Feedforward Scenarios

You have probably heard of feedback; what is feedforward? Feedforward is a control mechanism or process in which information about a future state or condition is used to adjust the current or ongoing system performance. Unlike feedback, which reacts to the actual outputs or outcomes of a process, feedforward acts in anticipation of potential changes or disturbances. One of the big sources of business failure is the inability to respond quickly to changes. It takes time to change course, design and implement new measures. So feedforward is critically important for any businesses in a chaotic business environment. Whereas in the past, entrepreneurs have depended on their intuitions, our business environments are now very complex and dynamic systems demanding agility and extensive strategic foresight and planning. Feedforward is the key to successfully planning for quickly emerging opportunities and threats.

In a feedforward system:

  1. Anticipation: The system (such as your business) identifies information about potential future states or changes in the environment.
  2. Adjustment: Proactive adjustments are made to the system’s inputs or processes to prepare for or counteract anticipated changes.
  3. Goal: The primary goal is to prevent or minimize deviations from the desired or optimal state before they occur, or maximize access to opportunities before they disappear.

Feedforward is prevalent in various fields and applications, including biological systems, control systems, management, and decision-making processes. It is a forward-thinking approach that aims to enhance system performance, adaptability, and efficiency by taking into account predicted future conditions.

Feedforward is a control mechanism (information signal) that anticipates and adjusts a system’s performance based on an anticipated future state or external condition, with the goal of achieving a desired outcome. This proactive regulatory process involves providing information or making adjustments before the actual effects of a change are observed. Feedforward mechanisms are crucial in various domains, including biological systems, automated technologies, and small business management.

The Feedforward Imperative in Management

Feedforward in management is crucial for anticipating and adapting to changes in the external environment before they impact the organization. The Law of Requisite Variety, a key concept in cybernetics and systems thinking, emphasizes the need for the internal complexity of a system to match or exceed the complexity of its external environment. Here’s how feedforward in management relates to the Law of Requisite Variety:

Anticipating Environmental Complexity:

  • Feedforward’s Role: Feedforward mechanisms allow management to anticipate and understand the complexity of the external environment. By collecting and analyzing information about potential changes, challenges, and opportunities, organizations can proactively adjust their internal processes.

Matching Internal Variety:

  • Law of Requisite Variety: The Law of Requisite Variety states that a system must have a variety of responses equal to or greater than the variety of perturbations it experiences. In management, this means having the internal capabilities and adaptability to match the complexity of the external business environment.

Proactive Adaptation:

  • Feedforward Implementation: Through feedforward, management can implement changes in strategy, operations, and resources to align with anticipated environmental complexities. This proactive adaptation ensures that the organization is well-prepared to handle the variety of challenges it may face.

Enhancing Resilience:

  • Requisite Variety and Resilience: Organizations that effectively apply feedforward based on the Law of Requisite Variety enhance their resilience. They are better equipped to handle diverse and unpredictable changes in the business environment, minimizing the impact of disturbances.

Strategic Decision-Making:

  • Feedforward-Informed Decisions: Feedforward information informs strategic decision-making. Management can make informed choices about resource allocation, market positioning, and innovation based on an understanding of the variety of factors at play in the external environment.

Adapting to Dynamic Conditions:

  • Dynamic Environments: In dynamic and rapidly changing business environments, feedforward ensures that management can adapt the organization’s internal structures and processes to match the complexity and variety of external conditions.

In essence, feedforward in management, aligned with the Law of Requisite Variety, enables organizations to maintain equilibrium with their external environment. By proactively adjusting to anticipated changes, organizations enhance their ability to navigate complexity, ensuring that their internal variety is sufficient to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the diverse external environment.

Feedforward In Biological Systems:

In biological systems, feedforward is a regulatory process where the organism anticipates changes in its internal or external environment and initiates responses to prevent deviations from optimal conditions.

In temperature regulation, the body’s feedforward mechanism may induce shivering before a drop in internal temperature occurs, allowing the organism to proactively generate heat in anticipation of external cold conditions.

In Automated Technologies:

In automated technologies, feedforward refers to a control strategy where adjustments are made in anticipation of known or predicted disturbances, ensuring that the system responds efficiently to maintain desired performance.

In cruise control systems in cars, feedforward mechanisms adjust the throttle based on anticipated changes in speed, allowing the system to proactively regulate the vehicle’s speed before deviations occur.

In Small Business Management:

In small business management, feedforward involves implementing measures and adjustments in anticipation of potential challenges or opportunities, aiming to enhance performance and achieve strategic goals.

A small business may use feedforward by conducting market research and adjusting marketing strategies before launching a new product, anticipating and addressing potential customer preferences or market trends.

In summary, feedforward is a proactive and anticipatory control mechanism employed in various domains to achieve goals and maintain optimal performance. Whether in biological systems, automated technologies, or small business management, the implementation of feedforward strategies contributes to adaptability and the achievement of desired outcomes.

