Changing Culture – Feedback Chains

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BLUF – In internal and external messaging, especially used in creating/ adjusting/ retaining culture, there are a few tools we can use. Trouble often is we are one voice in a babbling multitude, without enough signal to clear the noise threshold. For people to pay attention to the signal, it helps to have it broadcast from multiple places – either concurrently (think the song played over multiple speakers in a store, uniformly permeating the space) or complementarily (consider a echo gaining resonance as it finds amplification). These are what we term feedback chains – that can be put to great use.


Ever notice when something breaks in the news and what started as a small bit of information blossoms into a much-talked-about focal point in many settings and groups? Each might have a different take, some will adopt a particular spin, most will find how it’s relevant to them or their audience. These are what we term “feedback chains”, the importance and relevance of an initial piece of information becoming enough for others to carry a component of the message forward.

Much like a virus (too soon?) more exposure leads to more infection, leading to more exposure causing more infection, leading to more… etc. This is how ideas propagate, how public exposure shapes decision-making, how certain items aren’t missed.

In many news channels, feedback chains are created because the agency’s requirement for constant coverage is exhaustingly hard to fill. In some cases this is done deliberately to make certain someone’s message resonates. And this is typically achieved in two ways.

Concurrent: When everyone is talking about something, what we essentially have is an adapted feedback loop the likes a gig musician knows well. I vividly recall my past exposure to piercing feedback (tinnitus helps refresh the memory), the relevance here relates how messages arise among voices so the conversation is heard and the subject is noticed in the immediate. Think of the feedback loop as having many microphones or pickups connected to many amplifiers.

  • What is needed: This is concerted effort, so a few different individuals or teams are needed, who will all be bringing something to the table within a similar theme (ex. wanting a cyber best practice to be implemented in the business; CTI brought external examples, IR took examples from within the network, Training and Awareness created a presentation). The goal is to demonstrate unity of purpose in addressing the issue, among a larger group. This also works well for resource discussions, when multiple groups are pushing for the same item (especially when it’s beneficial to more than one part of the organisation) and those holding the purse are more likely approve funding.

Complementary: Sometimes messages start small, building over time. Just as what we see with Pebble Risks, the avalanches we face started as overlooked details. Messaging sees similar events, though we can use this phenomenon to our advantage. When a message is powerful, the number of people conversing about it essentially multiplies to exponential proportions. What about when the message isn’t so powerful? Well, we use the right people coordinating at the right times to give it power.

  • What is needed: Essentially coordination between speakers across time is required. Think of it more similar to the old alerting methods along the Great Wall of China – especially if there was a web of multiple walls needing to know. Coordinating authoritative voices to work along a story arc or theme – each taking a different piece intrinsic to the message resonant with their audience (who may/ may not be part of other coordinated experts’ audiences), bringing interest to the underlying issue the audience finds discussed in multiple channels. The trick (aside from coordinating with multiple experts to talk about the same thing) is treating the discussions similar to the tide – each expert’s addition being something of a wave. When the interest starts to die down, but before it’s completely lost, another voice picks it up. Timed correctly, this gives the message power it may not naturally have.

Used within an organisation, both methods can work to create culture shifts.

If you look at the resources used it gives the impression of messaging from bottom-up or top-down, respectively. This also can be used internally to bring other divisions onboard to efforts without overt relevance.

Externally, this can work wonders within a sector/ region/ ecosystem. Especially, larger institutions are reluctant to be the first to take on a new endeavor, but they will not be last. When so many others are talking about this particular issue or opportunity one can’t help but enquire. Look at the various equity conversations and cultural shifts now forming around D&I, these conversations weren’t held five years ago.

It required feedback chains to create the conscious-tsunami to wash over and change what once was. No doubt there will need to be many more to come, each shifting the culture from what was, to seeing humans as human, extending our in-group to higher scale.


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