Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tighten the Feedback Loop, Learn more

The extent to which an idea can be explored and developed is directly related to how easily it is possible to repeat and observe the results of tinkering. 

  - or -

The more feedback, the more you learn.

The more real time feedback available to a user is the more they will be able to experiment with how their changes affect the system. This type of exploration can yield some surprisingly valuable insights and the user will be able to more quickly integrate their new knowledge into solving problems. That's my summary of the presentation by Bret Victor on "Inventing by Principle". Just skip the first 5 minutes if you want to get the cool stuff, but the whole presentation is worth watching. 

The presentation reminded me of something that Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book "Outliers". He noted that, Bill Gates was one of the few individuals who during high school was able to get access to a teletype computer. This is significant in following ways. 1) He was able to invest huge numbers of hours learning 2) This model of computer had a tighter feedback loop than other machines used at the time, he could see the results of his work more quickly and thus learn how his changes affected things, then do it again. If he had been born a decade earlier the best opportunity might have been working with punch cards (hint: you can forget about making discoveries quickly using punch cards). For Gates a wonderful intersection of circumstances gave him an advantage that put him head and shoulders above his peers (or seniors for that matter) at the time. Not to take away from the fact that he was a bright and driven man, but minus the opportunity to iterate over problems he may not have had the impact that he has on our times. 

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