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Ergodynamics The First Law of Ergodynamics is the Law of Mutual Adaptation:
“Work efficiency is a bell-shaped function and work complexity
V. F. Venda† and N. I. Venda§ is a U-shaped function of any factor of mutual adaptation in
†University of Manitoba, Canada human–machine–environment system.”
§The Venda Ergonomic Advantages, Inc., USA As an example demonstrating the First Law, experiments were
conducted on typing a text on a laptop computer installed at
1. INTRODUCTION different heights. Subjects typed the text in a sitting position.
Ergodynamics was developed as theory and methods of Work productivity, Q, measured as a mean number of characters
ergonomic design, improvement, and studies of dynamic work typed in 1 min, appeared to be a bell-shaped function of desk
in a dynamic environment (Venda and Venda 1995). height, F. Work complexity measured as time to type 1000
Ergodynamics allows the study of work dynamics when the characters, appeared to be a U-shaped function (inverted bell-
functional structure of the work (skills, strategies, methods, shaped function).
technologies) changes. In a more narrow sense, ergodynamics is
an application of the transformation dynamics theory in 4. THE SECOND LAW OF ERGODYNAMICS
ergonomics. A foundation of ergodynamics comprises of the The experiment on typing at the laptop computer was extended
following three laws of ergonomics: mutual adaptation; plurality so the subjects were typing in either a sitting or standing position,
of work functional structures; and transformations and given varying desk heights. Two different functional structures
interactions. Ergodynamics is widely applicable in ergonomic for every subject were studied: the processes of reading texts and
design of work places, work stations and control rooms, in mutual perception of control board information. A variety of functional
adaptation the in human–machine–environment, in professional structures and strategies was found. For example, the same text
training, control systems safety, prediction, planning and may be read by separate letters or by syllables. Then there are
optimizing efficiency dynamics during implementation of two different Q(F) curves for these two strategies.
ergonomic and engineering projects, transfer of new technologies, These studies allowed the wording of the Second Law of
environments, work functions and skills, management structures, Ergodynamics, which is the Law of Work Structures Plurality:
software, products, changing economic strategy, or when an “Every work can be done using different structures (strategies)
otherwise sudden decrease in productivity, quality, or safety causes presented by different respective bell-shaped curves for efficiency,
unpredicted losses. Qi(F), and U-shaped curves for complexity of work.”
A visual image of the Second Law is shown in Figure 1, where
2. DEFINITIONS IN ERGODYNAMICS Ssub and Sop are two different functional strategies used by
Ergodynamics is based on the following definitions: laboratory subjects (Ssub) and operators (Sop) in the same work.
1. Work efficiency is any positive outcome of work ergonomist The Second Law explains the plurality of human reactions
wishes to maximize. The examples are work safety, health, on the same signal or certain value of an environment factor, F.
satisfaction, quality, productivity. For example, the same desk height leads to different typing
2. Work complexity is any negative outcome of work ergonomist productivities in sitting and in standing positions. The Second
wishes to minimize. The examples are risk of injures, errors, Law helps to solve many various ergonomic tasks. For example,
complaints, time spent on one task or product. it may help predict a human operator’s decision-making efficiency
3. Work factor is any parameter of interaction and mutual when the operator perceiving the same information from the same
adaptation between human and work environment, including video terminal but uses different cognitive strategies.
machines, tools, partners, managers, etc. The examples are desk The Second Law explains why ergonomics laboratory results
height, workspace, work posture, number of emergency signals
perceived by operator, noise and light as they influence concrete
worker, etc. Work factor as a factor of human–environment
mutual adaptation does not belong to the human or environment
alone. It is a parameter of interaction and mutual influence in Q max
sub S op
the course of training, work, overexertion, etc.
Q max
op S sub
4. Mutual adaptation is a process of synthesis and development
of human–machine–environment system structure which is
a basis for human and system work process and strategy. Q 1,2
Ergodynamics studies work structure, strategy, efficiency and
complexity in the processes of human–machine–environment
mutual adaptation, particularly when human work changes Q sub (F3 )
its structure and strategy.
5. Work structure reflects a regularity of internal mutual Q op (F1 )
adaptation processes in human, machine, any other system. F1 F2 F3 F
Strategy reflects a regularity of external, interactive mutual Kum2.
adaptation processes of human or machine with environment
Figure 1. Bell-shaped curves for subject’s (Ssub) and
based on the structure.
operator’s (Sop) strategies. Q, efficiency; F, work factor.

