Systems Thinking Tips #2- Feedback Loops

The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back

Peter Senge – The Fifth Discipline

As the Senge quote implies, brute force does not scale well within the context of a system. One of the reasons for systems stability is feedback. Within the bounds of the system, actions lead to outcomes, which in turn affect future actions. This is a positive thing, as it is required to keep a complex operation on course.

The presence of feedback is an integral characteristic of a system. No feedback means no system.

There are two main types of feedback:

  • Reinforcing feedback: a change in system state which serves as a signal to enhance the initial change. In other words, the system provides a big difference in the same direction.
  • Balancing feedback: a change in a system state that serves as a signal to start moving in the opposite direction to restore the lost balance.

Things to consider are as follows

  • How you are accepting and executing feedback signals?
  • How the feedback relationship with your investors is evolving, in terms of your product direction?
  • How the feedback relationship with your users is evolving, in terms of both operational criteria and product direction?

Feedback loops are a powerful tool in the manager’s hands. The initial change in the variable (process, etc) stimulates its further change in the original direction. Thus, if we succeed in changing the variable in the direction we need (reinforcing loop), we can start the process throughout the whole context, and since the variables enter several contexts (aka contours) at once, we can launch the same series of cascade effects that will now work for us. All systems are endowed with a balancing feedback mechanism that ensures their stability. But — in order for balancing feedback to work, measurement is necessary (f.e., to define when should we switch to a balancing loop). This measurement must be accurate enough for the feedback to work adequately.

1 thought on “Systems Thinking Tips #2- Feedback Loops

  1. Pingback: Systems Thinking Tips #3- System Archetype Traps | Reflections @ Abhishek Dwivedi

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