Understanding the Feedback Loop Concept from the Book "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith

This is the second article in the series of Six, on significant learning from the Book named "Triggers: Sparking Positive Change and Making it Last" by Marshall Goldsmith. In this article, the concept of the Feedback loop is taken up for discussion. The most important ideas that follow from the concept are discussed in some detail in this article.


It is a superb idea to take up concepts described in some classic book and then look up for relevant links to our own personal lives. These concepts, when anchored in such contexts, can indeed open up new vistas of understanding and action.

The concept of Feedback loop described in the book " by Triggers: Sparking Positive Change and Making it Last" by Marshall Goldsmith, paperback edition, Hachette India, price 299) is very relevant for increasing our self-awareness and then acting on such feedback for better personal effectiveness.

Marshall Goldsmith talks of four stages of a feedback loop: evidence, relevance, consequence, and action. Taking an analogy from driving, the author mentions "A feedback loop comprises four stages: evidence, relevance, consequence, and action. Once you recognize this, it's easy to see why the radar speed displays exploitation of the loop works so well. Drivers get data about their speed in real time (evidence). The information gets their attention because it's coupled with the posted speed limit, indicating whether they are obeying or breaking the law (relevance). Aware that they are speeding, drivers fear getting a ticket or hurting someone(consequence). So, they slow down (action) " (page 44).

Now let us turn towards the practical implications of the Feedback Loop concept through our real-world observations and experiences. The feedback loop concept is relevant to us at different levels. These are a) Relevance of the feedback loop in our personal lives b) Relevance of the Feedback loop in our official lives c) Relevance of the Feeback loop in our interactions with society d) Relevance of the Feedback Loop to what happens in the wider society e) Personal change

Relevance of the feedback loop in our personal lives

Let us take a practical situation at home. This happens so very often in our homes. Let us say you are a very Senior Executive, with an IIT and then ISB background. You are already Group Vice-President of Corporate Planning with an MNC, at the age of 36. Tensions often get on your nerves. For a while, your wife and kid put up with all your temper tantrums. It is just that your mother-in-law has a background in Psychology, and has some experience in counseling. She comes calling and you continue with your behavior, blissfully unaware of the effect that it causes on others. Officially, you are so successful, and your team is always delivering results. However, the need to constantly deliver good results and prepare reports on real-time cost-cutting exercises across the board does get the nerves on you.

Feedback comes from your mother-in-law. She wants to know why you beat up your eight-year-old daughter, who innocently showed you her painting in the school. (evidence). The data points to your uncontrolled anger (relevance). You have already hurt the child (consequence). The damage has to be done. Now, you should understand the absence of your remaining cool under the given circumstances, and you should change by giving up the anger in the first place. ( action).

How you get to do the change is very much in your control. You can do it. You should do it. How is that you are good at the office and are liked by all? It's simple. Your ego allows you that kind of a luxury. Every human being likes to be praised and you are not an exception. However, office work is only one part of your entire life. Your family is most important. It is the reservoir of all happiness, the source of all peace and joy that lasts forever. Once you realize this, the rest becomes easy.

Here are some methods that will positively help you. Take a couple of days off, go to a hill station and just relax. No cell phones and no email. Please do inform your office that you should not be disturbed, howsoever urgent the task may be. The next 48 hours is all yours. When you are in such a frame of mind, it becomes very easy to deconstruct each piece of the events as they occurred. Every bit of detail hits you so hard and you realize that it is high time that you change.

This is exactly what you do. You become very cool. You are firm that office matters are closed the moment you board the car back home. Once you make this a habit, your life becomes easy. You can get back to serious work, but when you come home, you become a loving husband and father.

The aforesaid example is the simplest example. There are thousands of such examples. This realization has also got to be understood in the context of the earlier article on the three fundamental problems that occur when we resist change. Each and every behavior of ours that is not healthy has to be anchored in the Feedback loop referred above. We need to take someone into confidence to get it done. When we seek constructive feedback from those who are close to us, we will positively change.