Feedforward in Relation to Opportunities and Threats

Positive and negative feedforward signals play a crucial role in helping organizations respond to environmental opportunities and threats. These signals involve proactive adjustments based on anticipated changes in the external environment. Here’s how positive and negative feedforward relate to environmental opportunities and threats:

Identification of Opportunities:
  • Positive Feedforward: Organizations use positive feedforward mechanisms to anticipate and identify potential opportunities in the external environment, such as emerging market trends, shifts in consumer preferences, or technological advancements.
Proactive Adjustment:
  • Anticipation of Opportunities: Positive feedforward signals prompt organizations to proactively adjust their strategies, processes, and resource allocations to capitalize on identified opportunities. This may involve product innovation, entering new markets, or forming strategic partnerships.
Exploiting Opportunities:
  • Goal-Oriented Action: The goal of positive feedforward in the context of opportunities is to position the organization to exploit favorable environmental conditions. By acting on anticipated opportunities, the organization aims to gain a competitive advantage and achieve its strategic goals.
Anticipation of Threats:
  • Negative Feedforward: Negative feedforward mechanisms help organizations anticipate potential threats in the external environment, such as economic downturns, regulatory changes, or technological disruptions.
Proactive Mitigation:
  • Threat Preparedness: Upon identifying potential threats, organizations use negative feedforward to proactively implement measures to mitigate risks. This may involve cost-cutting initiatives, contingency planning, or diversification strategies.
Adaptation to Threats:
  • Goal of Resilience: The goal of negative feedforward in the face of threats is to enhance organizational resilience. By preparing for and adapting to potential threats, the organization seeks to minimize negative impacts and maintain stability in the face of adversity.

In summary, positive feedforward helps organizations seize environmental opportunities by anticipating and aligning with favorable conditions. On the other hand, negative feedforward aids in preparing for and mitigating environmental threats, enhancing the organization’s ability to navigate challenges and maintain stability. Both types of feedforward are essential components of strategic management, enabling organizations to stay agile and responsive in dynamic external environments.

Here are three scenarios illustrating how positive feedforward mechanisms can serve goals and advance performance in small business management:

1. Market Research for Product Launch:

  • Goal: Successfully launch a new product in the market.
  • Positive Feedforward: Conduct comprehensive market research before the product launch to anticipate customer preferences, market trends, and potential challenges. Use the insights gained to refine the product features, marketing strategy, and pricing. This proactive approach helps align the product with customer expectations, increasing the likelihood of a successful launch and positive market reception.

2. Employee Training and Development:

  • Goal: Enhance overall employee productivity and skill sets.
  • Positive Feedforward: Implement a proactive employee training program that identifies emerging skills and knowledge requirements in the industry. Anticipate future challenges or advancements and provide training sessions to equip employees with the necessary skills before they become critical. This approach not only enhances employee performance but also positions the business to adapt quickly to industry changes.

3. Strategic Partnerships and Alliances:

  • Goal: Expand market reach and enhance business capabilities.
  • Positive Feedforward: Anticipate potential growth opportunities and challenges in the industry by engaging in strategic foresight. Proactively seek out and establish partnerships or alliances with complementary businesses or industry leaders. This collaboration can provide access to new markets, shared resources, and innovative solutions, contributing to the business’s overall growth and improved performance.

In these scenarios, positive feedforward mechanisms involve anticipating future conditions, challenges, or opportunities and taking proactive steps to align the business strategy, operations, and resources accordingly. This forward-thinking approach enhances the business’s ability to achieve its goals and improve overall performance.

Negative Feedforward Mechanisms in Management

Negative feedforward, in the context of small business management, involves proactive measures taken to prevent or counteract potential issues before they occur. Here are three scenarios illustrating how negative feedforward can serve goals and advance performance:

1. Cost Control and Budgeting:

  • Goal: Ensure financial stability and control expenses.
  • Negative Feedforward: Implement a rigorous cost control and budgeting system that anticipates potential cost overruns. Regularly review historical data, market trends, and industry benchmarks to identify areas where costs may escalate. Take proactive measures such as negotiating with suppliers, implementing cost-saving measures, and adjusting budget allocations to prevent unnecessary expenses.

2. Customer Service Anticipation:

  • Goal: Maintain high levels of customer satisfaction.
  • Negative Feedforward: Anticipate potential customer service challenges by analyzing historical data and identifying recurring issues or patterns. Proactively address these issues by implementing training programs for customer service teams, improving communication channels, and refining service processes. This helps prevent customer dissatisfaction and ensures a positive customer experience.

3. Technology and Cybersecurity Preparedness:

  • Goal: Protect business operations and data from potential cyber threats.
  • Negative Feedforward: Recognizing the evolving nature of cybersecurity threats, implement proactive measures to safeguard the business. Conduct regular cybersecurity assessments, anticipate potential vulnerabilities, and invest in the latest security technologies. This pre-emptive approach reduces the risk of data breaches, system disruptions, and associated negative impacts on business performance.

In these scenarios, negative feedforward involves anticipating potential challenges and taking preventive actions to mitigate risks and maintain optimal performance. This proactive approach contributes to the overall resilience and success of the small business.


In the exploration of feedforward within the context of systems science and management, several key lessons have emerged. Feedforward, as a proactive control mechanism, is essential for organizations to anticipate and adapt to changes in their external environment. It involves gathering information about potential opportunities and threats, enabling strategic adjustments before they impact the system. The Law of Requisite Variety, emphasizing the need for internal complexity to match external complexity, underlines the importance of feedforward in maintaining organizational equilibrium.

The scenarios provided illustrate the practical applications of both positive and negative feedforward in small business management. Positive feedforward helps organizations capitalize on opportunities by aligning strategies with anticipated favorable conditions. On the other hand, negative feedforward enables proactive risk mitigation and resilience-building in the face of potential threats. These applications showcase the role of feedforward in achieving organizational goals, enhancing performance, and fostering adaptability.

Overall, the lessons provided here emphasize that feedforward is not merely a reactive process but a strategic and anticipatory tool. It equips organizations with the foresight needed to navigate dynamic environments effectively, align internal capabilities with external complexities, and ultimately maintain a state of readiness and resilience in the face of ever-changing business landscapes.