I’m trying to say is that managers and execs
acting in the here and now to realize certain results later on are still acting
in accordance with PCT. At all times they are acting so as to keep their
perceptions aligned with their reference signals. It’s just that
when the results they’re after are far removed in space and time, their
reference signals (which amount to saying “in this situation, do
X”) are rooted in their understanding of what later effects certain
immediate actions will bring about.

I
think the answer I’m looking for isn’t in how the negative feedback
loop operates but in how those reference signals get established (and changed).

Regards,

Fred Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting LLC

nickols@att.net | www.nickols.us

image00217.jpg

···

"Assistance at a Distance"SM***

From: Control
Systems Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Fred Nickols
Sent: Monday, March
30, 2009 12:32 PM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal
controlled variables (was …(was…))

[From
Fred Nickols (2009.03.30.1221 MST)]

Thanks
to Bill and Martin both. I think I understand what Martin
is saying and it confirms my own thinking. I’ll try to be brief.

Managers
and execs “try” to control certain variables in the workplace that
are often far removed in space and time from the effects of their direct
actions. So, they imagine or hope that the actions they take “over
here” (in the here and now) will have the desired effects “over
there” (at some later time). The really good managers and execs
also work hard at understanding the linkages between the actions they can take
and the effects they seek. But, as noted, the effects they seek are
distant from the actions they can take. All they can do is “set the
wheels in motion.” Complicating matters, not only are the linkages
between actions and effects dimly perceived (or not known at all), the feedback
loop is broken, corrupt or simply non-existent. So, they act on the basis
of what they believe, hope or imagine will happen as a result later on.

What
I’ve spent a large part of my work life doing is “mapping”
what I call “the performance architecture” of organizations, more
specifically, three domains of performance: (1) organizational (typically,
financial), (2) operational (usually process), and (3) human (behavior and
performance). I’ve also spent a great deal of time investigating
the linkages and connections between and among these three domains of
performance. I love PCT because it provides a firm basis on which to
tackle the human performance domain. I also think the more general
concept of negative feedback loops provides a solid conceptual basis for
attempting to identify how the direct and immediate effects of human behavior
“ripple through” the structure and make themselves felt
elsewhere. Knowing those linkages allows one to identify those distant
effects and thus provide feedback in relation to the efficacy of the actions
taken.

I
don’t for a moment view PCT as having the answer to those larger, structural
questions, but I liked the notion of people acting in accordance with the
imagined or hoped for effects of their actions.

‘Nuff
said. I won’t trouble the list any more with this extension of PCT
into a non-PCT world.

Regards,

Fred Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting LLC

nickols@att.net | www.nickols.us

DistanceConsuling_600dpi


"Assistance at a Distance"SM***

From: Control
Systems Group Network (CSGnet) [mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Bill Powers
Sent: Monday, March
30, 2009 8:04 AM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal
controlled variables (was …(was…))

[From
Bill Powers (2009.03.30.0857 MDT)]

[ Martin
Taylor 2009.03.29.23.24]

[Fred Nickols
(2009.03.20.1504 PDT)]

Well, I asked because I think the conversation ties to something I’ve
been toying with lately. The notion of proximal vs distal controlled
variables. The proximal controlled variables are those we can observe on
a direct and immediate basis; they are close by in space and time. Distal
CVs are far removed in space and time.

You are addressing
something that Bill mentions in the very last paragraph of LCS
III. I hope Bill won’t mind a quote of a couple of sentences from the
prepublication draft. Here’s what he says:

“I don’t dispute the claim that brains, at some level of organization,
contain models of the environment. I do dispute the claim that this level of
organization can control anything very fast or very accurately, in comparison
to the kinds of negative feedback control that I propose to exist at the lower
levels of organization, the kinds explored in this book.”

Permission gladly granted.

Martin, I believe the muse was upon you when you wrote this reply
to Fred. A very clear and expert discussion on which I would not try to
improve.

Best,

Bill P.

The control you are
asking about is neither fast nor accurate. As Rabbie Burns
famously said: “The best laid plans of mice and men gang oft agley”
(I think I probably misquote). Planning is control in imagination of things
that may never occur – else why would we have “Plan A” and
“Plan B”? Such planning must involve some kind of dynamic model of
the world, in which one can ask the question: “What would happen if I were
to do X?” Only when the answer is a reduction in the error of the
perception being controlled in imagination is it probable that the person would
actually do X. This is quite different from the continuous real-time correction
of error that we usually consider, and it seems to me to be almost necessary
when the environmental feedback transport lag is measured in days or even years
(and perhaps even when it is measured in minutes under some conditions).

Military planners not only control with the environmental feedback path
substituted by a speeded model in their imagination; they also put the model of
the environmental feedback path into a speeded model in the external
environment in which independent actors form part of the speeded environmental
feedback path, rather than the whole path being constructed in the person’s
imagination. They call it “war gaming”, and use it to try to see whether
one kind of strategy will provide a better result than another. As Bill and
Burns both point out, the actual effect on the controlled perception when the
action is performed in the real world is likely to be rather different from the
result of control in imagination.

