The Use of Feedback

I wanted to write about Feedback, Barriers, Stakes, and Batching (though I covered some thoughts on batching in My Morning Routine). I put off exploring these ideas and concepts because:

  • Covering all of them felt extremely daunting
  • Tactically I hadn’t worked out a system to implement them
  • Wasn’t sure if my ideas were completely fleshed out

However, the only way I’ll eventually get through all three is by first exploring one. Thus…

What is Feedback?

Feedback is the process of soliciting criticism for our work, using focused time to filter and distill those criticisms, and meaningfully implementing changes to improve in the long run. “Constant calibration” is another way of putting it, but CC doesn’t quite capture the essence of feedback I think is most important to recognize: it’s really fucking uncomfortable.

The discomfort happens across a spectrum of projects and endeavors, but it always feels the same. Whether I’ve started a new project and need to email friends for their feedback, I want to raise my hand to ask a question at a panel, or I need to defend my position on a deal point, my body always runs me through the same gamut: my stomach drops, I become very aware of my tongue, the hairs on my arm bristle, and a heat spreads across my neck like a warm breath.

These feelings used to be my cue to eject. Excuse myself, stop what I was doing, get the fuck outta dodge.

Now I’m reading the feelings as, “okay, this is where I want to be.” If it’s uncomfortable, it’s personal. If it’s personal, then you give enough of a shit to make it better. That’s the only purpose of receiving feedback. It’s saying, “this one matters, so make sure you get it right.”

Years ago, when I only thought of these ideas in the abstract, I told my friend Joshua, “not asking for help is something that’s held me back for a long time.” I didn’t know how to be in that discomfort zone. Growing up, no emphasis was placed on short-term failure in exchange for long-term gains. Mistakes were examined through a singular lens: “don’t make them.” (To be clear, I don’t blame my parents or upbringing for my hang-ups. They were (are) loving and amazing. As J.K. Rowling said, “There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”

The more I encounter better thinkers, the more I realize the importance of high-feedback environments and tight feedback schedules. This means: getting quality feedback, on an expedited, regular timetable.

Examples of high feedback environments

How Good Writers Become Great

Great writers work with great editors (the editor doesn’t have to be an Editor. It could be a manager, an executive, a friend.) Someone who’ll push your abilities past their current level, who won’t let you publish until every word has earned its place on the page. While blogging and self-publishing has its place in the world, I wonder if it’s stopped some very good writers from becoming great writers. In the mad dash to put something out into the universe, we may not hone our abilities or polish the product before offering it to the world. (With so much stimuli clamoring for my attention, I know I don’t.) “Great” is sacrificed for the result of “done.” I think we need to seek a balance, between shipping to get to done, and shipping because it’s only through shipping we’ll leap to the next level.

Literary Option Agreements

Preparing and making comments to a Literary Option Agreement is a high feedback environment of mine. It’s made up of several components:

  • Consistent exposure — between three bosses, there’s always a deal pending.
  • Regular assessment — my comments are reviewed immediately (i.e., within a day). I see right away how certain language should be phrased.
  • Regular discomfort — receiving comments back from the other party is always uncomfortable. I go through rejections (of comments) but more importantly, I see the logic their rejection was based upon.
  • Deliberate calibration — armed with their logic, I can compare to previous deals to deliberately find ways to close the deal point.
  • Real-time calibration – on the other hand, when I listen to calls, I learn the nuances of a live negotiations. I see this is the standard and speed I need to be able to implement the previous step (deliberate calibration). I’m exposed to mastery: the ability to put together a good deals in real-time.

Attraction and Social Dynamics

On a less literary note: for as long as I’ve known him, my friend was good at meeting new women. Then one fall, he started working in a nightclub with major traffic, and that experience launched him to a new level. Because in this environment, he was exposed to countless opportunities for feedback. He literally had the opportunity to hit on 100 women in one evening. There was never a formal process: he didn’t study his tactics, or “go over yesterday’s tape,” so to speak. He just landed in an environment of extremely high feedback level, where he could barely get rejected before he was presented with an opportunity to try again. He put his environment to use.

Creating a high feedback environment

In their career mastery course, Scott H Young and Cal Newport covered using quantitative metrics to supercharge your feedback and to create tangible skills. Tactically speaking, I won’t get into career factors or career metrics (thought I acknowledge their importance.)

For my purposes, if I’m struggling to create a habit, I have to systematize the process so it happens automatically. In creating a high feedback environment with a tight schedule, I need a system that automatically pushes me into my discomfort zone. I still don’t have a formal outline of what this looks like, but some attributes would be:

  • Smaller group projects — small because lowered stakes will force me to get to done. Group because it forces accountability. Also, in a group project, “any failure is a public failure, but no failure will never be fatal” (I believe this quote is most commonly attributed to Seth Godin).
  • The right people — these are more difficult to find than you think. The “right” people can be critical without discouraging. They genuinely want to see you do better, and understand at the big picture level what you’re trying to create and believe you’re capable of it.
  • Deadlines — a tight feedback schedule requires deadlines with real stakes. The amount of time a project requires will expand or shrink in proportion to when it’s due. So without a deadline, the project can drag until gravity and friction stop the momentum forever.

In my queue of projects there’s one specifically that I’m both slowly getting feedback on and using as a sort of beta to create a formal feedback system. When it’s fleshed out I’ll follow up with what I’ve learned.

Photo Credit: Clairec12003

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