Modeling Language Spotlight
January 13, 1997

Editor's note: To get the most out of this article, the reader should be familiar with the models Scan Focus Act, Seven Stages of the Creative Process and Ten Step Knowledge Management. By the way, 'Spoze is short for "Suppose".

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

S'poze and the Creative Process
At first glance, the S'poze model seems a duplicate of the Scan Focus Act model. After all, the act of information approaching a system to create an Encounter sounds a lot like the Scan phase [except in this case, it's the incoming information that's proactive, not the system doing the scanning]. The idea of testing the implications of the new information interacting within the existing system--the actual S'poze--sounds like Focus. And the decision whether or not to actually Incorporate the information into the system seems like Act. These phases are shown in the diagram below:

But S'poze and Scan Focus Act are not duplicate models, rather, S'poze links the creative process inherent in Scan Focus Act with the knowledge management process of the Ten Step Knowledge Management model. S'poze deals directly with the management of information as a whole in the total messaging event. [A messaging event refers to the encoding, transduction, transmission, reception, transduction, decoding, association, memory and deciding connected with a message or series of messages and their effect upon some living system.]

Stages and Elements
First let's look at the various stages and elements of the model and then return to developing the case for S'poze as a link between the Creative Process and the Ten Step Knowledge Management model. S'poze has two elements (the Paradigm and the New Information) and three stages (Encounter, S'poze, and Incorporate).

glyph info Stage/Element Description
Encounter At this stage, the system's current Paradigm meets up with a high information messaging event. This means, simply, that the system is experiencing the effect of New Information that does not fit into its current model of how things work--its Paradigm. And it means that the potential effect of this information is of such a magnitude as to compel a conscious decision for handling it. Either it represents a threat and the system must learn new strategies for thwarting it, or it contains a potential benefit and the system must learn how to take advantage of it.
New Information Systems are receiving all kinds of messages from other systems and the environment in general. Messages are neutral. They do not contain information. Rather, information is the result of a system's interpretation of a message, including whatever meaning it assigns to the message based on past experience. This meaning--or message in context of associated experiences--is what we call information. The measure of information is proportional to its uncertainty, or surprise. The more surprising the message, the more information it contains. Most messaging events are devoid of information, either because they are filtered out, or because they bear messages whose content is expected by the receiving system.
Paradigm For a living system to make decisions, it must be able to compare the nature of sensory input that it receives to some model that predicts probable future outcomes based on stored previous experiences involving that input. This memory may be inherited genetic storage, or learned mental storage. In either case, it represents a guide to success given a variety of situations. The sum total of these situations and the guidelines stored in the system comprise its paradigm.
S'poze It is not advisable for a system to accept any and all New Information to add to its Paradigm. The process of modeling enables the system to play "what if" without actually engaging in a potentially threatening experience.
Incorporation If the results of the simulation seem favorable, the system may incorporate the New Information into its Paradigm and begin making decisions based upon this new mixture.

An Example
Let's walk through an example to develop a little understanding of how the model works. Again, like Scan Focus Act, this is a naturally occurring model; we all use it every day. Our purpose in studying it is not so much to learn to incorporate it into our inventory of processes but to raise its activity to a level of conscious awareness.

A common example used in describing Scan Focus Act will also serve here--the story of the lioness hunting wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti. The lioness Scans the herd for a potential meal, Focuses on likely candidates and then Acts explosively to chase one down. That's a simple description of the process from the vantage point of creativity. But what's going on from a signal processing standpoint?

New information about the herd and perhaps other animals lurking about, is constantly streaming into the lioness' senses. This new information, according to James Miller's Living Systems model is processed by a function called the Associator. The Associator compares the input to patterns and models in Memory, searching for overlaps that trigger the Decider function to initiate some physiological activity in response. New information that enters the system as a result of this response is fed back into Memory to update the pattern. This trio of functions--Associator, Memory and Decider--represents the learning process. Thus, the lioness learns how to spot potential meals among the animals in the herd. It also learns different strategies for approaching and chasing its meal.

The activity of the Associator is one representation of playing S'poze. The Associator is trying to build little vignettes (or scenarios) of future predictions based on a comparison of new information and old memories. It's a little like thinking ahead in chess.

The Case for S'poze as a Linking Model
Imagine the Creative Process a huge playing board, with its seven circles representing the zones of play. Further, imagine the enterprise as a knowledge management engine, continuously running through cycles of events, documentation, storage in a K-base, distribution, design. In the diagram below, the enterprise is in the Vision stage of the Creative Process. How will it manage the receipt of new information at this stage? The importance of new information in the Vision stage should be obvious. Enterprises that have robust processes for handling such information designed into their behavior will excel at this stage. And the process for handling the information is precisely the S'poze process.

The enterprise uses S'poze in each stage of the Creative Process in a similar manner. A subtle point to emphasize is that the enterprise also uses S'poze to process information in the transition from one stage to another. The team that brings an idea through Vision will not be the same team that takes the idea through Intent. Even if its membership remains the same, the thinking and behavior of its members changes from stage to stage. Part of this change is due to shifts in learning and part is due to individual preferences for one stage over another. In any case, an idea that seems clear and solid in Vision may teeter on the brink of extinction as it enters Intent unless the group at that point is capable of playing S'poze.

So not only must the enterprise be designed to manage the Ten Step Knowledge Management process, but it must employ the S'poze model to manage new information processing and learning within each stage of the Creative Process and between stages as well.

Strategies for Playing S'poze
It may seem from looking at the model that the activity of S'poze is played outside of the host system, in some safe, confined area. This is not the case. S'poze is played in real life only with an element of risk. At the minimum, the activity will consume time and divert attention. It's always possible that when new information is admitted to a system it will behave in a viral manner, disrupting the organism's homeostasis. S'poze is always played inside the enterprise, even if in a safe, protected area, such as a planning session. S'poze doesn't happen somewhere "out there." Nevertheless, playing S'poze is required for the organization to continue to learn, and also to spawn offspring that can successfully adapt to changing conditions in the wider ecosystem. The risk is unavoidable. Among most species of life, the survival rates of progeny are somewhat low. The survival of mutations is usually much lower.

The most complete way for an enterprise to play S'poze is to create offspring, preferably through "recombination of DNA." In nature this happens when a male and female of a species recombine their genetic material to produce offspring that will inhabit perhaps a radically improved niche on the species' fitness landscape. In enterprises, recombination occurs when two or more organizations share ideas and strengths to form a separate project or enterprise for the purpose of testing the quality of the ideas in action. You can simulate all you want, but at some point you really just have to do it to know whether it will succeed.

This is why DesignShop® events demand such broad representation from all of the components of the Business of Enterprise model--customers, management, investors, producers. The entire value chain, and sometimes even competitors should be included. The richer the diversity of participants, the better chance the outcome has of success. Of course the diversity is not assembled arbitrarily. Participants must all have some stake in the outcome; they can't be casual participants or observers.

copyright 1997, MG Taylor Corporation. All rights reserved
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