Why would people control “distal” variables in imagination rather
than doing the more direct PCT process of influencing the controlled perception
directly? One reason is that it is reorganization that has set up the
lower-level, quicker, control systems so that the outputs do usually influence
the inputs in the proper direction without too much effort wasted in
side-effects. At higher levels, where the environmental feedback transport lag
is both slow and diffused over time, reorganization takes a long time; consider
how long it takes for a child to develop social skills, as compared to how long
it takes the same child to learn to run and catch a ball. When it comes to the
sort of management decisions that concern you, the controlled perceptions may well
be being constructed at, say, the program level, for the first time. The
executive may have well reorganized lower-level control systems whose
perceptions contribute to the newly constructed perception that is to be
controlled over some long time, but there is no corresponding organization of
the actions of those lower-level systems. Like the perception to be controlled,
the output organization must be constructed for the new purpose. That, I
suspect, is what “planning” means.

Martin

No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
Version: 8.0.238 / Virus Database: 270.11.31/2029 - Release Date: 03/29/09 16:56:00

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.0832 MST)]

(Gavin Ritz 2008.03.31.11.40NZT)

Further to my last email Fred, you use a very American business school model
in your domains of performance (and considering) the American way has
dominated many aspects of the business world it must be more robust than
other ways. Of this I'm not so sure.

Me either.

Actually your domains I think can be blinding to aspects of business as if
they don't exist and not important, and in many respects your domains also
force one to behave as if they are unconnected.

I don't see that but apparently you do.

The fact that you have finance as a domain already colours your perception.

The fact that I have anything as a domain colors my perceptions.

QUESTION how is this relevant to PCT.

I don't think it is but that doesn't bother me. I was trying to figure out how PCT was relevant to it - "it" being interventions by managers in pursuit of goals. I've concluded that PCT is indeed relevant to managerial behaviors but it doesn't inform interventions. For that, something else is needed.

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"

Hi,
Have you seen the Viable System Model, a model of organisational structure
based on cybernetics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_System_Model
It is much about managing controlled variables (Ashby Essential Variables).

Arthur

-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----

···

Van: Control Systems Group Network (CSGnet)
[mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] Namens nickols@att.net
Verzonden: 31 March 2009 17:37
Aan: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Onderwerp: Re: Proximal and distal controlled variables (was ..(was..))

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.0832 MST)]

(Gavin Ritz 2008.03.31.11.40NZT)

Further to my last email Fred, you use a very American business school

model

in your domains of performance (and considering) the American way has
dominated many aspects of the business world it must be more robust than
other ways. Of this I'm not so sure.

Me either.

Actually your domains I think can be blinding to aspects of business as if
they don't exist and not important, and in many respects your domains also
force one to behave as if they are unconnected.

I don't see that but apparently you do.

The fact that you have finance as a domain already colours your

perception.

The fact that I have anything as a domain colors my perceptions.

QUESTION how is this relevant to PCT.

I don't think it is but that doesn't bother me. I was trying to figure out
how PCT was relevant to it - "it" being interventions by managers in pursuit
of goals. I've concluded that PCT is indeed relevant to managerial
behaviors but it doesn't inform interventions. For that, something else is
needed.

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"

From Bill Powers (2009.03.31.1022 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.0832 MST) --

I was trying to figure out how PCT was relevant to it - "it" being interventions by managers in pursuit of goals. I've concluded that PCT is indeed relevant to managerial behaviors but it doesn't inform interventions. For that, something else is needed.

Yes, a working control system and a reorganizing system.

An intervention has to be based on a desired result, otherwise it's just reshuffling a deck of cards (I'll get to that). You have to know what the goal is. And you also have to know what the actual present situation is, so you know in what direction the intervention should act, and when it should stop. Furthermore, you must compare the current situation with the goal as frequently as you can, not just because unexpected disturbances can arise but because you need fairly continuous information about rates of change. You need to know if what you're doing is making matters better or worse.

If you have a systematic way of getting from where you are to the goal, of course you will use it. But you still have to monitor for the effects of disturbances, and if the environment changes in certain ways, your foolproof method may stop working. Or it may simply miss the target so the errors which were getting smaller start getting bigger again.

If you have no ready-made method that still works, then you have to go back to the place where new methods come from: reorganization. You try something literally at random, making a small change and seeing whether the errors get larger or smaller. You keep trying different things at random until (a) the whole project collapses and you die, or (b) errors start to get smaller. If errors start to get smaller, you continue to make changes in the same direction, continuing to monitor the error. If the errors stop getting smaller and start getting larger, you try changing things in a different direction. You keep changing directions until the errors start getting smaller again. I'm sure you recognize this principle: it's E.-coli reorganization.

So what is left to cover? Either you already have an organized method to get to the goal, or you don't. If you don't, you reorganize until you find a method that starts getting you closer to the goal.

What you've really been asking about is what methods might be used to attain control in specific circumstances. The last one was what method will work when there is a long delay between acting and seeing the result of the action. I would suggest using a "slowing factor" so you don't try to get to the goal in a single jump, but move partway toward it and then recompute the error. If you try to get there in a single jump you will find that the loop gain is very low. The amount of action implied by a given amount of error in a good tight control system is many times, 10 or 100 times, the amount actually required to get to the goal -- but only a 1/10 or 1/100 of it is allowed actually to take place on any one iteration. The result will be that 90% or 99% of the effect of any continuing disturbance will be cancelled instead of only the 50% you would get if the output function produced only enough final output to cancel the error. So this is a systematic way of achieving a "distal" goal as you described it.

However, disturbances that come and go too rapidly can't be counteracted by any variant of this design, so you have to turn to either reducing the delay, or reducing the disturbances. And that just about exhausts the possibilities. Your manager may look angry and threaten to fire you if you don't come up with some other solution, but all you can do about that is start cleaning out your desk. Or recommend that something be tried at random (lying, of course, so the manager will think you have an organized plan). Or teach the manager the facts of life.

