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The Importance of Feedback

Despite the obvious plainness and simplicity of the subject, I would like to devote my first post to it.

We all live in the world where each our action causes either a reaction or nothing. Without a reaction, we feel that something went wrong. Lack of feedback might not be uncomfortable for some people. Indeed, what is there to worry about if the limitations are removed and one can “be oneself”, as the young often say?

Feedback cannot be one-use. It’s always there and permanent, e.g. you always have «feedback from the customer». It’s not one-use (“there is one today, and there will never be anymore”), it’s quite the opposite. Children will always ask you for ice-cream (or the thing they want at that moment) when you go for a walk with them. When designing a system, a program, an instrument or any other thing, feedback is used to gauge it and operate it properly.

But what shall one do if the feedback is missing? What if the passing signal is adulterated with noise? And what if the feedback is completely missing? (all’s gone failed)?

In this case, we do not know what our customer or subordinate thinks of us. A man does not know where he’s hot or cold. A space ship furrowing the deep darkness space loses connection with the Control Centre. Everything’s breaking down…

There are two types of feedback: positive and negative. Positive feedback is a connection where the change in the system’s output signal causes the change in the input signal that promotes further variance of the output signal from the initial value, i.e. it is an explosion or an implosion. But in any case, it’s a clear conclusion and an end of the system/process/society’s existence. Negative feedback is a type of connection where a system’s output signal comes back as an input signal to blank a part of the input signal. Negative feedback makes the system more resistant to an accidental change in parameters, i.e. it’s a self-regulating humpty-dumpty with its reference for correction.

From the processes and management prospective, all the processes sprawling in all directions or “imploding” into a zero are the processed with positive feedback. By contrast, correctly designed processes allowing the system to function for the required time (set for the project) are good example of negative (offsetting) feedback. A carelessly performed and managed project has a positive or distorted negative feedback and will not be finalized on time, with the set value and/or quality. Repairing a house with constantly arriving new external ideas that change your initial plan will be the same example. A restaurant with zero/distorted negative feedback will be ruined as the gap between the quality of its dishes (positive or negative) and the standard will always be widening. A country managed with broken or missing feedback from its citizens is as doomed as a similarly managed project.

At the same time, a repaired or created from scratch feedback can often solve 90% of management problems. For projects, these are often communications. For system development, they are correct design. For society, they are again communications and socially controlled processes.

Unfortunately, many people are not used to thinking in these terms. They try to invent some “crutches” for poorly designed processes to support the process/system on different sides. But these “crutches” fail to repair/create the feedback in 90% of cases. They are still crutches and supports. Such “innovations” always have a predictable result with a rather clear time, let alone 100% probability of failure which these “crutches” were intended to prevent.

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