Joe and Towels
It’s been over twenty years since I studied negative feedback when studying Electrical Engineering and Physics at university.
Still, I often see real-world processes and systems where a negative feedback loop is missing. When I say negative feedback, I mean balancing feedback, not “that’s you that is” (critical) feedback.
“Negative feedback loops in which just the right amount of correction is applied with optimum timing can be very stable, accurate, and responsive.” Wikipedia
And that’s the key; it needs to be the right amount of feedback, leading to the right amount of correction, and it needs to be timed right.
So it’s at this point, 20 months into my job at NHS Digital, throughout which we have supported the country’s response to the pandemic, alongside business as usual, that the penny drops that I’ve completely neglected my balancing feedback loop.
I’ve always argued that, ultimately, the 1s and 0s in our care will be fine as long as we back them up, encrypt them at rest and in transport, et cetera, et cetera (a gross oversimplification, I know, but bear with me). And that we should never, ever forget the people that work to support the data and systems that we run, that ultimately make a difference for patients and healthcare staff at the front line.
So I remind my teams about wellness and available support; our firebreak weeks start with a 45-minute go-and-do-something-for-yourself-away-from-the-keyboard slot before we even begin to get nerdy.
Therefore it’s immensely irritating to realise how I had stopped feeding back to myself, and it shows how easy it is to be on autopilot and stop noticing.
But now that I’ve noticed, I have started to use that as feedback.
Progress is slow, but in the last month, I have:
- actually read two whole non-fiction books (Piranesi and The Thursday Murder Club),
- recognised that the last 20 months have been the loneliest of my career,
- started to even think “career” again, and about my personal development,
- started to enjoy playing with tech again: spinning up an instance of Neo4j to visualise a strategic initiative dependency graph and playing with ServiceNow APIs, just, because, I, can.
- using Giles Turnbull’s The agile comms handbook to give me the confidence to restart my personal comms, turning this from a bad draft into a published post.
The take home message is that, with everything going on at home, at work and in the world right now, it’s really easy to take your eye off your wellbeing ball (that sounded better in my head). Listen to what your body and mind are telling you, reconnect your feedback loop and start to make small corrective actions again.
As for the title of this blog? One of the tech giants should employ me as a test voice for speech recognition. “Joe and towels” was them recognising me say “show and tells”. And, ironically, there’s no way to give the feedback to say that they were wrong…