Modeling Language Spotlight
Vantage Points
November 4, 1996

Based on a model developed by Thomas Gilbert in the book Human Competence, published in 1978.

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

The Vantage Points model looks like a topographic map with the boundary between each vantage point representing a contour line. The question for all of you budding cartographers out there--is it a map of a mountain or a depression? Is the Tasks vantage point the peak of the mountain or the bottom of a pit?

Mapmakers and map readers alike know that contour lines indicating depressions are all marked with special tick marks that point in the direction of the downward slope. So technically, the Vantage Points model translated into a topographic map represents a mountain or hill with the Tasks vantage point at its summit.

The View From Task

Despite the technicality, it's useful to think of the model as both a mountain and a pit (or a lake). In a way, you can never understand the philosophy of a system or enterprise until you are immersed in the tasks that comprise its daily functions. The task provides a mental elevation from which the whole essence of the system can be contemplated. The philosophy and culture of an organization will be expressed in the way an associate is taught or allowed to perform its tasks. By observing people performing various tasks, by sensing the atmosphere, energy and ethics of the environment, most anyone can determine the true expressed philosophy of any organization. I remember waiting in a department store for 15 minutes for service, while one employee (who was watching me off and on) completed what was obviously a casual personal phone call and the other informed me she was going on a coffee break. Intrigued, and being in no hurry, I amused myself in the meantime by timing the event and reading the mission statement on customer service that hung on the wall.

On the other hand, sometimes immersion in daily tasks can blind people to culture and philosophy, or cause them to accept it too casually. Many of our actions are based on essentially hidden stimuli and barely understood themes. "It's just the way we do things in this town." The models that make up our philosophy are usually accepted as truth and fact, and any threat to their veracity may be hotly contested on no other basis than precedent behavior. Models are ingrained in this way for a purpose. Most of us can't spend all of our time evaluating various philosophies; it's easier to accept one and act out from it. This avoids confusion and allows cultures and teams to consolidate or condense. It allows each of us to belong to something. The liability of such a phenomenon, however, should be clear. Philosophies accepted as truth are very hard to shake or adapt to changing circumstances.

Philosophies accepted as models can be mastered, evaluated, and exchanged based on experience and exploration [see the 5 E's model]

Designing and Managing with the Vantage Points

Like all of the MG Taylor models the Vantage Points are meant to be managed and designed--used as templates and auditing tools. The Vantage Points break down into three overlapping zones for special types of management emphasis.

  • Design and manage Philosophy, Culture and Policy to steer the evolution of the enterprise.
  • Design and manage Policy, Strategy and Tactics to steer the operational and structural support of the enterprise.
  • Design and manage Tactics, Logistics and Tasks to steer the work to be done by the enterprise.

Most enterprises are used to tightly managing tactics, logistics and tasks. Policy manuals in particular are aimed at these three levels (although Policy manuals should be aimed at all of the other vantage points including managing the evolution of philosophy and culture). Companies that undertake formal, structured or systematic forms of broad-based planning manage the strategy level. However, little attention is usually paid to managing and designing culture or philosophy (with some notable exceptions). This is not to say that many people don't talk about culture or philosophy or about changing both.

The seven Vantage Points do hold mutual, feedback-driven influence over one another. It is possible to change Philosophy by innovating Tasks or Logistics. In fact, it's rather foolish to make a statement changing philosophy or culture and expect the change to establish itself without commensurate changes at all of the other levels of the model.

Nevertheless, it is more difficult for tasks to influence philosophy than visa versa. This is due to the hidden power of philosophy discussed in preceding paragraphs, and the need for organizations to hold a standard core of commonality in order for their identity to stay intact.

Here's a quick definition of each of the vantage points:

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Philosophy The fundamental--usually hidden--beliefs that unite the components of an Enterprise, enabling them to act as a cohesive whole. Properly applied, philosophy enables both innovation and stability.
Culture Defines the various components of the Enterprise and their relationship to one another in action. Also encompasses standard behaviors of these components--behaviors which are manifestations of the Philosophy.
Policy At the broadest level, statements of purpose, intent and goals. At a narrower level, Policy can specify boundaries on the design and prosecution of Strategy, Tactics, Logistics and Tasks. Policy states the rules of the game.
Strategy The organization, disposition and direction of large scale forces over space and time to achieve the objectives of Policy, maintain homeostasis in a competitive and cooperative environment, and manage growth. Also the set of recognized "patterns of play" known or suspected to produce favorable results when implemented.
Tactics The art of matching the resources of Logistics with Strategy and deploying these effectively and efficiently in the game.
Logistics All of the issues concerning resources, energy and knowledge, and the mechanics of their distribution and storage throughout the Enterprise.
Tasks The work to be done and how it's actually done. Chopping wood and carrying water. The way a tool is used and treated, of course speaks plainly of the philosophy and culture of the user.

Here's another idea for a Personal Journal page:

Journal Assignment:  It may be useful when learning the model to think about some game you're familiar with, perhaps chess, and evaluate it from each of the vantage points. What is the philosophy of the game? The culture? Policies? What are the major strategies? The zillions of tactics? How about the logistics of the game? And finally, enumerate the tasks.

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