Wisdom usually entails avoiding extremes using balancing (“negative”) feedback grounded in observation, relationships, and systems. When abundance or transformation is needed, encourage magnifying (“positive”) feedback. So consciously apply and design feedback dynamics into activities and systems so that nature and reality don’t have to supply them at our expense.
Related: 15 Critical Thinking, 26 Full Cost Accounting, 33 Iteration, 44 Power of Listening, 60 Systems Thinking, 64 Using Diversity and Disturbance Creatively, 68 Whole System in the Conversation
Going Deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
The overall message of this is in a sense contained in the last sentence: “When we consciously apply and design-in feedback dynamics, Nature doesn’t have to supply them for us at our expense.”
Feedback is intrinsic to all systems. If we are trying to consciously work with systems and to design systems that will serve us over the long-term, we need to put feedback loops into them. If we don’t and we thereby generate certain imbalances, then nature or reality will step in and provide the appropriate feedback, often at our expense. We get messages from nature all the time that say (in effect) “Here is something you didn’t take into account. You didn’t design in the right feedback dynamics, so here are the feedback dynamics we – reality and nature – are instituting to correct that – feedback which you will undoubtedly experience as ‘consequences’…”
So this pattern is an effort to say, “Let’s make sure the systems we design and work with are feedback-friendly in ways that help us survive and prosper in healthy systems.”
Wisdom usually entails avoiding extremes. One of the standard definitions of wisdom is having a sense of balance. In our efforts to create public wisdom and wise democracy we want to create a democracy in which the people can come together and create solutions and systems which don’t go to extremes, solutions and systems which have a certain level of balance and sanity to them.
So we want “negative” feedback loops, which means that when there’s a stimulus, the system looks at the stimulus and senses, “Is this too much? Is this too little?” and brings conditions back into balance. The standard example of a negative (“balancing”) feedback dynamic is the thermostat. When the thermostat picks up that the room is too hot, it puts in some cold influence – cold air or whatever the system uses – to balance the heat and the temperature in the room. If the room gets too cold, the thermostat gets the system to pump in some heat.
It’s like the rich and poor in society. One of the other patterns in this pattern language tells us to avoid extremes of wealth. People who are very rich can buy more politicians to get more favors and invest their money to accumulate more money. So that is a positive feedback loop that continually increases their wealth and creates imbalances in the society. So having dynamics built into the system to make sure extreme wealth gets balanced out supports long-term benefits for everyone. Progressive taxation is one system that tries to do that. So that’s an example of the dance between negative and positive feedback dynamics.
One of the best ways to create rich feedback dynamics is to keep things local. Individual and group actions become known by other people in the area, who then respond. It’s very obvious. You meet people in the grocery store and so on. Those reputational and interactive dynamics are natural aspects of the intimacy of a community or the intimacy of the ecology. If somebody is poisoning things or breaking things down in ways that other people don’t like, that person will hear about it. When things are local the feedback dynamics are much more dense and quick. Once you get up to national and international scales, the feedback loops tend to be more complex, slower operating and less personal and intimate. So that’s one rule: You can make feedback dynamics richer when you have them happen at the local level.