Modeling Language Spotlight
Appropriate Response Model
January 22, 1997

Editor's Note: When I first encountered this model in 1984 it struck me as one of the most interesting and useful of the models. Yet it is one of the least used and explained in the entire modeling language. In part this is due to the somewhat ambiguous and general meaning of the terms. This article should help Knowledge Workers in the network and our clients to grapple with the model in a productive, yet challenging fashion.

Like the other models of the MG Taylor Modeling Language, the Appropriate Response Model is protected by copyright. You can use it only by meeting these four conditions.

The Basic Model
The Appropriate Response model is used as a filtering tool in the Engineering stage of the Creative Process to test various designs for fitness before one, several, or a composite of them is chosen for implementation.

The model has six elements grouped into two sets of three. The first set includes functional qualities: Efficacy, Scope, Nature. The second set embraces living system capabilities: Sustainability, Self-Correction, Anticipatory. These divisions seem somewhat arbitrary. The ability of a system to anticipate future events can be seen as either a functional quality or a living system capability. However, the ability to extrapolate events into the future, the ability to use this extrapolation to correct behavior in real time, and the ability to grow and reproduce oneself are characteristics that clearly set living systems apart from mechanical or non-living systems. A hammer produces a desired effect (efficacy), is built with a particular scope of work in mind (scope), and has qualities that keep its parts requisite with each other (nature). However, it is not sustainable; rather it degrades and is incapable of reproduction. It embodies no ability to correct itself or learn. And it certainly cannot anticipate future results--I have a thumb that can testify to that fact!

Here's a graphical representation of the model. Following that is a table which defines each element of the model.


glyph info Element Description
Efficacious This word suffers from infrequent use these days, but it's an elegant term whose meaning fits the model superbly. It's defined as "the power or capacity to produce the desired effect." By contrast, the word effective means "having the intended or expected effect." The difference lies in the use of the word "power." An efficacious design exudes power and this power is efficiently directed to yield predictable results.
Proper Scope This element contains the power inherent in the first element. An excellent design should properly fill its niche and not strive for too much, nor suffer from a timid presence. The boundaries of the design must be clearly defined. This does not mean they must form a contiguous presence, only that by some combination of matter, energy and information the solution is able to distinguish itself clearly from other elements in its environment.
True to Nature A design that is true to nature is composed of elements that support one another, that do not conflict, and whose capabilities are mutually requisite. In a growing seedling, the roots, stem and leaves all remain requisite with one another: the leaves don't photosynthesize too much or too little, the stem is sized just right to provide structural support and the transport of materials up and down. A design should be elegant, all of its parts fitting together in a pleasing fashion that makes people want to employ it.
Anticipatory Designs, or solutions to problems are living systems. As such, they must include the apparatus and processes necessary to use models based on past experience, along with current data gathering to make predictions concerning the future behavior of other systems in the environment. At the lowest level, this serves survival; at higher levels, anticipatory hardware and software enable systems to effectively collaborate with one another to support both the homeostasis and evolution of their collective ecosystem.
Self-Correcting Once a system can make predictions about the future, it must compare these predictions with its current behavior and implement changes to adjust its behavior to bring it into harmony with its future models. In this sense it's bringing its vision of the future back to the present.
Sustainable Finally, a system must be able to survive birth, grow to maturity, and reproduce itself. It must do this without depleting the systems that support its growth, otherwise it will cause its own demise.

 Appropriate Response and the Creative Process
It might help to read a more detailed article on the Seven Stages of the Creative Process model to supplement the following discussion.

The Appropriate Response model is really a gate that divides one stage of the creative process from the next. It's a gauntlet of rites of passage as an idea moves from vision to building and use.

At left is a diagram of the Creative Process Model. There are seven stages beginning with Identity at the top, cycling through Insight and Engineering at the bottom, and ending with Using, which leads to Identity again. Each stage is color coded: Identity is red, Vision orange, Intent yellow, Insight green, and so on. Surrounding each stage are smaller circles, color coded to match the seven main colors of the model's stages. This means that the model is recursive and fractal. The Vision stage, for example, is composed of its own Identity, Intent, Insight, Engineering, Building and Using stages. After all, visions are engineered, built and must be used to be of value.

No one moves around the model in a lockstep, linear fashion. A group may get an idea in Vision that pops them straight through Insight to Engineering. There the idea is challenged and perhaps retreats back to Identity for reevaluation based on new insights. An unforeseen problem encountered in Building will send a design team back to Engineering or Vision for modification. For purposes of this article, however, it will be convenient to imagine a group moving deliberately through the model from one stage to the next.