Exactly what other kind of solution were you looking for?

Best,

Bill P.

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"
--=======AVGMAIL-49D239B70000=======
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Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
Content-Disposition: inline
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No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
Version: 8.0.238 / Virus Database: 270.11.34/2032 - Release Date: 03/31/09 0=
6:02:00

--=======AVGMAIL-49D239B70000=======--

Yes, I'm familiar with Stafford Beer's and Ross Ashby's works. But I hadn't seen this Wikipedia entry before. Thanks for the pointer.

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"
  
-------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Arthur Dijkstra <artdijk@XS4ALL.NL>

Hi,
Have you seen the Viable System Model, a model of organisational structure
based on cybernetics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_System_Model
It is much about managing controlled variables (Ashby Essential Variables).

Arthur

-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
Van: Control Systems Group Network (CSGnet)
[mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] Namens nickols@att.net
Verzonden: 31 March 2009 17:37
Aan: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Onderwerp: Re: Proximal and distal controlled variables (was ..(was..))

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.0832 MST)]

> (Gavin Ritz 2008.03.31.11.40NZT)
>
>
>
> Further to my last email Fred, you use a very American business school
model
> in your domains of performance (and considering) the American way has
> dominated many aspects of the business world it must be more robust than
> other ways. Of this I'm not so sure.

Me either.

> Actually your domains I think can be blinding to aspects of business as if
> they don't exist and not important, and in many respects your domains also
> force one to behave as if they are unconnected.

I don't see that but apparently you do.

> The fact that you have finance as a domain already colours your
perception.

The fact that I have anything as a domain colors my perceptions.

> QUESTION how is this relevant to PCT.

I don't think it is but that doesn't bother me. I was trying to figure out
how PCT was relevant to it - "it" being interventions by managers in pursuit
of goals. I've concluded that PCT is indeed relevant to managerial
behaviors but it doesn't inform interventions. For that, something else is
needed.

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.1142 MST)]

First, a quick note about my use of MST time above. We're in Tucson and Arizona doesn't shift to daylight savings time.)

Now, on to Bill's response to my post.
  

From: Bill Powers <powers_w@FRONTIER.NET>

From Bill Powers (2009.03.31.1022 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.0832 MST) --

>I was trying to figure out how PCT was relevant to it - "it" being
>interventions by managers in pursuit of goals. I've concluded that
>PCT is indeed relevant to managerial behaviors but it doesn't inform
>interventions. For that, something else is needed.

Yes, a working control system and a reorganizing system.

An intervention has to be based on a desired result, otherwise it's
just reshuffling a deck of cards (I'll get to that). You have to know
what the goal is. And you also have to know what the actual present
situation is, so you know in what direction the intervention should
act, and when it should stop. Furthermore, you must compare the
current situation with the goal as frequently as you can, not just
because unexpected disturbances can arise but because you need fairly
continuous information about rates of change. You need to know if
what you're doing is making matters better or worse.

I understand and agree with what you say above.

If you have a systematic way of getting from where you are to the
goal, of course you will use it. But you still have to monitor for
the effects of disturbances, and if the environment changes in
certain ways, your foolproof method may stop working. Or it may
simply miss the target so the errors which were getting smaller start
getting bigger again.

I understand and agree with what you say above.

If you have no ready-made method that still works, then you have to
go back to the place where new methods come from: reorganization. You
try something literally at random, making a small change and seeing
whether the errors get larger or smaller. You keep trying different
things at random until (a) the whole project collapses and you die,
or (b) errors start to get smaller. If errors start to get smaller,
you continue to make changes in the same direction, continuing to
monitor the error. If the errors stop getting smaller and start
getting larger, you try changing things in a different direction. You
keep changing directions until the errors start getting smaller
again. I'm sure you recognize this principle: it's E.-coli reorganization.

I think I understand and agree with what you say above.

So what is left to cover? Either you already have an organized method
to get to the goal, or you don't. If you don't, you reorganize until
you find a method that starts getting you closer to the goal.

I understand but I don't think I agree with what you say above. More on that in a moment.

What you've really been asking about is what methods might be used to
attain control in specific circumstances. The last one was what
method will work when there is a long delay between acting and seeing
the result of the action. I would suggest using a "slowing factor" so
you don't try to get to the goal in a single jump, but move partway
toward it and then recompute the error. If you try to get there in a
single jump you will find that the loop gain is very low. The amount
of action implied by a given amount of error in a good tight control
system is many times, 10 or 100 times, the amount actually required
to get to the goal -- but only a 1/10 or 1/100 of it is allowed
actually to take place on any one iteration. The result will be that
90% or 99% of the effect of any continuing disturbance will be
cancelled instead of only the 50% you would get if the output
function produced only enough final output to cancel the error. So
this is a systematic way of achieving a "distal" goal as you described it.

I'll have to ponder how "slowing" might come into play. I think it relates to what I have sometimes called "successive approximations" and also to "chunking" and "small steps" and other terms used to refer to "inching your way along" toward a goal state.

However, disturbances that come and go too rapidly can't be
counteracted by any variant of this design, so you have to turn to
either reducing the delay, or reducing the disturbances. And that
just about exhausts the possibilities. Your manager may look angry
and threaten to fire you if you don't come up with some other
solution, but all you can do about that is start cleaning out your
desk. Or recommend that something be tried at random (lying, of
course, so the manager will think you have an organized plan). Or
teach the manager the facts of life.

