Roger van Oech’s book did its job back in the early 80’s, when I first discovered it. It seems to take a lot more now to make me change direction. My 9-year-old asks great questions that often break my lookup habit and make me think; wisdom beats knowledge, especially when the ‘knowledge’ is really just a habituated response.

An old mentor told me years ago that in life and in electrical engineering, nothing but negative feedback works. A system with no feedback can’t do anything useful, and a system with positive feedback generates runaway output. But negative feedback allows systems to respond to the consequences of their outputs.

A person who receives no feedback (because of isolation or through willful ignorance) misses the correlation between their actions and the associated consequences, and therefore can’t learn to regulate their actions.

Someone who gets only positive feedback (think ‘self esteem movement’) pays more attention to repeating the actions that earned them praise, and none to stopping actions that may be harmful. Positive feedback focuses their attention away from the things that need to change.

We view things that are negative as ‘bad’, and that’s not always wrong. Change can be hard, especially for us oldsters. I’ve always done it this way and it has gotten me this far. Why should I change now? Because it doesn’t work any more.

Sometimes it take a few failures for me to see that something needs to change. As long as I’m paying attention, though, I know I’ll get the whacks I need.