Sunday, August 13, 2023

Stability! It's a good thing

It counts for a lot.
It implies -- for behaviors and management decisions -- predictability, reliability, under-control (but not risk-free, of course), coherent narrative, steady-state goals, and a strategy that is understandable to those who have the job of implementing it.

Perhaps you are aware, as many are, that stability requires feedback to effect error correction and trap excesses and blind alleys. 
Ah yes!
We know about feedback.
Open loop systems -- those with outcome but no feedback -- are prone to many uncontrolled and unexpected responses. Who can predict what a stimulus will do to a system that has no feedback? Actually, that's a really tricky task.

So, what about feedback? 
What's to know?
  • Timing is everything! Getting the feedback "phased" in time such that it has a correcting effect rather than a destructive effect is vital. The former is generally called "negative feedback" for its corrective nature; the latter is generally called "positive feedback" for its reinforcing rather than corrective nature. And, when its too late, it's generally called ineffective.

  • Amplitude, or strength, or quantity is next: It has to be enough, but not too much. Tricky that! Experimentation and experience are about the only way to handle this one.
What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, a lot can go wrong.

No feedback at all is the worst of the worst: the 'system' is 'open loop', meaning that there are outcomes that perhaps no one (or no thing) are paying attention to. Stuff happens, or is happening, and who knows (or who knew)?

Timing errors are perhaps the next worst errors: if the timing is off, the feedback could be 'positive' rather than 'negative' such that the 'bad stuff' is reinforced rather than damped down. 

Strength errors are usually less onerous: if the strength is off, but the timing is on, then the damping may be too little, but usually you get some favorable effect

Practical project management
Feedback for correcting human performance is familiar to all. Too late and it's ineffective; too much over the top and it's taken the wrong way. So, timing and strength are key

But, the next thing is communication: both verbal and written (email,etc). Closing the loop provides reassurance of the quality and effectiveness of communication. You're just not talking or writing into the wind!

And, of course, in system or process design, loops should never be open. Who knows what could happen.

I should mention:
The study of feedback systems generally falls within what is called 'cybernetics'. As described by, MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics as “the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine." 

From Wikipedia, we learn: The core concept of cybernetics is circular causality or feedback—where the observed outcomes of actions are taken as inputs [ie, feedback] for further action in ways that support the pursuit and maintenance of particular conditions [ie, 'ways that support' requires the correct timing and strength]

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