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obtained with subjects using strategy Ssub in many cases cannot small sets of operations with very high productivity, but this
be used to design and optimize work of operators using different repetitive work led to frequent injures and low job satisfaction.
strategy, Sop. Figure 1 shows that in the interval of work factor F1 Now a tendency in industrial development takes a reverse
Æ F3, the decrease of F recommended based on data for Ssub would direction. Using various semi-automatic tools manufacturing
lead to the inverse effect for the operator: in this interval Ssub operators can reach a higher productivity while expanding their
increases its efficiency and Sop decreases its efficiency. This task is range of tasks. Production engineers (Figure 2, stage 6) continue
discussed in more details in theoretical ergonomics. this tendency further, thanks to wider use and assistance of CAD,
CIM, robotics, computers, expert systems, etc.
A brief outline of the history of work strategies over centuries DYNAMICS
based on ergodynamics methodology will be given. At the dawn The Second Law states the plurality of the work functional
of industry the craftsman was the main production force. Every structures, but only one functional structure can be used by the
craftsman performed all the operations needed to produce a whole individual at one time. If several different structures are available,
product. Therefore, the craftsman accomplished tasks in a wide and only one is used at the time, then a process of transformations
range of work factors, Fmin/Fmax, but work efficiency measured as between the structures should be specially studied. Traditional
productivity was very low (Figure 2). monotonic exponential models of human development (dynamics
There was not often the necessity for the craftsmen to of efficiency) have been in exceptional use around the globe for
transform work strategies, skills and methods. First, factories more than a century (since Ebbinghaus in 1885). These models,
implemented some of distribution of functions between industrial however, run contrary to the many practical and experimental
workers. The range of tasks for each worker got narrower, and data.
the strategy was more specialized and effective in comparison The following training experiment was conducted. Subjects
with craftsmen. At the next stage more detailed functions were (12 students at the Engineering Faculty) accomplished a
distributed between production workers and, thus, work compensatory tracking of dynamic signals presented
efficiency increased (Figure 2). Assembly-line workers performed simultaneously on several (1–6) measurement instruments, with
the subject controlling an equal number of switches (1–6).
Q A distinctly non-monotonic character to the curves was found
when n = 2, 4, 5 and 6. The data show that increased experience
may sometimes result in an actual worsening of performance. It
was found that in those periods the subjects were changing a
1 functional structure of their performance of perceiving signals:
Q F (1) separately one-by-one; (2) grouping them by two into two-
Industrial Work ers
dimensional coordinates of a dot track; (3) by three, as 3-D
coordinates of a dot in space that should be moved to the initial
2 point with the coordinates 0,0,0.
When the learning curves were averaged over the number of
Q F signals, the result was strictly monotonic. Such averaging is,
Produc tion W ork ers
unfortunately, a traditional method of statistical processing of
experimental ergonomic data. It, however, disguises the real
3 dynamics of learning processes, which depend upon the cognitive
strategies used and the number of signals being monitored and
Q F grouped into different information chunks.
Assembly Line W o rk ers We avoided traditional statistical averaging and analyzed a
4 dependence of the signal tracking efficiency on different cognitive
strategies: perception of the signals by one, two and three as an
information chunk.
M anufa cturing Operators 7. THE THIRD LAW OF ERGODYNAMICS
5 While analyzing all previous experimental data, Venda found that
during transformations of any two work functional structures (Si
and Si + 1), work efficiency drops to the level corresponding to
the intersect point of the curves Qi(F) and Qi + 1(F). Thus, he
6 discovered a transformation state that is a common and equal
Produc tion Engineers state for both structures. He suggested the law of transformations
for any kind of complex systems (Venda and Venda 1995) and
especially for ergodynamics.
The Third Law of ergodynamics was worded by Venda in
1989 as The Law of Transformations and Interactions:
Figure 2. Ergodynamics history of work strategies. “Transformations and interactions between two different work

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Q D max SI Q I max SI

Q U max
QU D S U ->S D

FU opt FU D = F I opt F T0 T1 T2 T3 T


Figure 3. Work strategies SU, SI and SD, and transformations between them. Q, work efficiency; F, work factor; T, time.

