Breakfast of Champions
There used to be a senior exec in a company that I worked for who liked to say, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions”. Visuals from a literal translation of that Ken Blanchard quote aside, it has the power to transform anything. Feedback, in all of its forms, is often a tough serving to consume but a good helping of the right sort can push you beyond current limits and plateaus.
When I think of that quote I imagine what kind of feedback the exec was talking about. For me it meant feedback from peers and end users. Depending on the crowd that you hang out with it can actually be quite difficult to get good constructive criticism. I know, I know, what you’re thinking. This guy is asking for it? Yea, as long as it contains that operative word constructive and is meant with sincerity. Feedback is often the only way for you to see beyond your own narrow view of the world. Think of the Truman Show. Here you have this guy who has known nothing else but a little island for his entire life. Then little by little he starts to notice inconsistencies which make him think about the world around him. Had those quirks never happened or had he failed to notice them he would still be sitting there on his TV show. Feedback is the express train to realization.
Constructive criticism coming from your peers can take you to new levels of your craft. Of course, it’s up to you to decide if any one piece of feedback takes you in the direction you want to go as a developer, individual, astronaut, or whatever. This requires some introspection on your part. Developing a bit of a rhinoceros skin and a good humor about yourself also helps to digest the horse pill that can be peer feedback. However, the best peer feedback is often of the positive persuasion. A simple, “Good job” or “Man, that’s great” can do wonders to spur someone on in their current direction.
Assuming that you’re a software developer/publisher, you can have feedback from end users. Feedback of this sort can put greenbacks in your pocket book. When a user emails to notify you that there is a UI bug or that they don’t understand the usage of some feature it is your clue that something may be up. The same or similar item coming from two, three, or even more people should start to perk up your spider senses to a potential improvement in a design or work flow. Again, introspection is the order of the day when deciding if a request or issue falls along the direction and intent of your particular flavor of software.
Being the bearer of feedback can be just as tough as receiving it. That is, if your intent is to be constructive (and I hope that it is). Simply blurting out your observation of flaws comes across as strictly criticism and that’s bad. Instead, hold back the thought for a bit and think of ways to improve on the subject at hand. I mean, you see a flaw so you must have an idea of how things could be better. Right? Reverse roles with the person and think about how you would want to hear the news that you are about to deliver. Finally, provide your critique along with a suggestion on how to improve. Running through this sequence becomes second nature once practiced for a while. Some people will do it naturally and don’t even think about it. Others need a process to follow. Some characteristics of good feedback include:
- Transfer of information rather than the giving of advise
- Covers a specific issue rather than a general one
- Focuses on the content rather than the person
- Offered with empathy
Just as bad as not being able to take feedback is never giving it. Floating merrily along accepting the status quo lies in a direct line towards failure. Yours or someone else’s. It could take years or even decades to materialize but sooner or later such a static nature will break down. Often an unwillingness to provide feedback is really masking a desire to avoid receiving it. If that’s you then start small. Give yourself time to develop the skills of giving and receiving feedback. I think you’ll be better for it in the long run.
and the Ugly
Trolls and flame warriors need not apply. We all know the type of inflammatory feedback that a supposedly anonymous internet can elicit. There is something about the feeling of anonymity that can draw out some of the more basal aspects of human nature. In short, there is little you can do but surround yourself with as many upstanding people as possible and simply ignore the occasional flame. Responding to outright deleterious comments or feedback usually only fans the flames and invites more of the same. Use that rhinoceros skin and good humor to the best of your ability and ignore it.
That’s a wrap
There you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly of feedback. Sometimes it takes stepping outside of yourself in order to see the larger picture but feedback is a great way to grow an idea, a product, or yourself.
Feedback. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.