Friday, June 20, 2008

Feedback loops for everybody

Feedback is a term we banter around casually but tend to think of only as legitimate when it’s in terms of a complex system or study. Maybe that is wasted rhetoric that could actually be applied to serve a purpose.

Seth Godin writes often about feedback and feedback loops especially in his book Survival is not Enough. One of his premises is that faster feedback loops can be a factor in the success of a business because change can happen faster; he calls it zooming (paraphrased). I would venture that Godin also created faster feedback loops in his personal life.

Where are the loops?

What kinds of feedback and feedback loops are in everyday life? If we thought about our short-term goals in terms of intermediate feedback instead of achievement what would happen? Typically we don’t talk or think about intermediate feedback; instead we refer to intermediate benchmarks or short-term goals in terms of achieving them and not what the process may tell us.

If you have been reading here for any length of time you have learned that my children are grown and out on their own now. You also have picked up that I decided that while I loved my time as a full-time mother and worked very hard to prepare my children for successful living I was not hanging onto the full-time mothering role. So the past eight years have been a series of feedback loops (I see them now, originally I thought I had a knack for walking into walls) about how I create a second life.

But the objective doesn’t have to be as complex or life-altering as a career change. Maybe the way you have always done something is giving you feedback that it isn’t the best way to be done. Why wouldn’t we incorporate this feedback into our thinking? Often we see automaticity as the objective and if it functions, even if not optimally, we go with the automated system. Godin talks about this in the board room and the factory floor but it can also apply to a routine like stopping after work on Fridays to get the week’s groceries.

What does it look like?

Every week the routine is to check the balance at the ATM and hit the supermarket on the way home; but we hate it because it’s crowded with stressed shoppers who just picked up the kids from daycare, and we overspend because we’re starving. What we typically do is convince ourselves that a better list or eating a later lunch at work will revamp the situation. Well 52 experiments in minor tweaks not working should scream that it needs to be changed.

This is a fairly fast feedback loop (it happens every Friday) that could have prompted a faster change which would have made a difference in our whole day. We get out of bed on Friday morning dreading all day that we’re going to the store after work again. So we have a less than positive shopping experience and a terrible start to our evening or weekend plans. Worse than that our negative attitude about the shopping is affecting our whole work day and is likely contagious to everyone we interact with.

This sounds nuts right. We think that nobody would deliberately punish themselves again and again for the sake of a routine that’s completely arbitrary. But according to Godin the idea of stability is so sacred and we have worked so hard to create stability, to implement a system that works automatically, that we perceive it as a failure (or at least heresy) to kill our systems even if they are killing us or our business or our career (paraphrased).

So what do I do with it?

So today’s assignment is to look at your life, or one of your life systems, and see what kinds of feedback loops are incorporated into it and whether you are getting positive feedback (do more) or negative feedback (do something else). Or maybe this is the first time you’ve noticed the feedback at all. Share in comments or write your own post about what you find out.


Melissa Donovan said...

I change my routines all the time -- sometimes based on the feedback of which you speak and other times just because I like change ;) I know people get stuck in their ways but I like to mix it up (regularly). Heheh.

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

I just had a great instant feedback loop this past week. Actually it's one I learned a long time ago but got sucked back into by a friend. The loop is to never offer advice (in this case editing advice) unless its asked for. This good friend asked me to help with an associate of his. Long story short, the friend of this friend wasn't thrilled with all my "wise and wonderful" insights. Imagine! : )

G's Cottage said...

@Melissa - I'm a strange bird. I like a measure of predictability but I hate being bored by the lack of originality. Maybe I'm just fickle. But grocery stores after 5 on Fridays are off-limits in my book.

@Karen - I emailed you because my reply was rather long but I, too, have gotten burned by people who have insisted they were authorized to get somebody help more times than I care to remember. Ouch.