Exactly what other kind of solution were you looking for?

What I'm zeroing in on is the situation in which a manager is aiming for a result that is removed in space and time from his/her immediate actions. This is the kind of thing where the manager changes something "over here" and looks and waits for the result "over there." This involves changing something in the structure of the situation at one point (known as "the point of intervention" or PoI) and evaluating its effects at another point (known as "the point of evaluation" or PoE). PoI and PoE are somehow connected. A careful analysis of the structure of the situation (usefully viewed as a network of variables or elements and their relationships) can often reveal what Newell and Simon called "the solution path" (i.e., that set of linkages connecting what you can directly change with the places elsewhere where you want to see certain effects.

I know how to do that kind of analysis and all I was trying to do was link it to the manager's behavior. So, in my book, PCT explains quite nicely the behavior of the manager. And, I think control theory in general provides a nice explanation of efforts to control or manage those distant results/effects. What has been missing is how to link "over here" with "over there." That's what I've been working on. How do you tie financial results to managerial actions? How do you link financial and operational results? How do you link and connect, behavioral effects, operational results, and financial results?

I think I'm getting a handle on it but time will tell. In any case, I don't think this "intervention stuff" is particularly germane to PCT per se, so I'll keep mum.

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"

(Gavin Ritz 2008.01.04.9.00NZT)

Arthur I have ploughed through all of Beers books on VSM (and an expensive
library of books at that) and in vain seeking something that can actually be
effectively applied to organisations. Sadly Beers work is really unwieldy,
cumbersome and in some instances plain wrong. The biggest mistake he makes
is that he says the channels between systems becomes overloaded under high
variety that's because he never made the connection that it's the
individual's capability that needs to be applied to the size of the role.

His book on Designing Freedom page 73 really brings this point home, and
clarified for me that VSM is dead in the water.

Regards
Gavin

Hi,
Have you seen the Viable System Model, a model of organisational structure
based on cybernetics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_System_Model
It is much about managing controlled variables (Ashby Essential Variables).

Arthur

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.0832 MST)]

(Gavin Ritz 2008.03.31.11.40NZT)

Further to my last email Fred, you use a very American business school

model

in your domains of performance (and considering) the American way has
dominated many aspects of the business world it must be more robust than
other ways. Of this I'm not so sure.

Me either.

Actually your domains I think can be blinding to aspects of business as if
they don't exist and not important, and in many respects your domains also
force one to behave as if they are unconnected.

I don't see that but apparently you do.

The fact that you have finance as a domain already colours your

perception.

The fact that I have anything as a domain colors my perceptions.

QUESTION how is this relevant to PCT.

I don't think it is but that doesn't bother me. I was trying to figure out
how PCT was relevant to it - "it" being interventions by managers in pursuit
of goals. I've concluded that PCT is indeed relevant to managerial
behaviors but it doesn't inform interventions. For that, something else is
needed.

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"

(Gavin Ritz 2009.01.09.9.20NZT)

Arthur the biggest kick I got out of Beer's work was building a heuristic
machine from Beer's book Brain of the Firm for my daughter's science project
(about 8 year ago I think)-the funny part was the teacher couldn't see the
purpose of the machine. My daughter clearly did- highlighted the teachers
capability.

Regards
Gavin

Hi,
Have you seen the Viable System Model, a model of organisational structure
based on cybernetics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_System_Model
It is much about managing controlled variables (Ashby Essential Variables).

Arthur

[From Fred Nickols (2009.03.31.0832 MST)]

(Gavin Ritz 2008.03.31.11.40NZT)

Further to my last email Fred, you use a very American business school

model

in your domains of performance (and considering) the American way has
dominated many aspects of the business world it must be more robust than
other ways. Of this I'm not so sure.

Me either.

Actually your domains I think can be blinding to aspects of business as if
they don't exist and not important, and in many respects your domains also
force one to behave as if they are unconnected.

I don't see that but apparently you do.

The fact that you have finance as a domain already colours your

perception.

The fact that I have anything as a domain colors my perceptions.

QUESTION how is this relevant to PCT.

I don't think it is but that doesn't bother me. I was trying to figure out
how PCT was relevant to it - "it" being interventions by managers in pursuit
of goals. I've concluded that PCT is indeed relevant to managerial
behaviors but it doesn't inform interventions. For that, something else is
needed.

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"

[From Bill Powers (2009.03.31.2022 MDT)]

> Exactly what other kind of solution were you looking for?

This is the kind of thing where the manager changes something "over here" and looks and waits for the result "over there." This involves changing something in the structure of the situation at one point (known as "the point of intervention" or PoI) and evaluating its effects at another point (known as "the point of evaluation" or PoE). PoI and PoE are somehow connected. A careful analysis of the structure of the situation (usefully viewed as a network of variables or elements and their relationships) can often reveal what Newell and Simon called "the solution path" (i.e., that set of linkages connecting what you can directly change with the places elsewhere where you want to see certain effects.

This approach is aimed at finding a systematic method of affecting and then controlling the distal variable. It is itself based on other systematic methods, such as statistical analysis or analyzing networks of partial differential equations (and I suppose, often, both). The "linkages" are ways in which one variable depends on other variables. If you succeed in doing this, then of course you don't need to reorganize; the control systems you already have are more efficient than reorganization can be, because they don't ever produce effects in the wrong direction.

I know how to do that kind of analysis and all I was trying to do was link it to the manager's behavior.

