“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
— Elon Musk
In 2016, Loic Le Meur, a French entrepreneur and Tesla owner, frustrated by supercharger stations repeatedly being misused as parking spots for already fully-charged cars, tweeted at Musk: “@elonmusk the San Mateo supercharger is always full with idiots who leave their Tesla for hours even if already charged.”
Musk replied back in 20 minutes: “You’re right, this is becoming an issue. Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.”
Six days later, Tesla released a software update on its entire fleet which gave it the ability to levy a $0.50 idle fee for every minute a fully-charged Tesla car occupied a spot at any of its Supercharger stations (with a grace period of five minutes), thus incentivizing owners to move out their cars once charging was complete, and freeing up space for other cars to come in and get recharged as well.
In the above story, you can observe a complete feedback loop taking place: Musk welcoming criticism, becoming aware of an issue from a customer, and taking quick action on it.
What Self-Driving Cars, Mario Kart, and the Immune System Have in Common
This is not only limited to businesses. You can find feedback loops pretty much everywhere: the cruise control or self-driving system in your car, in your body’s immune system, and antivirus software on your computer or phone. In fact, they permeate almost every system in your life.
Chances are, even your favorite video game uses a feedback loop — feeding your current performance stats back into its core mechanics to either increase or lower difficulty, and thus determining the likelihood of future success or failure — in a bid to increase interaction, replayability, and addictiveness.
Ever wondered what’s the purpose behind the Blue Shell in Mario Kart? Now you know.
3 Steps to Create Your Own Self-Improvement Feedback Loop
To develop this habit in a more practical way in everyday life, follow these three steps:
- Reflect on your productivity at the end of each day: What did you get done? What did you procrastinate on? If you pushed yourself, could you have achieved more? Ask yourself these questions and try to see honestly how you performed that particular day without any bias or excuses, and with complete honesty.
- Get constructive feedback: Ask somebody you know and trust for feedback — a friend, colleague, or mentor. Or, you can find it by yourself as well. For example, if you’re a student, think about an exam or assignment grade. If you’re a blogger, read the comments from your readers on your blog. If you’re an entrepreneur, check online reviews and forums of your product or service. Can you pick any common trends or any big issues that need to be addressed, but you’re currently unaware of?
- Check if your current productivity is in line with your goals: Are you doing enough to reach your targets in time? Suppose you have a deadline on a project, are you working enough every day to reach it? Based on your observations, make slight course corrections in your schedule, processes, or to-do list so that you can perform better tomorrow.
At its root, maintaining a feedback loop is about knowing how you are performing currently, getting feedback from others, and making sure you do enough to reach your goals in time. And doing that every single day, habitually.
The goal with this habit is to always be in a state of improvement: just moving forward step by step. Not sitting in one place, and not taking huge strides to reach unreasonable targets either. That’s what leads to true productivity.