Behavioral MetaDYNAMICS – Task Performance

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BmD: Capability: Part 6 –

Task Performance

  • Formal

  • MetaFormal

  • Systematic

  • MetaSystematic

  • Paradigmatic

  • MetaParadigmatic

This particular set of elements as a component of
CAPABILITY DYNAMICS is a linchpin, as we try to
conceptualize the complexity of task performance.

“Agents residing on one scale start producing
behavior that lies one scale above them: ants create
colonies; urbanites create neighborhoods; simple
pattern-recognition software learns how to recommend new
books.” –
Emergence, science
writer Steven Johnson

Creating Behavior-ologies!

"Commons and Richards (1984a, b) argued that a successful
developmental theory should address two conceptually
different issues: (1) the hierarchical complexity of the
task to be solved; and (2) the psychology, sociology, and
anthropology of such task performance and how that
performance develops." –
Hierarchical Complexity of Tasks Shows The Existence of
Developmental Stages, Commons, et al, 1994

Perhaps the easiest way to think about that process is to
rely on the Model of Hierarchical Complexity by Michael
Common, et al. The following discussion is adapted from
The Model of Hierarchical
Complexity as a Measurement System

Mathematical Model

The Model of Hierarchical Complexity (MHC) is a
mathematical model based on the “Theory of Measurement” that has gone through a number of iterations
as a measurement system.

Hierarchical Measurement System

The Model of Hierarchical Complexity sets forth the
measurement system by which actions are put into a
hierarchical order and each order is assigned an ordinal

Cross-Domain Relevance?

The model assesses a general, unidimensional developmental
measure of difficulty across domains. Dawson-Tunik’s
(2006) studies have found that the stage of development
scored according to the Model of Hierarchical Complexity
was consistent with multiple other instruments that were
designated to score development in specific domains.

Developmental Theory Based on Task Performance

Model of Hierarchical Complexity is not the only theory of
development based on task complexity.

Measures Horizontal and Vertical Capability

Other metrics of task complexity have been proposed as
well. Horizontal or classical information complexity is
one of them. It describes the number of “yes-no”
questions. In classical information complexity, if a task
requires one such question, the answer would transmit 1
bit of “horizontal” information. Similarly, if a task
requires two such questions, the answers would transmit 2
bits. Each additional 1-bit question would add another
bit. Horizontal complexity, then, is the sum of bits
required by tasks that require “yes-no” questions. The
number of actions is 2n.

Developmental Stages Based on Increasingly More Complex
Task Hierarchies

MHC also seems to have advantage over previous proposals
about developmental stages of humans. While previous
models attribute behavioral changes across a person’s age
to the development of mental structures, MHC posits that
task sequences of task behaviors form hierarchies that
become increasingly complex.

NO Skipping Stages

According to this model, less complex tasks must be
completed and practiced before more complex tasks can be
acquired. Thus, it accounts for developmental changes.

Stimulus and Response are Considered

Furthermore, previous theories of stage have confounded
the stimulus and response in assessing stage by simply
scoring responses and ignoring the task or stimulus.

Task Separated from Performance

The model of hierarchical complexity separates the task or
stimulus from the performance. The participant’s
performance on a task of a given complexity represents the
stage of developmental complexity.

Includes Sub Tasks to Explain Transition Between Stages

Another factor which sets this model apart from previous
models is that it not only extends developmental stages up
to 15 stages, but also includes subtasks and sub-subtasks
which explain what happens between those stages."

Hierarchical Task Performance Critical for Leaders

"Because hierarchical complexity is such an ever-present
dimension of tasks, taking it into account will make
certain behavioral science issues more coherent and our
analysis of them more powerful and effective.

This is because every task has an order of complexity
associated with it.

This means that within behavioral science every
experimental task, every clinical test, developmental
task, survey item, or statement by a person can be
characterized in terms of its hierarchical complexity.
Other tasks and activities can be similarly classified;
for example, jobs and activities, political systems, or
economic systems.

Measures that ignore the hierarchical complexity
of tasks collapse the performances obtained in ways that
obscure the factor(s) that are actually causing the
variability in behavior.

For example, one speculation is that as individuals in
given societies get more educated, class status is due
less to education per se and to parental status, income
and occupation. This might be because the hierarchical
complexity of the tasks a person solves determines income
now more than education. Few can meet the highest demands
or can solve the most hierarchically complex tasks, quite
a few can meet only the minimal demands." –
Hierarchical Complexity of Tasks
Shows The Existence of Developmental Stages, Commons, et
al, 1994


While MOST leaders are going to want to leave this
"complexity stuff" to someone else, I now believe that
training leaders in the fundamentals of understanding
hierarchical complexity is as critical as training them in
financial analysis.

Yet, it’s not happening because it’s still a process that
is being formulated at a variety of levels.

"Modern science has come to realize that all scientific
theories are approximations to the true nature of reality;
and that each theory is valid for a certain range of
phenomenon. Beyond this range it no longer gives a
satisfactory description of nature, and new theories have
to be found to replace the old one, or, rather, to extend
it by improving the approximation. – (Capra, 1982: 101)"

It’s much the same as we encounter in beginning to teach
leaders about SYSTEM DYNAMICS, again an entire discipline
that in large part is reserved for experts and academics,
However, leaders are the one’s allocating resources and
thus need to understand how these basic concepts affect
all of our assumptions about how the world works… and
people have lives.

The essence of the model leads to particular next steps:

"…less complex tasks must be completed and practiced
before more complex tasks can be acquired."

If we are asking leaders to allocate resources and lead
people to utilize those resources efficiently, effectively
and sustainably, then we need to add additional tasks to
the capability of leadership.

In our next installment, we will breathe a sigh of relief
as we consider how TALENT>>CAPABILITY!

I hope you pick up valuable insights, ideas and tools during
this process, which you can use for your own

development as well as your work and leadership with others.

If you have comments, please feel free to leave them here on the blog.

You, Me, and We @F-L-O-W

Mike R. Jay is a developmentalist utilizing consulting,
coaching, mentoring and advising as methods to offer
developmental scaffolding for aspiring leaders who are
interested in being, doing, having, becoming, and
contributing… to helping people have lives.

PS: To learn more about our 2015 Program,
Behavioral MetaDYNAMICS and to enroll in the experience,


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