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Article feedback_loops_kevin_van_aeist

Published on April 21st, 2013 | by Dan Walsh


The Mighty Feedback Loop

After reading this article I realized how beholden we all are to feedback loops. They are the tutors that taught us every behavior we know, and they are the most efficient way to get better at absolutely anything. If little Tommy gets stung by a hornet, he learns never to poke the nest again. If Susie studies for her spelling test and then gets an A, she learns to study next time as well. It’s a simple cause and effect relationship.

A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage. Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in which it was captured but in a context that makes it emotionally resonant. This is the relevance stage. But even compelling information is useless if we don’t know what to make of it, so we need a third stage: consequence. The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead. And finally, the fourth stage: action. There must be a clear moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act. Then that action is measured, and the feedback loop can run once more, every action stimulating new behaviors that inch us closer to our goals.

The revelation that feedback loops are something to be harnessed was world-shattering for me, but what got me really excited are all of the new feedback loops that are becoming available because of new sensor technologies.

Adding sensors to the feedback equation helps solve problems of friction and scale. They automate the capture of behavioral data, digitizing it so it can be readily crunched and transformed as necessary. And they allow passive measurement, eliminating the need for tedious active monitoring.

Having tried many active forms of self-tracking, I can attest to the need for automatic, almost invisible data capture as a necessary component for feedback loops associated with complex behaviors like sleep, diet, and fitness.

In the past two or three years, the plunging price of sensors has begun to foster a feedback-loop revolution… Feedback loops are popping up everywhere because sensors keep getting cheaper and better at monitoring behavior and capturing data in all sorts of environments. These new, less expensive devices include accelerometers (which measure motion), GPS sensors (which track location), and inductance sensors (which measure electric current). Accelerometers have dropped to less than $1 each—down from as much as $20 a decade ago—which means they can now be built into tennis shoes, MP3 players, and even toothbrushes.

I would even go so far as to assert that most instances of failed behavioral changes, losing weight for example, are a result of a broken feedback loops. Loops that could be fixed with these new sensors and a little extra attention.

Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors. Action, information, reaction.

Read The Full Article: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/ff_feedbackloop/

Photo: Kevin Van Aelst


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