strategies are maximally effective if they go through a state 9. TRANSFORMATION DYNAMICS IN

common and equal for the structures presented as an intersect INDIVIDUALS, COMPANIES AND NATIONS
point of bell-shaped curves Qi(F) or U-shaped curves Ci(F) of the Transformation means a smooth transition of one system structure
two strategies.” (a human being, team, manufacturing facility, company) to
The common and equal state for two strategies, SU and SD, is another. A “pure” transformation occurs with constant system
presented in Figure 3 as the intersect point of the respective Q(F) components and, consequently, its energy and material resources.
curves of the strategies: F = FUD and QU(FUD) = QD(FUD) = QUD. If a businessman decides to change a product and technology
Work strategies may belong to the same individual and may at his facility, s/he can use two main different politics:
be used sequentially, transforming one to another. Work structures transformation or replacement. Transformation means fast and
may belong to different individuals (or human and machine) smooth changing of the old technology into a new one, using the
interacting in the complete work process. same human resources.
Transformations in science, technology, trade and education
8. ERGODYNAMICS IN IMPLEMENTATION OF help a nation or society to save and use a big part of the previous
ERGONOMICS PROJECTS knowledge, skills, equipment, human and business relations. We
Every essential, innovative ergonomics project leads to some kind had applied a transformation dynamics theory to predict the
of transformation in the work process designed or re-engineered. dynamics of a social-economical transformation in the former
Let us assume there is an existing user strategy, SU, that allows USSR, and explained transformation difficulties there well in
maximal efficiency QU max. Designer-ergonomist suggests a new advance (Venda 1989).
work strategy, SD, that promises maximal work efficiency QD max if Using the Third Law and analyzing characteristic curves of
work factor (task complexity for example) increases to FD opt. existing and new desirable technological or management
There are several trajectories available to transform SU into strategies, every company may predict, plan and optimally execute
SD: transformation of the existing into the new strategy with minimal
1. To implement SD instead of SU right the way. Then efficiency losses in efficiency.
of SD while F = FU opt will be much lower than QU(FU opt) = QU
>> QD(FU opt) (see arrow in Figure 3). 10. ERGODYNAMICS OF STRESS
2. Implementation of SD may be done as transformation of SU There is one special way in fast transformations which are
into SD along with gradual increase of task complexity F from important for industrial companies but even much more
FU opt to FD opt. This trajectory leads to relatively deep decrease important for operators of power plants and air pilots when
of efficiency to the level QUD with following increase to QD situations turns from normal to emergency and time for
max by the time T2. transformation is very limited. Fast and reliable, accurate
3. If the decrease of efficiency to the level QUD is too deep and transformation to successful strategy may save lives and systems.
unacceptable for the company, the transformation may be Slow and inaccurate transformations lead to the catastrophes.
done through intermediate strategy SI, in two stages: SU Æ SI Ergodynamics is the first and only existing methodology
Æ SD, with much less decrease of efficiency. analyzing this problem. We found one of effective solutions of
Choice of the best transformation trajectory depends on this problem among many inventions by biological evolution.
relative integral gains and losses. We mean abilities of living system to turn their states into stress
The stress condition looks like partial destruction of the
organism structure with low temporary efficiency. System

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Qi Sz Sz
Q S max
Sy Sy Sy
Q S max
y Sz
Sx Q0 Sx
Q S max X bd Q yz
x yz
QS Z bd Sy S y->S z
bd max
Q *min S bd bdy Y bd S x ->S bd ->S y Sz
Q xy S x->S y

F T0 T1 T2 T3 T4 T5 T6 T7 T8 T

Figure 4. Three specialized structures, Sx, Sy and Sz, and a basic diversified structure, Sbd, and transformations between them.
Q, work efficiency; F, work factor; T, time.

