Whole-System Stakeholder Dialogues: Again if you have a problem, conflict or issue, the stakeholders involved are collectively generating it and their dynamics are making it more and more of a problem. So by having dialogues where those dynamics are becoming conscious and shared, people can better understand what it is that they’re doing that is generating this common problem, and they can start to become conscious and decide to do something different to generate different feedback dynamics that will generate a healthy resolution. But you need to include people from the whole system – from all parts of the system – in order to have that work really well. If you solve one part of the problem in one corner of the system, some parts in another corner of the system that were not included are going to make themselves known later on, usually in a disturbing way. So it is best to include the whole system up front.
Teal Organizations: This is a new concept for organizations that have no bosses. Bosses are usually in place to manage things and to make sure that specific things get done in a sort of top-down way. Teal organizations are mostly organized by self-managed teams. Within each team there is strong communication and strong support going on. Also among teams there are usually strong support and feedback systems set up. If you’re going to do some initiative and there’s no boss to tell you can’t, you need to go around to everybody that will be involved in whatever it is you want to do and get some feedback from them. You say, “Here is what I want to do. What do you have to say about it?” In this way you get quite informed about the larger system before you start impacting certain parts of it. So that creates a very feedback-rich system.
Nonviolent Communication: In this process people in conflict tell each other “When you do this I feel this because I need that.” This is actually a description of the feedback dynamics generating interpersonal stress, an inquiry into the stimulus-response dynamics that are generating their conflict. I’m telling you what’s going on in my side of this and finding out from you what’s going on over on your side. That makes the unconscious feedback dynamics of the conflict visible, very much like in Dynamic Facilitation or Whole-System Stakeholder Dialogues. You are making the unconscious feedback dynamics conscious. Then you can say, “Okay, so let’s find some other way to meet our needs so we don’t trigger each other so much and get in each other’s way.“ The process is helping us create feedback dynamics between us that are more mutually supportive and individually satisfying.
Repetition Systems: This is iteration. When you do something that triggers a response in the environment, that response tells you what worked or didn’t. If it didn’t work like you wanted, it’s up to you to try something else. Creating systems that have feedback between an idea, its implementation, the results of that, and the understanding of both the action and the feedback – that’s a learning system, that’s an intelligence system. Make sure that you put repetition and iteration into whatever systems you are designing to make feedback systems richer and more conscious and then the whole activity will become more intelligent and able to learn.
Stigmergy is a word I learned a couple years ago that refers to an interesting form of feedback that has been studied in ant colonies. One ant will leave a trace of chemicals where it’s been walking and there’s meaning in those chemicals. So you see ants crawling all over the surface in random kind of directions. Then one of them finds the honey jar. So that ant goes back to the colony, leaving chemical traces in its path that indicate there’s food over there. As other ants wander around they stumble upon that message and they start tracking it back and suddenly you have a whole swarm of ants on your honey jar.
It turns out that this is very similar to what happens on Amazon.com. When you buy something, Amazon’s algorithm notices that you bought it and notices your other behavior – what you did before you came, what you did while you were on the site and on that particular page and what you did afterwards. It’s doing that for everybody who visits that page and keeping a record of it. That’s the trace: thanks to the algorithm, you are leaving a trace without realizing it. Amazon is collecting your traces (and everyone else’s) and it will then tell you (in a composite way) about all the people who came to the page before you and also looked at that particular page: i.e., they were looking at some other thing, and when they bought this they also bought this other thing with it or they went and looked at this other page. Amazon has all that information on all the people who visited and they give you provocative glimpses of this information to nudge you towards making a purchase – or more purchases. There is nobody there at Amazon figuring it out and telling you. It’s just built into the system and happens automatically. You are leaving your electronic trace just like ants leave their chemical trace. And that’s human technological stigmergy.
Those are all examples of where there are rich feedback dynamics, how to install rich feedback dynamics, or how to make feedback dynamics more conscious so that you can have some influence and choice over them.