The Feedback Loop

When managing holistically, the beneficial effects of a positive feedback loop are undeniable.  So, what is the ‘feedback’ loop, and how is it different?

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A feedback loop has been standard practice in agriculture for a long time.  The trouble though, is that we have usually been measuring the wrong thing entirely.  One is reminded here of the words of the outstanding Israeli-born physicist, Eliyahu Goldratt, who in recent years has turned his hand to studying business management practices in some of the largest companies in the world.  

Goldratt says: “Show me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave. But, if you measure me illogically, do not complain at my illogical behaviour.”   Whenever a tool is used—for example a herbicide spray—it is common practice to revisit the treated paddock within a few days of treatment.  This is done to confirm that the weeds are dying as expected.  Dead weeds confirms a successful treatment, whilst thriving weeds feed back disturbing data and poses the question: ‘The treatment has not worked, now what do we do?’

In every aspect of life, monitoring (if it occurs at all) is carried out to confirm the success of an action, just like the spray treatment above.  Once the desired outcome is observed, monitoring ceases.  In agriculture, billions of similar spraying decisions have created huge successes—dead weeds and insects all over the world—and catastrophic ecological failures that no one saw until it was nearly too late: desertification on a massive scale.

The difference
When managing holistically, the feedback loop works slightly differently.  Before a decision is enacted, part of the process is to ask: ‘What would tell us that this decision, although apparently sound, is wrong in practice?‘  What you are looking for is early evidence of deviation from plan.

Take the above example: desertification doesn’t happen overnight.  It is a progressive thing.  Early evidence might include: a slight decline in the population of certain species, a slight increase in bare soil, a slight downward movement in carrying capacity or crop yield, a slight need for additional fertiliser etc.  If you are monitoring a financial decision, you would identify the appropriate early warning indicator, just as you would when monitoring a decision that has social implications.

Monitoring is a 24-letter word
When managing holistically we replace the notion of monitor with the four part process
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