An Example
The group begins in Identity. It conducts an environmental scan and assembles a model that represents the behavioral modes and evolution of the environment. This model is the product of the Identity stage of the creative process. For it to be truly useful it must pass the criteria of the Appropriate Response. The team asks itself the following questions:

  • Efficacy: does the environmental model embody the power to generate an understanding of the forces at work and our position relative to these forces?
  • Scope: does the environmental model have enough breadth to serve as a useful tool? Does it cover the necessary variables and patterns?
  • Nature: do the pieces of the model fit together and support one another, or are there gaps? Are some portions of the model strategic and others philosophical, creating a mismatch in performance and meaning? Is the model free of "impossible physics", or behaviors that are beyond the envelope of sustainable performance of the systems it is modeling?
  • Anticipatory: Can the model be used to anticipate future events? If the model is rolled back to some past time, can it predict the present? Does it make useful predictions as well as some surprising ones?
  • Self-Correcting: When the model is "run" does it rapidly careen out of control, or are there feedback loops built in that allow a tug and pull between homeostasis, or balance, and growth or evolutionary pressures embodied in positive feedback loops?
  • Sustainable: Is the model resilient under a variety of different inputs? Can the model reproduce itself (be so elegant and attractive that people will be drawn to use it)?

These are not easy questions to think about, much less answer definitively. Generally, groups are more comfortable answering the first three questions. We're comfortable thinking about whether a solution will accomplish its objective, if it's the right size for the job, and whether its pieces will work together in concert. These are all mechanical, mostly linear ways of thinking. Direct cause and effect.

But we're not skilled at thinking about living systems in terms of their ability to reproduce, or as webs of feedback loops all processing messages simultaneously, or as cybernetic systems that predict the future in order to survive.

Our business plans usually include a set of goals, an organizational chart, a description of products, perhaps a description of the processes required to create the products, and a set of financial specifications that detail what success looks like. These components are all necessary but they only address the first three aspects of an Appropriate Response. This means that up until now, we've been building enterprises that are like machines. In the future, this will not do. We will have to GROW enterprises that are more like living systems.

Personal Journal Assignment
Take some time to think about your enterprise from the vantage point of Living Systems Capabilities. Challenge yourself and write components of a business plan that explains:
  • the mechanism of self-correction including positive and negative feedback loops
  • the anticipatory mechanism that the enterprise uses to scan the environment and predict the future (Miller's Living Systems model addresses this mechanism from an information management perspective)
  • the sustainability of the enterprise, and how it goes about reproduction

There are times, of course, when we want to design and build machines and machine-like organizational components. In such cases it would be reasonable to use the functional qualities half of the model.

Here's an intriguing idea. The molecules that make up living cells can be thought of as little machines. In a sense, a cell is composed of a myriad of little machines, along with some structural components, information-bearing molecules, and other molecules that serve as raw materials. How do we get a living system out of non-living entities? The answer is that the quality we call life is an emergent property that results from the catalytic relationship that these molecules have with one another. They facilitate one another's work and one another's reproduction, assembly and repair. This facilitation process allows them to anticipate, self-correct and sustain themselves. So, when you're applying the Appropriate Response model to your enterprise, don't look for the component of your organization that's responsible for anticipation or self-correction, or sustainability. Look instead for a web of components and processes that allow these attributes to emerge.

Using the Model in DesignShop® Processes
Finally, a note concerning the use of the Appropriate Response model in DesignShop processes. If you intend to have the participants use the model directly in breakout groups, it would be wise to give it a fairly robust introduction. Cover the terms and what they mean. It may also be necessary to go into more detail or have the participants directly experience the meaning of the living system capabilities.

  1. Use the model when writing assignments and during the walkthru to test the power and presence of your design before the DesignShop event.

  2. The metaphors exercise (usually Day 1, Scan) is a good way to introduce participants to the model. For example, a team could be assigned an ant colony and asked to describe it in terms of the six elements of the model.

  3. Participants can also be asked to directly relate the model to some historical situation, the emergence of the automobile and associated industries, for example. This is another good Scan exercise.

  4. Use it as a business plan template in Focus or Act. This type of assignment will fail unless the participants have had adequate opportunity to learn about living system capabilities. Allow all of the teams to use traditional business plan templates but have one team use the Appropriate Response model as a template instead.

  5. Use it as a Day 2 (Focus) or Day 3 (Act) exercise straight out of the box. Once the participants have developed interim problems or solutions, have them use the Appropriate Response model as a filter to test the resilience of their work.

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