structures may be narrowly specialized that allows to reach high 11. PERFORMANCE PREDICTION AT
maximal efficiency in a narrow range of conditions (DF). High TRANSFORMATION STAGES
maximal efficiency depends on convergence and synchronization Speed and reliability of the transformation between two strategies,
of the system components. Sa1 and Sa2 (Figure 5), depends on the following factors:
The structure may be more universal, with less maximal 1. Difference in efficiency between current strategy and
efficiency, but very wide range of acceptable conditions. transformation state to another strategy, DQ = Qa1 max – Qa1a2
Importance of the stress structure is that it is very universal as a (Figure 5); the greater the difference the more difficult, slow
result of divergence of the system components. and unreliable is transformation.
Figure 4 presents three specialized structures, Sx, Sy and Sz, 2. Frequency of transformations between S a1 and S a2; if
and one more universal, basic diversified structure, Sbd. system was trained or accustomed to the transformations
Let us assume system cannot survive if its efficiency (safety) between these strategies, the transformation will go fast
is lower than some minimal level Q*min. If system has currently and correct.
structure Sx, it cannot transform to any other structure, Sy or Sz, 3. How long time the system was in a current condition. The
when F changes and goes outside of range acceptable for Sx, longer the period, the more conservative is the system, the
because common and equal state for Sx and Sy, xy, lies lower than slower and less reliable is transformation.
Q*min. 4. How fast F changes. The faster is change, the more difficult
The system can survive if it has a basic diversified structure inertial system may keep up with the transformation.
Sbd, then through common states between Sx and Sbd, between Sy 5. Whether the system passes through the points it used to
and Sbd, and between Sz and Sbd, the system has flexibility to transform to other structures is also important. The search
survive in a very wide range of environmental conditions. to find a new transformation point and to transfer to a new
This great invention by nature may be effectively used by the structure is also important. This search includes trial runs to
industrial companies to maintain flexibility in a dynamic market. predict the consequences involved in a change.
This principle is even much more important for the operators, So, as we study the probable and actual system structure
air pilots and other workers who may be in emergency situation. dynamics, we should examine the current structure, the newly
Sbd may be considered as a specially trained standard structure found ones, prehistory and the earlier structures of the system.
that could be easily obtained from any non-standard structure and Suppose that over the range F the structure Sa2 gives a gain of
then may be quickly transformed into narrowly specialized highly efficiency DQ. Here the system seeks to pass from Sa1 to Sa2. If, on
effective structure (strategy) needed to use in the emergency. the other hand, Q decreases for a change in F, the system resists


Q a max
2 Sa Sa 2
1 2 1
Q a max Sa1 0 0
Qa a
1 2 2
4 4

Q '0 Sa S 'a
1 1 S 'a
Fa 1 max F a 2 max 2
F0 F'0 F a 1 opt F a 1 a 2 F a 2 opt F T0 T1 T2 T3 T4 T5 T6 T7 T8 T9 T

Figure 5. Performance prediction at transformation stages. Q, work efficiency; F, work factor; T, time.

