New Bottom Line Volume 15.4 – Generative Feedback: Changing How We Think About Change

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The splendid WorldChanging (where I periodically contribute) asked its contributors for thoughts on the question: “Looking Toward 2007: What’s Next?” Here’s what I wrote:

The key words I’m watching for 2007: generative feedback. Performance feedback that doesn’t just track behavior; it drives it. And changes the way people talk and think about it.

Just as Prius owners inevitably change their driving behavior (whether they want to or not, whether they intend to watch their energy dashboard or not, and regardless of penalties or incentives) relevant performance feedback can engage stakeholders, steer strategy, and markedly improve implementation – the Achilles heel of most sustainability initiatives.

JM Juran pegged this nearly 60 years ago, when he observed that “To be in a state of self-control, a person must know: what he [or she] is supposed to do, what he [or she] is actually doing, what choices [or she] has to improve results wherever necessary. If any of these three conditions are not met, a person cannot be held responsible.” (I ask for a show of hands in every business audience I speak to: “How many of you have all three in your organization? How many have two? One?” The silence is consistently deafening and the unease palpable, as everyone realizes what a fix we’re each/all in.)

Which is why it’s such good news that technology is conspiring to break this logjam (even if management and organizational culture may still lag the opportunity):

Where’s the cool feedback on the Worldchanging front?

Our focus at Natural Logic: building on Bucky’s GeoScope inspiration, Jan Hanhart’s early 1990s “EcoFeedback” project in the Hague, our own work with our Business Metabolics sustainability indicators system (delivering live corporate sustainability metrics to help people manage more sustainably, not just report on it), Regional Metabolism Assessments of city and county economies, we’re building a “Regional Sustainability Dashboard” for the San Francisco Bay Area. (And encouraging the formation of a public/private consortium to support real time regulation of environmental performance.) We’re weaving a juicy web of technology-, data- and channel-partners, and we’d love to hear from you if you have a potential role to play.

The point of it all – and the reason I talk about generative feedback – is not the numbers are the graphs, but the conversations they engender and the mindsets they shift. My success metric: when one of our customers (or one of their stakeholders) says “Wow, I never thought of it that way before.”

There’ll be more about this – coming soon – on the Natural Logic web site, at Worldchanging, and of course at my blog (which has a new address; please take note). Stay tuned!

(c) 2006 Gil Friend. All rights reserved.

New Bottom Line is published periodically by Natural Logic, offering decision support software and strategic consulting that help companies and communities prosper by embedding the laws of nature at the heart of enterprise.

Gil Friend, systems ecologist and business strategist, is President and CEO of Natural Logic, Inc.

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