But if you could really do this, why would there be any problems left? Wondering about that leads me to ask if this method is really as cut-and-dried as you describe it. Do these analyses always work? Even without disturbances? Of course if there are unexpected disturbances, you can do the right thing at the PoI and get the wrong result at the PoE. But discounting that, which I'm sure you know all about, are these analyses always so thorough and correct that you can simply do them and mark the problem as solved? If so, you don't need any particular help from PCT.

So, in my book, PCT explains quite nicely the behavior of the manager. And, I think control theory in general provides a nice explanation of efforts to control or manage those distant results/effects. What has been missing is how to link "over here" with "over there." That's what I've been working on. How do you tie financial results to managerial actions? How do you link financial and operational results? How do you link and connect, behavioral effects, operational results, and financial results?

Are you saying that it's not quite as simple as just applying "operations research" or "system analysis" and solving the equations? If so, maybe there is still something PCT can contribute, particularly the principles of E. coli reorganization.

The usual engineering approach to problems of this sort is the kind you describe: you try to analyse the system and trace out all the causal paths from PoI to PoE. Each link is investigated and represented as an equation. When you have traced all the relevant paths, you stuff the equations into a computer that can solve N differential equations in N unknowns, where N can be a number in the tens, hundreds, or thousands, and that gives you the coefficient matrices that convert actions at the PoI into quantitative effects at the PoE. You may have to do some approximating to get equations that can be solved this way.

Unless, of course, it doesn't work at all, which it doesn't when you can't trace out all the important causal paths.

This is where reorganization comes in. A control system doesn't actually have to know HOW its actions cause changes in the variable it controls. All it has to know is what the distal effect of a given proximal action is. It alters its actions by watching the result, not by watching the actions. Let me describe briefly how PCT-style reorganization would be applied here.

If you have, say, 100 variables you can manipulate at the PoI, you vary them in some arbitrary way and watch to see what the effects are on the variables at the PoE that you're interested in. You don't bother with trying to trace out the causal pathways; if you could do that you wouldn't still be here looking for a solution.

Let's say you have a set of 100 weights that you use to determine how much effect your action (say, moving a mouse) is going to have on each of the 100 variables at the PoI. Over at the PoE, let's say you have one variable you're interested in. What you want to know is whether an action at the PoI causes an increase or a decrease in in that PoE variable (after some delay). If you knew that, you could just keep comparing that distal variable with a reference level and correct the error by a suitable change in your action. But the question is, how should your action be connected to the 100 system variables that you can effect right here where you are?

The E. coli reorganization method starts by picking 100 arbitrary numbers between -1 and 1. This is the main set of weights. There's a single action, like moving a mouse, that you can vary. The number representing the mouse position is multiplied by one of those weights and the result determines the value of one of those 100 proximal variables that you can affect. You do this for each of the 100 variables, so moving the mouse alters each variable by a different amount, some positive and some negative, according to the weights in the main array of numbers.

Now you try to control that distal variable. You pick some pattern of reference conditions, and vary the mouse position to try to make the distal variable vary so as to keep the error small. The reorganizing system keeps track of the error -- actually, the absolute value of the error. Only the amount of error matters; that's what you're trying to minimize. You would want to have a computer moving a virtual mouse, rather than doing it yourself. When I say "you" do something, I mean your computer does it.

Now I have to mention another set of 100 numbers, which we can call the "adjustment" numbers. These are very small numbers, also chosen at random but in the range of maybe -0.0001 to + 0.0001. Every time you change your action you measure the error, and you also add these adjustment numbers to the first set of 100 numbers, one adjustment number always going with the same member of the first set. So as you continue to control, the main set of weighting numbers is slowly changing. Since the same adjustment number is being added each time to its target number in the main array, we have the equivalent of E. coli swimming in a straight line, but in a 100-dimensional hyperspace.

As those main numbers slowly change, the degree of control of the distal variable slowly changes; the average absolute error signal in this control system is slowly changing (at first, of course, the error is very large). That change in the error signal is what the reorganizing system watches. If the error is getting smaller, the reorganizing system does nothing; the same adjustment numbers go on adding to their respective target numbers and E. coli goes on swimming in the same direction. But if the error starts to increase, E. coli "tumbles."

A tumble amounts to nothing more than generating a new set of the small adjustment numbers at random, between -0.0001 and + 0.0001. What this does is change the relative proportions by which the main weighting numbers are being increased or decreased as control continues. And that randomly changes the direction in which E. coli is swimming in hyperspace.

If the error is still increasing, another tumble takes place right away. If it's decreasing, the reorganizing system does nothing but add the same small positive and negative adjustements to the main set of numbers. So increasing error always causes a random change of direction, and decreasing error leaves the direction of change the same. You can see the inevitable result: zero error, or somewhere close to zero. All those numbers connecting the mouse movements to the 100 proximal variables approach the values that allow the best possible control of the distal variable.

One small added design feature is that as the error decreases, you accordingly decrease the amount of effect every adjustment number is having on its target number, so that as the error gets smaller the changes in the target numbers get smaller and smaller, becoming zero when the error is zero.

So you end up with the best pattern of changes in the proximal variables for controlling the distal variable. And you never know why that is the best pattern, because this method does not rely on analyzing the system at all.

You can actually do this with up to 100 distal variables -- that is, the same number of distal variables as the number of proximal variables at the PoI. It takes longer to do 100 at a time, but not too much longer. In the new book, I show this working with 14 control systems at the same time, each controlling a joint angle in an arm and hand, with the fingers moving together as in a mitten.