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the effect of the changed F. It musters its components’ mutual process to get a success. This, in turn, calls for great courage and
adaptation potential to redress the change. determination when the system fails to show the proper efficiency
Even when the transformation state is reached, three types level after a long wait.
of “losing” pathways can mask real progress. Figure 5 shows that The transformation state (or point) is defined as a system’s
movement from maximal efficiency of the structure Sa1 at Qa1 max critical point, when its future development route is decided. It is
and Fa1 opt, through the transformation point (Qa1a2, Fa1a2) may the point where two or more structure-strategies have the same
have the following variations: efficiency. Any departure from this point, to the left or right, causes
1. Successful transformations. If a system reaches transformation a rapid change in efficiency.
state (Qa1a2, Fa1a2), and stays there long enough for the structure Thus, if the main search tendency (for instance, in scientific
to transform from Sa1 into Sa2, and if F increases from Fa1a2 to research) aims at increasing factor values, it must form the embryo
Fa2 opt, the system will then go to Qa2 max. This behavior model of the next structure well before the change. The lower efficiency
is called progressive. Any successful restructuring involves this of the current structure during this phase will also have to be
kind of transformation. considered. The next structure could thus take over with enough
2. Collapse of the system as a result of ignoring its inertia for ease and promptness.
transformations. Let us assume the system is in initial state 0
(Qa1 max; Fa1 opt). If the system goes from Fa1 opt to Fa2 (through 12. CONCLUSION
Fa1a2) too fast, the system’s Q will change from Qa max to zero Ergodynamics is helpful at least in dealing with two major
(track 0 Æ 2). It will skip the transformation point and fail, challenges of contemporary ergonomics: (1) creating a theory
having structure Sa1 when factor F = Fa2 opt, because Qa1(Fa2 that could accumulate, combine and generalize the ergonomic
) = 0. This behavior pattern is called passive system fallback experience and act as a common foundation for easing ergonomics
to zero efficiency. This means that the system is deadlocked. teaching, studying and practicing; and (2) improving methods
3. Return to initial state just in time. If a system left initial state of ergonomic design, improvement and studies of dynamic work
(Qa1 max, Fa1 opt) changed environment from Fa1 opt to Fa1a2, but in dynamic environment.
then it does not remain at transformation state (Fa1a2, Qa1a2) Ergodynamics is an application of the transformation
long enough for the Sa1 Æ Sa2 transition and F reverts to its dynamics theory in ergonomics. Three Laws of ergodynamics
Fa1 opt, the system efficiency will be again Qa1 max. This is a are being suggested: (1) The Law of Mutual Adaptation; (2) The
standstill policy. It leads to a relapse. This throwback will Law of Plurality of Work Functional Structures; and (3) The Law
result in track 3 in Figure 5. of Transformations.
4. Track 4 means “Transformation is already in progress, it is Ergodynamics is an operational methodology of qualitative
too late to go back.” If a system stays at the transformation and quantitative analysis and design of dynamic work functional
state (Fa1a2, Qa1a2) long enough for the Sa1 Æ Sa2 transition, structures and planning their transformations.
and then goes from Fa1a2 to a direction 4 with lower (previous)
values of F the system efficiency will drop to zero. This is the 13. RECOMMENDATIONS
fatal half measures and retreat policy: after an extended effort 1. Ergonomic recommendation for practice may be based on
to make the Sa1 Æ Sa2 transition, one makes a futile attempt laboratory data only if laboratory subjects’ strategies are
to revert to the past. That was what Gorbachev did when he identical to those of industrial operators and workers.
tried to restore Communist party rule, return to the “socialist 2. Interactions between human and machine, communications
ideals,” retain the privileges of the party “nomenclatura” and between people must be organized as a processes of mutual
his personal role as the General Secretary of the Communist adaptation. Maximal efficiency of the interactions may be
party. By that time the people of the former USSR has already found as an intersect point of the two interacting strategies’
changed. Gorbachev’s attempt to move back a country with characteristic curves. The same principle based on the Third
new-born strong elements of social and psychological Law must be used for transformations between strategies of
structure and free-minded people led to the crash of the super- the same person, company or nation.
power, the USSR and Gorbachev himself in 1991. There was 3. If work task is very well defined in a narrow range of work
a book published in 1989, The Waves of Progress, by V. Venda, factor value, specialized strategies allow higher work
predicting and explaining the transformation process in that productivity in a short run, but monotony of work may cause
country well in advance. big troubles in a long run.
This historical lesson should convince everybody that if a 4. Avoid statistical averaging of data collected while different
functional structure of a firm, technological facility, design team, work strategies were used. Analyze data on each strategy
work skill, country society has been changed then reverse separately.
transformation should be planned and organized to avoid 5. Do not promise clients that implementation of innovative
catastrophe of the system. ergonomic project, new hardware or software will
Thus, of the four possible transformation point paths, only immediately lead to increase of efficiency. Temporary dip in
the first is successful. The probability of a successful dynamic efficiency is inevitable, it may be minimized in time duration
progress is thus only one in four if the proper transformation and depth using laws and principles of ergodynamics.
concept is taken in account. If there is no proper transformation 6. Operators must be trained not only strategies effective in
concept, probability of success in changing structure and strategy normal and emergency situations but also special skills to
may be equal to zero. transform one strategy into another.
So, one should be able to predict and control transformation 7. While organizing transformations in the company chose the

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best transformation trajectory considering relative integral incompatibility issues in the control of dynamic work environments.
gains and losses. Ergonomics, 34, 671–86.
8. Do not rush to eliminate stress in individuals and company, KARWOWSKI, W. and MITAL, A., 1986, Applications of Fuzzy Set Theory
it is natural, necessary and very helpful in well-planned and in Human Factors (Amsterdam: Elsevier).
organized transformations. ROWE, A.L., FRENCH, J., NEVILLE, K.J. and EDDY, D.R., 1992,
9. When planning transformations analyze current and desired The prediction of cognitive performance degradations during
structures and system’s prehistory. sustained operations. In Proceedings of the Human Factors Society
10. Do not use monotonic linear or quasi-exponential models to 36th Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA: HFS, 111–15.
predict performance dynamics if transformations of strategies VENDA, V.F., 1989, The Waves of Progress (Moscow: Znanie).
may occur. VENDA, V.F., 1990, Hybrid Intelligence Systems: Evolution, Psychology,
11. Do not use ergostatics in analysis and design of dynamic work. Ergonomics (Moscow: Mashinostroenie).
Use ergodynamics. VENDA, V.F. and VENDA, Y.V., 1995, Dynamics in Ergonomics,
Psychology, and Decisions: Introduction to Ergodynamics (Norwood:
KARWOWSKI, W., 1991, Complexity, fuzziness and ergonomic

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