Carol Sanford – Fourth and Fifth Levels of Systems Thinking / why feedback is irresponsible

This is offered by me under the category of ‘hmmmmm, I dunno….

I heard Sanford on the always-excellent Amiel Handelsman podcast:

No More Feedback With Carol Sanford (Episode 103)

Instinctively, I think there’s a lot to what she’s saying, but I’m not sure about the narrative, which I think might be wrong or confused. The historical timeline she sketches is that ‘feedback’, as in giving and receiving feedback, or 360 degree feedback, is a misunderstanding of the cybernetic governor, applied extrinsically rather than intrinsically. She draws a line through early behavioural analysis ‘in the rat-filled labs of John Watson at Princeton University and B. F. Skinner at Stanford’, to the Macy conferences where allegedly the concept was misinterpreted by the nascent science of psychology.

And then has a schema of closed systems – cybernetic systems – complex adaptive systems (NB Bateson gets swept up into this side of things) – developmental systems – evolutionary systems. She draws a lot on Charles Krone.

So I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff here, but some arguments and a strong developmental/teleological world view which I’m not comfortable with. Would value comments of others!




Providing feedback to peers, subordinates, and even superiors—particularly the 360 Degree view of performance appraisal—became popular as scientists and engineers began to understand how cybernetic systems work in computer applications. The creators of these artificial intelligence systems discovered that feedback loops are critical for correcting and adjusting the performance of control mechanisms, such as thermostats […]

Source: Why Feedback Is Irresponsible and What To Do Instead: Part One of Six – Carol Sanford

Forth and Fifth Levels of Systems Thinking: Different Capabilities Are Required, Different Potential Offered By Carol Sanford Originally published at Wharton School, International Conference on Systems Thinking and Management 2004, As a manager in DuPont who finally came face to face with the Freon nightmare, I can tell you that thinking too small about a […]

Source: Forth and Fifth Levels of Systems Thinking: Different Capabilities Are Required, Different Potential Offered – Regenerative Business Summit2