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.)
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.