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Feedback Loops and Information Systems

Matt Ginsberg
Information Systems Architecture and Technology: MIS 310
Chester Robinson

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All around us in this world are things that control something else. These things I am
talking about are systems. In everything we do there is something behind it that controls it,
whether it be talking on a cell phone, typing a paper, drawing, or have a plain old conversation
with someone, there is a system behind all of it. Within this paper we will discuss systems, stocks
with inflow and outflow, and more importantly, feedback loops and how they relate to the
system. We will dig into them as they relate to information systems and how they can either help
or hurt us.
In order to understand feedback loops, we need to understand systems. Systems are
everywhere, and with a little knowledge of what a system is, and does, we can determine a lot
more about how they work and operate in our daily lives. According to Meadows, a system is an
interconnected set of elements that coherently organized in a way that achieves something
(2008). Systems are made to do something, they must have three things in order to be called a
system; elements, interconnections, and a purpose or function (Meadows, 2008).
An element is simply something that you can see, feel, touch. The mouse, keyboard,
monitor, computer tower are all elements that make up a computer. You can dig even deeper into
this example by pointing out the motherboard, RAM, CPU, and everything else that is located
inside of your computer tower. The interconnection is the flow of those elements. For example,
when you press the letter "p" on the keyboard, very fast signals go from the motherboard of the
keyboard to the USB plug and tells that motherboard of the computer to display that letter on the
monitor. Think about playing games and how fast this happens when you change scenes or even
move your character along the level. The interconnection from keyboard and mouse to screen is
in a blink of the eye. If you were to change any type of this interconnection, then your system
will change drastically. For example, if you pressed "p" but another letter pops up, then your

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system has been altered. Finally, the purpose or function of having a computer system will range
from person to person. You might have a computer to do your homework on, or a computer that
you game on, or a computer that you do all of the above on. The purpose of any computer is to
make sure you are connected to the world and you can look up anything and everything you
Now that we discussed systems fully, we should take a look at feedback loops. In order to
understand a feedback loop, lets briefly discuss stocks and flows. According to Meadows, stocks
are the foundation to any system. Stocks are the elements of the system that you can see, feel,
count, or measure at any given time (2008). For example, a stock is that monitor, keyboard,
mouse, motherboards, ram, etc of a computer system. A flow is what happens when the stock
changes. You can have inflow and outflow. Take the example of the computer. The inflow is the
rate at which you can type, for example. The outflow would be what happens once you press the
buttons of the keyboard and how the monitor displays it. If the monitor breaks, you may have too
much inflow and not enough outflow which can cause your system to run slow or lag over time.
Without the outflow whatever you are typing will never display on your monitor and now you
have a broken system. Now that we understand what stock and flows are we should dig deep into
feedback loops.
A feedback loops can be explained simply by looking at the inflow or outflow of your
stock. Meadows explains that a feedback loop is the consistent behavior pattern over a long
period of time (2008). The best way to explain a feedback loop is to use a real life example.
Think about having a plastic cup. You fill the cup up with water and then poke a small hole at the
bottom of that cup. Then you pour water into the cup and fill it all the way to the top without
much coming out of the bottom - so you make the hole bigger. You keep doing this until the

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water stays level even with the water coming into the cup and escaping. You have successfully
created a feedback loop. Feedback loops can range from something so simple to something so
elaborate. One of the most elaborate systems and loops can come from a rainforest..
The rainforest is full of systems and feedback loops. The animals or creatures of the
forest uses everything they can and then what they used is turned back into either food or itself
again like leaves on a growing tree. According to Shireman and Kiuchi, at the base of every tree,
along every fallen log, and in every crevice where forest litter gathers, an array of wild
mushrooms flourish. Animals will eat these and they will grow back or be scattered around the
forest to become something else. Every living system in the rain forest creates its own loop for
survival. For example, Shireman and Kiuchi explain that the roots of the tree in the forest cannot
penetrate the soil. The roots run along the top of the soil and create a suction system that will
draw in resources that delivers it to the leaves above. Its remarkable that everything from animals
to plants can be its own system as well as its own feedback loop. They can also be a part of other
feedback loops; take an animal eating the mushrooms, for example, or larger animals eating
smaller animals. The loop continues.
To understand a feedback loop, you really have to take into consideration everything
about a system. Understanding the system is one thing, but to add on the stock and then look at
the inflow and outflow of that stock is another thing. The loop is what makes that inbound or
outbound possible which in return makes that system continue to run like a well oiled

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Meadows, D. (2008). Thinking is Systems. White River Jct., Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing
Shireman, B., & Kiuchi, T. (2002). Doing Business Like a Rainforeat: Feedback and Closed
Loop Systems. Environmental Quality Management, 12(1), 9-17