The Perils of Automatic Dog Feeding

The world is rarely a series of dominoes lined up to fall in a pattern. It’s not even a Rube Goldberg device going through bizarre motions to a carefully calculated result. More often, it is like the complex automatic dog feeding machine Doc Brown created in Back To The Future, a process in motion unaware that it is making a mess because Einstein (the dog) wasn’t around to eat the food it served up. There was no feedback loop in the system, nobody to realize the situation had changed, no way to respond by turning the device off.  

Focus and Feedback

Doc Brown’s invention had no feedback. For us, the problem is that feedback gets overwhelmed by noise or deflected by focus. We create focus by selectively ignoring everything except the issue at hand. This is useful, until it isn’t. When Einstein isn’t around to be fed, when unexpected things happen in our lives, we need awareness, feedback, reflection and response. 

Awareness

We need awareness to realize that something may go wrong at any moment. We all understand this, but focusing on one thing may make us deaf to another. Focus is a critical success tool, but so is shifting focus when we become aware of new information, new problems, or new opportunities. 

Feedback

In one sense, feedback is free. When we do something, the world responds. If we notice the response, that is feedback, but not very effective feedback because it leaves the decision about significance to others. Unless something is important to them, they minimize reaction and thus minimize feedback. They don’t complain when they could because something else is more important. 

“Actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback.” ~ Elon Musk

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk advises us to “actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback.” His point is that feedback is critical to solving problems. We must do more than listen for feedback; we must ask for it.

As Mr. Musk points out, we need to carefully consider the feedback we get. The feedback we get from competitors or enemies may be intended to mislead us, but it may have value. Only we can decide what the feedback means for us. 

Reflection

Once we have listened to the world, there is one more voice to hear., the one inside our head. We need to take a moment of reflection to gauge our own feelings. 90% of the feedback that matters is internal. Feedback is vital, but hear your own heart first.  

90% of the feedback that matters is internal.

Response

The thing about negative feedback is that if you don’t respond there are only two possible outcomes: more damage or disaster. These are still possible outcomes if you do respond, but a response creates the possibility of less damage or the desired outcome. We drive cars safely by repeated response to continuous feedback. 

Summary

Awareness will make it possible to detect feedback.

Feedback tells us we are off course. 

Reflection gives us time to adjust appropriately. 

Response is the only chance for a better outcome. 

Don’t let the feedback from the world overwhelm your internal voice.  

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