Here's the main point: this method achieves control of a variable without any knowledge of the linkages between the actions and the controlled variable. I kind of suspect that this is what you need -- I suspect that all those causal linkages are not quite as well known as your initial description seemed to be implying.

I am, of course, simplifying this approach considerably, because you have to have some basic pieces of the system in place before this can work. You have to find the right proximal variables, some of which might be rates of change or accelerations rather than just momentary values. But if you have some problems of this nature that are partially solved, you can use this method to improve the solution. In the arm model I referred to, the weights at the proximal end are all zero to start with so it really starts from scratch. If you have a partial solution, you don't have as far to go.

A note to Bruce Abbott. Wouldn't it be interesting to put a human being into the loop we use for E. coli demos? Let the computer vary the weights to make the tracking errors as small as possible. Could that work? Imagine a car that could reorganize itself so the driver had the best possible control of its speed and direction, adjusting itself for each of its drivers. With a fingerprint recognizer, the driver would automatically call up his parameters from the last time. And if the driver was drunk, the system would try to adapt to that, too, without nagging.

Best,

Bill P.

[Martin Taylor 2009.04.01.00.33]

[From Bill Powers (2009.03.31.2022 MDT)]

So, in my book, PCT explains quite nicely the behavior of the manager. And, I think control theory in general provides a nice explanation of efforts to control or manage those distant results/effects. What has been missing is how to link "over here" with "over there." That's what I've been working on. How do you tie financial results to managerial actions? How do you link financial and operational results? How do you link and connect, behavioral effects, operational results, and financial results?

Are you saying that it's not quite as simple as just applying "operations research" or "system analysis" and solving the equations? If so, maybe there is still something PCT can contribute, particularly the principles of E. coli reorganization.
...
The E. coli reorganization method starts by picking 100 arbitrary numbers between -1 and 1. This is the main set of weights. There's a single action, like moving a mouse, that you can vary. The number representing the mouse position is multiplied by one of those weights and the result determines the value of one of those 100 proximal variables that you can affect. You do this for each of the 100 variables, so moving the mouse alters each variable by a different amount, some positive and some negative, according to the weights in the main array of numbers.

Now you try to control that distal variable. You pick some pattern of reference conditions, and vary the mouse position to try to make the distal variable vary so as to keep the error small.

As I understood Fred's problem, a "distal" variable is one for which you won't know the effect of your action for months or years into the future. Also, it could be one for which you get only one shot at influencing it. Choosing the wrong new CEO is not easily undone. I don't think e-coli would usually be very helpful for his problem. For it to be useful, the system has to be able to observe whether error is increasing or decreasing after changes in control actions, and to do that before inducing a reorganization event, quite a lot of times. It needs to be able quickly (in the time-scale of the problem) to observe the environmental feedback effects of actions. It's good for what Fred called "proximal" variables, not, I think, distal ones.

Martin

[From Fred Nickols (2009.04.01.0656 MST)]

Regarding Bill's post below.

First off, I think Martin's reply pretty well captures my views regarding
many cases (i.e., time lag and distance are too great for experimentation
and, on occasion, the action is a one-time, unique situation). No
experimentation permitted.

Second, to reply directly to Bill's comment, no, establishing the linkages
between PoI and PoE isn't as cut and dried as I might have made it sound.
And, "disturbances" do indeed upset the old apple cart, hence the
requirement to remain flexible and adapt to changing circumstances
(something living control systems are pretty good at). Still, there is much
merit in working to improve our understanding of those linkages.

Third, operations research and all those equations loaded into a computer is
way beyond my capability. I'll leave that to the pros in that area, just as
I leave system dynamics modeling to the SD folks. I'm striving to improve
my layman's grasp of things.

Fourth, one of the big problems with mapping out those linkages is that the
structure itself is often in flux. Reorganizations, process reengineering,
changes in the way the books are kept, personnel turnover, all these change
those linkages. But, in general, I still believe the basic solution paths
can be identified (and probably modeled to some extent).

Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting LLC
nickols@att.net | www.nickols.us

            "Assistance at a Distance"SM

···

-----Original Message-----
From: Control Systems Group Network (CSGnet)
[mailto:CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU] On Behalf Of Bill Powers
Sent: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 9:08 PM
To: CSGNET@LISTSERV.ILLINOIS.EDU
Subject: Re: Proximal and distal controlled variables (was ..(was..))

[From Bill Powers (2009.03.31.2022 MDT)]

> Exactly what other kind of solution were you looking for?

This is the kind of thing where the manager changes something
"over here" and looks and waits for the result "over there." This
involves changing something in the structure of the situation at
one point (known as "the point of intervention" or PoI) and
evaluating its effects at another point (known as "the point of
evaluation" or PoE). PoI and PoE are somehow connected. A careful
analysis of the structure of the situation (usefully viewed as a
network of variables or elements and their relationships) can often
reveal what Newell and Simon called "the solution path" (i.e., that
set of linkages connecting what you can directly change with the
places elsewhere where you want to see certain effects.

This approach is aimed at finding a systematic method of affecting
and then controlling the distal variable. It is itself based on other
systematic methods, such as statistical analysis or analyzing
networks of partial differential equations (and I suppose, often,
both). The "linkages" are ways in which one variable depends on other
variables. If you succeed in doing this, then of course you don't
need to reorganize; the control systems you already have are more
efficient than reorganization can be, because they don't ever produce
effects in the wrong direction.

