Friday, February 10, 2017

Importance of the feedback loop

Morning reflection: Flashback from an engg subject i had liked (control systems): any system's long term stability is decided by whether its feedback loop is effective or not. Often it's not even part of the core executive machinery but an outside / adjoining thing.

No matter how hi-tech or sophisticated the core, without a good feedback system any system will fail as even a tiny error gets magnified if not timely checked.

While things are going well (99.99% of the time), it often looks like that feedback mechanism is unnecessary and can be ignored/ done away with. But doing so ensures a later date failure.

Our prof was adamant that we take this principle and apply it to not just to circuits but to human systems like families, institutions, companies n govt as well. And he rubbed it in that no matter how perfectly you design your system, it will have errors, owing to everything from real world conditions to quantum mechanics. So rather than wasting tremendous resources in making the core system 100% perfect, he recommended it's better to just leave it at 80% and then devote resources towards making sufficient feedback mechanisms that will cover for the remainder 20%.

He pointed out how the bhopal tragedy happened precisely because the feedback was ignored as the feedback-givers weren'r part of the core executive.

And he showed us how those who have full faith in the system and self-righteously attack the feedback loops for "daring to question" or whatever are ironically the biggest unintentional threats to the system itself.

This basic engineering principle translated logically to need for democratic structures, for tolerance of dissent (and imho the need to shun self-righteousness wherever it arises). We also saw him implementing this at his own end : he was much less rigid compared to the other profs, more interactive and conversational, taking inputs, had an excellent sense of humour etc. 

Applying it further, I think an 80% system with 20% feedback would be much more fun and easier to live with than a 100% system with 0 feedback. What do you think?

Lots of learning happens when we apply basic principles out of the box! ☺

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