Feedback happens, whether we respond or not

The other day I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed, which on this occasion focused on “Platform capitalism”. This is the world of Uber, AirBnB, and TaskRabbit, in which the company in question acts as a broker between those able to offer a service and those seeking it. Being Thinking Allowed it focused on the sociology of the phenomenon, and asked questions about how it was changing the nature of work and people’s relationship with employment.

In the course of the discussion one contributor, Professor Ursula Huws, suggested that although such businesses seem to be working in entirely new territories—“the Wild West” and “outside capitalism”—both their workers and governments are reacting. They are seeking to bring the companies clearly back within the bounds of existing regulation, or changing existing regulation to ensure their standing is clearer.

It’s inconceivable that the founders of these companies will have been able to predict exactly what’s happening today in terms of legal fights and regulation. But they might have predicted that something would happen in reaction to their activities. In fact the more successful such a company is the more likely there is to be a reaction.

I saw this as a good example that acting in some environment influences it, and the precise nature of the reaction is impossible to predict simply because the world is so complex. The lesson is that our organisations and our plans must be flexible. We must watch out for feedback and we need to be able to respond accordingly. A plan that’s a single sequence of actions is likely to fail in a complex world. The capability to react intelligently is essential.

Photo by Richard Lewis