I know how to do that kind of analysis and all I was trying to do
was link it to the manager's behavior.

But if you could really do this, why would there be any problems
left? Wondering about that leads me to ask if this method is really
as cut-and-dried as you describe it. Do these analyses always work?
Even without disturbances? Of course if there are unexpected
disturbances, you can do the right thing at the PoI and get the wrong
result at the PoE. But discounting that, which I'm sure you know all
about, are these analyses always so thorough and correct that you can
simply do them and mark the problem as solved? If so, you don't need
any particular help from PCT.

So, in my book, PCT explains quite nicely the behavior of the
manager. And, I think control theory in general provides a nice
explanation of efforts to control or manage those distant
results/effects. What has been missing is how to link "over here"
with "over there." That's what I've been working on. How do you
tie financial results to managerial actions? How do you link
financial and operational results? How do you link and connect,
behavioral effects, operational results, and financial results?

Are you saying that it's not quite as simple as just applying
"operations research" or "system analysis" and solving the equations?
If so, maybe there is still something PCT can contribute,
particularly the principles of E. coli reorganization.

The usual engineering approach to problems of this sort is the kind
you describe: you try to analyse the system and trace out all the
causal paths from PoI to PoE. Each link is investigated and
represented as an equation. When you have traced all the relevant
paths, you stuff the equations into a computer that can solve N
differential equations in N unknowns, where N can be a number in the
tens, hundreds, or thousands, and that gives you the coefficient
matrices that convert actions at the PoI into quantitative effects at
the PoE. You may have to do some approximating to get equations that
can be solved this way.

Unless, of course, it doesn't work at all, which it doesn't when you
can't trace out all the important causal paths.

This is where reorganization comes in. A control system doesn't
actually have to know HOW its actions cause changes in the variable
it controls. All it has to know is what the distal effect of a given
proximal action is. It alters its actions by watching the result, not
by watching the actions. Let me describe briefly how PCT-style
reorganization would be applied here.

If you have, say, 100 variables you can manipulate at the PoI, you
vary them in some arbitrary way and watch to see what the effects are
on the variables at the PoE that you're interested in. You don't
bother with trying to trace out the causal pathways; if you could do
that you wouldn't still be here looking for a solution.

Let's say you have a set of 100 weights that you use to determine how
much effect your action (say, moving a mouse) is going to have on
each of the 100 variables at the PoI. Over at the PoE, let's say you
have one variable you're interested in. What you want to know is
whether an action at the PoI causes an increase or a decrease in in
that PoE variable (after some delay). If you knew that, you could
just keep comparing that distal variable with a reference level and
correct the error by a suitable change in your action. But the
question is, how should your action be connected to the 100 system
variables that you can effect right here where you are?

The E. coli reorganization method starts by picking 100 arbitrary
numbers between -1 and 1. This is the main set of weights. There's a
single action, like moving a mouse, that you can vary. The number
representing the mouse position is multiplied by one of those weights
and the result determines the value of one of those 100 proximal
variables that you can affect. You do this for each of the 100
variables, so moving the mouse alters each variable by a different
amount, some positive and some negative, according to the weights in
the main array of numbers.

Now you try to control that distal variable. You pick some pattern of
reference conditions, and vary the mouse position to try to make the
distal variable vary so as to keep the error small. The reorganizing
system keeps track of the error -- actually, the absolute value of
the error. Only the amount of error matters; that's what you're
trying to minimize. You would want to have a computer moving a
virtual mouse, rather than doing it yourself. When I say "you" do
something, I mean your computer does it.

Now I have to mention another set of 100 numbers, which we can call
the "adjustment" numbers. These are very small numbers, also chosen
at random but in the range of maybe -0.0001 to + 0.0001. Every time
you change your action you measure the error, and you also add these
adjustment numbers to the first set of 100 numbers, one adjustment
number always going with the same member of the first set. So as you
continue to control, the main set of weighting numbers is slowly
changing. Since the same adjustment number is being added each time
to its target number in the main array, we have the equivalent of E.
coli swimming in a straight line, but in a 100-dimensional hyperspace.

As those main numbers slowly change, the degree of control of the
distal variable slowly changes; the average absolute error signal in
this control system is slowly changing (at first, of course, the
error is very large). That change in the error signal is what the
reorganizing system watches. If the error is getting smaller, the
reorganizing system does nothing; the same adjustment numbers go on
adding to their respective target numbers and E. coli goes on
swimming in the same direction. But if the error starts to increase,
E. coli "tumbles."

A tumble amounts to nothing more than generating a new set of the
small adjustment numbers at random, between -0.0001 and + 0.0001.
What this does is change the relative proportions by which the main
weighting numbers are being increased or decreased as control
continues. And that randomly changes the direction in which E. coli
is swimming in hyperspace.

If the error is still increasing, another tumble takes place right
away. If it's decreasing, the reorganizing system does nothing but
add the same small positive and negative adjustements to the main set
of numbers. So increasing error always causes a random change of
direction, and decreasing error leaves the direction of change the
same. You can see the inevitable result: zero error, or somewhere
close to zero. All those numbers connecting the mouse movements to
the 100 proximal variables approach the values that allow the best
possible control of the distal variable.

One small added design feature is that as the error decreases, you
accordingly decrease the amount of effect every adjustment number is
having on its target number, so that as the error gets smaller the
changes in the target numbers get smaller and smaller, becoming zero
when the error is zero.

