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Feedback - Positive and Negative Feedback

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Posted 15 November 2012 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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Positive and Negative Feedback

Feedback is a very important topic.

You should become a world expert in the topic of positive and negative feedback.
You should make it your mission to be able to give the following lecture:

1. What is feedback?
2. Why is it important to have both positive and negative feedback?
3. What happens if you don't have any reliable feedback?
4. What principal forms do feedback messages take?
5. How should you use both positive and negative feedback?

Whenever you take an action, then you should be consciously very aware of its resultant effects on circumstances.
The resultant effects on circumstances of your actions constitute: feedback.

Positive and negative feedback

What is feedback?

Feedback is information.
Feedback is information that relates the results of a particular action, to its effects on the progress made towards a goal.

For example:
If you throw a dart at a dart board, then the dart will stick in a particular spot on the board (or the wall, or floor, or ceiling!). You can then readily observe and measure the position of the dart in relation to the bulls-eye target.
This measurement is the feedback on your dart throwing skills.
The feedback tells you how well or badly your last throw was relative to the target action which is a bulls eye.

If you are a sales person, and you are making cold calls using a particular sales script, then after 100 calls, you would be able to readily observe and measure the results of your existing sales script in relation to the sales target.
This measurement is the feedback on both your sales script and your communication skills.
The feedback tells you how well or badly your last 100 calls were, relative to the sales target.

If you are trying to send an unmanned robot lander to the planet Mars, in order to discover the chemical makeup of its surface, and thus ascertain whether, or not, there is organic life on Mars, then after the robot lander has landed and started its chemical experiments, you will try to observe and measure the results of the experiments in relation to the project mission objectives.

These measurements are the feedback on both your ability to land a robot in the correct landing site, and also feedback information that may help the life science experts declare that there is, indeed, simple nucleic molecules on Mars.

Feedback is important

Feedback allows you to learn about the effects of your actions on the environment around you.
Feedback allows you to learn whether what you are doing is working or not.
Feedback allows you to learn whether you should:

1. Keep doing what you are doing, or
2. Change what you are doing, or
3. Stop doing what you are doing

Feedback requires and presupposes goals - plans and action

Remember that Feedback is information that relates the results of a particular action, to its effects on the progress made towards a goal.
Therefore it is important to keep in mind that any discussion of feedback, implies an existing context of:

1. A clear and distinct goal.
2. A plan of action.
3. The implementation of a plan of action.
That action constitutes "a cause" and the related "effect" constitutes the feedback.

There are three fundamental feedback messages:

1. The action is taking you closer to your target state.
2. The action is not taking you closer to your target state.
3. The action is taking you further from your target state.
1 The action is taking you closer to your target state.

This is positive feedback

For example. As you drive along the motorway, you can readily observe the junction numbers as they count towards the junction relating to your target destination. The junction numbers indicate the feedback; your current actions are taking you closer and closer to your goal.

This is positive feedback

What is the implied message for positive feedback?

Answer: The implied message is "Keep doing what you are doing. It's working!"

The action is not taking you closer to your target state.

This is negative feedback

For example: Imagine you want to lose weight and you go on the Atkins diet. You consume meat and eggs and other high fat foods. After two weeks you decide you should weigh yourself.

When you climb onto the scales you can readily observe the numbers as they count your weight. To your chagrin you observe that you have not lost any weight. You are the same weight now that you were when you stopped eating fatty chips and replaced them with cheesy omelettes. The diet is not working!

This is negative feedback

What is the implied message for negative feedback?

Answer: The implied message is "don't keep doing what you are doing. It's not working!"

This message may itself mean either:

  1. Stop doing what you are doing and- or
  2. Change what you are doing
  3. The action is taking you further from your target state

This is negative feedback

For example: Imagine you are making more of those chips.
You leave your chip pan unattended on a high heat.
On your return to the kitchen you see the chip pan is on fire on the hot ring.
What if, then you rush to the sink and fill a mug of water. What if you throw the mug of cold water onto the chip pan fire with the intention of putting out the fire.
To your chagrin you would readily observe that you have not put out the fire.
Instead you have created a fireball of burning oil that engulfs the whole cooker.
Your actions would have made things worse!

Your "throw -a-mug-of-cold-water-on-the-chip-pan-fire" idea is not working!

This is negative feedback

What is the implied message for negative feedback?

Answer: The implied message is "STOP doing what you are doing. It's making things worse!"

This message may itself mean either:

1. Stop doing what you are doing and- or
2. Change what you are doing

This is not rocket science

It seems plainly obvious that when what you are doing is not working you should either:

1. Stop doing what you are doing and- or
2. Change what you are doing

And yet you can readily observe a thousand instances of people continuing to engage in actions that aren't working.

For example: Shouting and verbally abusing people is not a good way to gain their cooperative effort, and yet you can readily observe a thousand instances of people continuing to shout and verbally abuse others in order to try to get their cooperative effort. It never occurs to some people to Stop what they are doing and Change.

For example: Consuming too much food alcohol and drugs as a way of achieving happiness does not work and yet you can readily observe a thousand instances of people continuing to consume too much food alcohol and drugs in order to be happy. It never occurs to some people to Stop what they are doing and Change.

For example: Being disorganised and ill prepared for a meeting does not work and yet you can readily observe a thousand instances of people continuing to come to meetings in a disorganised and ill prepared state. It never occurs to some people to stop and Change.

Question:
What are you currently doing that is not working? More specifically:

1. What are you currently doing that is not taking you towards your goals.
2. What are you currently doing that is counterproductive and is actually taking you in the opposite direction to your goals.

For each question make a list of two activities or habits. Resolve to take the hint.

Either:
1. Stop doing what you are doing and- or
2. Change what you are doing

And to finish on a more positive note.

What are you currently doing that is, indeed, working well?

More specifically:

Name two activities that you engage in, that are working really well and which constitute something for which you can feel justly proud.

This is positive feedback.

The implied message is "In this respect, keep doing what you are doing. It's working!"

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