Adams Systems, an addendum

So after the pre­vi­ous post, Alper asked for a con­crete exam­ple of the loop, and Boris asked for a draw­ing of it. I fig­ured both would be use­ful exer­cis­es to see if the Adams Sys­tems idea holds any water. (Yes, I’ve decid­ed to name these intrin­si­cal­ly moti­vat­ed sys­tems of deci­sion and action after Scott Adams, the cre­ator of Dilbert.)

A Diagram…

Adams System diagram

Yes it’s messy and maybe illeg­i­ble in places but I do think this shows two impor­tant things: One is mak­ing a con­scious effort to reflect on action out­comes and in par­tic­u­lar to make intrin­sic out­comes (more) appar­ent to your­self. The oth­er is to adjust actions based on the per­ceived odds of expect­ed and unex­pect­ed out­comes happening.

… And an Example.

OK. Let’s say we are inter­est­ed in blog­ging. The intrin­sic moti­va­tion for this is, we enjoy the process of artic­u­lat­ing our think­ing, and pro­cess­ing ideas that we’ve encoun­tered else­where. An (arguably extrin­sic) moti­va­tion might be that we get recog­nised by oth­ers for our abil­i­ty to come up with new ideas. 

One desired out­come of the blog­ging activ­i­ty would be posts, which we pro­duce at some fre­quen­cy, and which make sense and are inter­est­ing to read, and which take ideas from oth­ers and recom­bine parts of them into inter­est­ing new ones. Such out­comes would sat­is­fy our intrin­sic moti­va­tion to blog.

An addi­tion­al out­come might include ques­tions, com­ments and encour­ag­ing words from read­ers, which would sat­is­fy our extrin­sic moti­va­tion for recog­ni­tion. How­ev­er, this par­tic­u­lar out­come is much more out of our con­trol than the pre­vi­ous one.

Increas­ing the odds of out­come num­ber one could be done by ensur­ing there is time for the occa­sion­al blog­ging to hap­pen. It would also help to keep track of things we read, and to record inter­est­ing quotes that we might want to use in future posts. We might in addi­tion set a low bar for what qual­i­fies as a blog post, and to force our­selves to write in one go. All of these things make it eas­i­er for the writ­ing to hap­pen in the first place. The appear­ance of a blog post sat­is­fies our intrin­sic moti­va­tion, and thus increas­es the like­li­hood of us set­tling down to write anoth­er one at a lat­er point in time.

Out­come num­ber two is hard­er to con­trol. Increas­ing the odds of this hap­pen­ing might include delib­er­ate­ly pick­ing sub­ject mat­ter which is pop­u­lar or con­tro­ver­sial. It might also include for­mat­ting our posts in such a way that they read eas­i­ly and invite a response. The dan­ger of doing these things is read­i­ly appar­ent, because they can eas­i­ly con­flict with the things we need to do to blog reg­u­lar­ly, such as set­ting a low bar.

It would there­fore be advis­able to put more effort in mak­ing Out­come One appar­ent to our­selves, and to not obsess too much over Out­come Two. Sheer vol­ume in posts also increas­es the odds of read­er response, after all. But if we start obsess­ing over read­ers sta­tis­tics and com­ment counts, we might lose sight of the things we wrote in the first place. How­ev­er, by re-read­ing old posts we remind our­selves of our past think­ing, which serves to bol­ster our con­fi­dence in stay­ing the course.

So two adden­da to the Adams Sys­tem idea. I think I’ll leave it at this for now.

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.