So you end up with the best pattern of changes in the proximal
variables for controlling the distal variable. And you never know why
that is the best pattern, because this method does not rely on
analyzing the system at all.

You can actually do this with up to 100 distal variables -- that is,
the same number of distal variables as the number of proximal
variables at the PoI. It takes longer to do 100 at a time, but not
too much longer. In the new book, I show this working with 14 control
systems at the same time, each controlling a joint angle in an arm
and hand, with the fingers moving together as in a mitten.

Here's the main point: this method achieves control of a variable
without any knowledge of the linkages between the actions and the
controlled variable. I kind of suspect that this is what you need --
I suspect that all those causal linkages are not quite as well known
as your initial description seemed to be implying.

I am, of course, simplifying this approach considerably, because you
have to have some basic pieces of the system in place before this can
work. You have to find the right proximal variables, some of which
might be rates of change or accelerations rather than just momentary
values. But if you have some problems of this nature that are
partially solved, you can use this method to improve the solution. In
the arm model I referred to, the weights at the proximal end are all
zero to start with so it really starts from scratch. If you have a
partial solution, you don't have as far to go.

A note to Bruce Abbott. Wouldn't it be interesting to put a human
being into the loop we use for E. coli demos? Let the computer vary
the weights to make the tracking errors as small as possible. Could
that work? Imagine a car that could reorganize itself so the driver
had the best possible control of its speed and direction, adjusting
itself for each of its drivers. With a fingerprint recognizer, the
driver would automatically call up his parameters from the last time.
And if the driver was drunk, the system would try to adapt to that,
too, without nagging.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Bill Powers (2009.04.01.0759 MDT)]

Martin Taylor 2009.04.01.00.33

As I understood Fred's problem, a "distal" variable is one for which you won't know the effect of your action for months or years into the future. Also, it could be one for which you get only one shot at influencing it. Choosing the wrong new CEO is not easily undone. I don't think e-coli would usually be very helpful for his problem.

You're absolutely right, it would be useless. So would any other way of trying to control such a variable. Rather than trying to make plans of that sort, it would be much better to develop an ability to handle problems as they come up, which of course you have to do anyway because such long-range predictions never work very well (outside of celestial mechanics where we have big chunks of matter coasting in a vacuum).

I was thinking more in terms of delays like an hour or a day. And reorganization on a schedule of one change per day or longer is likely to be a lifetime affair, or transgenerational. Look how long it has taken weather predictions to reach an accuracy of 85% or so in forecasting the high temperature for 1, 2 and 3 days ahead. OK, I looked:

http://www.customweather.com/accuracy/2003study.html

For it to be useful, the system has to be able to observe whether error is increasing or decreasing after changes in control actions, and to do that before inducing a reorganization event, quite a lot of times. It needs to be able quickly (in the time-scale of the problem) to observe the environmental feedback effects of actions. It's good for what Fred called "proximal" variables, not, I think, distal ones.

If that's the scale Fred is thinking of, you're right. Probably the best you can do is observe statistical relationships and hope they don't change too fast. But that gets you into the realm of low-reliability predictions, and I don't think that's what Fred is hoping for. Or is that low-validity?

Best,
Bill P.

[From Bill Powers (23009.04.01.0936 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (2009.04.01.0656 MST) --

Fourth, one of the big problems with mapping out those linkages is that the
structure itself is often in flux. Reorganizations, process reengineering,
changes in the way the books are kept, personnel turnover, all these change
those linkages. But, in general, I still believe the basic solution paths
can be identified (and probably modeled to some extent).

"To some extent?" I should think you would want at least a 50-50 chance of a correct prediction, which you could get by tossing a coin. I think there's a point where you simply have to give up on trying to predict and turn to developing contingency plans, or simply improve your control systems so you can handle whatever disturbances come up (which is roughly what contingency planning is about anyway). When models are too approximate, you can be enticed into trusting them too much, and that's probably worse than having no model at all. If you admit that you have no idea what to expect, you will remain alert to all possibilities instead of only those you have allowed for.

I think part of good modeling is knowing when you don't have any good model.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Fred Nickols (2009.04.01.0848 MST)]

···

-------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Bill Powers <powers_w@FRONTIER.NET>

[From Bill Powers (23009.04.01.0936 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (2009.04.01.0656 MST) --

>Fourth, one of the big problems with mapping out those linkages is that the
>structure itself is often in flux. Reorganizations, process reengineering,
>changes in the way the books are kept, personnel turnover, all these change
>those linkages. But, in general, I still believe the basic solution paths
>can be identified (and probably modeled to some extent).

"To some extent?" I should think you would want at least a 50-50
chance of a correct prediction, which you could get by tossing a
coin. I think there's a point where you simply have to give up on
trying to predict and turn to developing contingency plans, or simply
improve your control systems so you can handle whatever disturbances
come up (which is roughly what contingency planning is about anyway).
When models are too approximate, you can be enticed into trusting
them too much, and that's probably worse than having no model at all.
If you admit that you have no idea what to expect, you will remain
alert to all possibilities instead of only those you have allowed for.

I think part of good modeling is knowing when you don't have any good model.

My last boss stated in a meeting that he'd settle for being right half the time. I wouldn't and don't.

By "model," I don't mean equations or computer programs that attempt to simulate the real world in action. All I mean is a graphic representation of the structure of the situation so that one can consider what is likely to happen "over there" if you change something "over here." I prefer to think of it as doing a better job of informing decisions, not predicting the future.

If I could predict the future, I'd be at the race track.

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"