Relevance of the feedback loop in our official lives

Most of our irrational behavior is born out hatred for someone ( we can't even understand why we do not like the person at all).or short-sighted thinking that we can play politics with people or simply butter some boss and get things done. Each of these behaviors is linked with serious difficulties and consequences. This is very serious.

Let us take this real case study. Mr. Gopinath (name changed) was the head of what was ( and still is) called the "Personnel" department in the Foundry Division of a leading auto-component organization, based in a small town. The Corporate Headquarters of this conglomerate is in Chennai. This organization itself is part of a huge auto-component group.

This fellow had a godfather in one Mr. Hari. This gentleman was the head of the independent profit center and was known for his human relations approach, though he was also a tough taskmaster.

Mr. Gopinath would happily play around with his unique brand of dirty politics. He would order his subordinates to do all the dirty job. However, only he was in charge of key matters related to the vital industrial relations portfolio and did not share any detail with anyone. Over a period of time, the department became part of what was called Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and Total Quality Management (TQM) initiatives. He would breathe down the neck of anyone and give his own idea of what needed to be done ( which would be absolutely stupid anyway since he was never involved deeply in any matter pertaining to these initiatives. He was a virtual dictator who would shout at his subordinates even in the presence of other department personnel. His behavior was (evidence). His negative intent on keeping every subordinate under control and branding them inefficient was very obvious through his anger (relevance). The consequence of his action was so obvious. Totally demoralized subordinates and shoddy work done by them. (consequence).

The feedback came very late. One senior manager, who could never bear the torture of this fellow, resigned in disgust and turned the whistleblower. The evidence against him was so obvious and overwhelming. He was never liked by anyone who knew that the damage was already done and that his days were numbered. Mr. Hari, his Godfather was unable to save him. The Top Management brought in an outsider as his successor and pushed him into a corner with a "consultant" tag. In effect, he was reduced to just listening to workmen and giving some advice to his successor. This guy was smarter than him. He had 30 plus years of experience. It took just forty days to learn the ropes. After simply wasting some time, Mr. Gopinath was compulsorily retired. He was given all the negative feedback and told where he had gone wrong. However, since it was a miserable Management failure, the feedback was so negative from everyone who was affected and they happily utilized all the opportunity to rub salt into his many wounds.

Change, Mr. Gopinath did after his retirement. He felt guilty for all his sins. He voluntarily spoke to any human being who would warm up to him. (there were very few though). The same experience can happen to anyone.

Relevance of the Feeback loop in our interactions with society

The feedback loop is also relevant to our interactions with society. When we deal with strangers, it is always wise to be diplomatic. We can ill afford to display our political inclinations to anyone in the public and more so when it concerns people of other religions. Any overt behavior even remotely hurting the religious sentiments of a wider society of people belonging to another religion is a sure recipe for disaster,

The consequences of our action in this regard can disrupt social peace and even lead to violence. When politicians incite violence or talk nonsense it is our duty to condemn thing through social media or the print media. We could even write polite letters to such politicians, pointing out the dangers of a narrative that could cause immense harm to the social fabric as it were. Such feedback will be very sensibly treated by mature politicians.

Relevance of the Feedback Loop to what happens in the wider society

Even the worst of critics would really appreciate the excuses asked by politicians if they are sincere and direct. If the ruling party has indeed done some wrong, it would do well to really apologize and then come up with a fresh Vision of where it wants to take the nation. For instance, demonetization was an utter failure. The ruling party would need to admit this failure and not think that the opposition could gain when it does so. On the contrary, the hard evidence of some progress in many fields might nullify the negative consequences of such open admission.

When this happens, the action in terms of apology will, in fact, win those concerned a wider appeal of honesty and transparency not seen in recent times.

However, this is a big task. At best, we can voice such opinions in various articles in the print media.

Personal Change

Every single point discussed in each of the aforesaid paragraphs is relevant to Personal Change, in as much as Feedback is a vital aspect of personal change. In this connection, it is also relevant to refer to three vital inputs to resisting change that were discussed in an earlier article.


The crux of the Feedback loop has been sought to be explained with some examples. Except for the last variable, where it concerns others, it is very much in our control to use the feedback to the maximum extent and go to the next level of personal effectiveness.

The time to start is now.


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