#13 Feedback: Get It From Multiple Sources Who Really Care

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Today I’m going to talk about FEEDBACK.  It lives on the HELP GROWTH HAPPEN(HGH) side of my work map along with FREEDOM. Here’s a reminder of my current map.

You’ll recall that achievement/recognition was a top motivator in Herzberg’s original model. And you’ll also recall that he further refined this category to become Direct Feedback.  

I’m going to simplify further and just use the word Feedback. Here's a definition from google.

Feedback: Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

Let’s start with a simple example.  I’m a new employee and Ned, the trusted old-timer, is teaching me the ropes. He instructs.  I take a shot at the work. He corrects. I try again. More feedback.  Try again.  More feedback.  I get a little better each time until I'm trusted and on my own. I’ve grown. Hopefully the intrinsic motivation region of my brain lights up.

This is a perfect feedback scenario if I'm tackling something that's well understood. Something with a nice process around it and a predictable learning curve. So I learn a bunch of this fundamental foundational stuff.  

Now, what if I I want to help differentiate my company by breaking some radical new ground? Or, even more likely, what if I want to do something rather small? Small, but still something that this team with these resources has never done before. 

Now where do I go for feedback/direction? High paid consultants are too expensive and of questionable value. And Ned can't teach me what he doesn't know. By definition, as I plow new ground, my feedback providers are tapped out and/or forced to guess.

Below is a trueish pretty well known story about feedback in these kinds of uncharted waters. 

There was once a guy who ran a company called Odeo. He had an unsuccessful podcasting product. He also had sophisticated venture capitalists and angels as investors. Smart people with great track records that should be world class feedback givers. He told them he was going to shitcan ODEO. He wanted to shift the company’s focus to a tiny little project they'd been playing with in their lab. Something they called Twitter. Since this was a major change in the business direction, he offered to buy back the investors stock. He would make them whole on their original Odeo investment. Every one of them took their money back - and missed out on Twitter.

So is this a feedback story? You bet your ass it is! People give the clearest feedback when money is on the line. In essence, this CEO said “I need your feedback on this idea I have of shifting our focus to this twitter thing." And every single investor gave the same feedback. “Bad idea. Give me my money back.” In hindsight, many have said that they should have asked more questions. Dug deeper. Engaged.

Moral(s) of the story? 

(1) When breaking new ground Feedback is guessing.
(2) Only value feedback from people that engage.

Let's look at number two first. By definition, there isn’t a cookbook for my whizbang startup idea. Or my genius product line extension. Or my incremental change that’s never been attempted within our four walls. 

So how do I move forward? 

Easy, put my stuff out there and see what happens. At this stage my greatest need is better thinking. And having someone shred my idea is a great way to force better thinking. And the only way someone can shred my idea in an insightful way is if they engage. They must be willing to...

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  • Waste their time listening to my ramblings.  
  • Let me dump my confused brain on their whiteboard.  
  • Piss me off by interrupting.
  • Ask why, why, why, why, why, why, why...
  • Force me to defend every thought and assumption. 
  • See through my lazy canned answers. 
  • Drive me to simplify, discard, distill.
  • Question my motives.
  • Help me find the essence of my work.

Startup idea, product line extension, incremental initiative. They're all the same. They all improve in the crucible. The white hot interrogation that melts through my bullshit. Burns away the impurities. Exposes the core of what I'm trying to do and why I’m trying to do it. And then helps build from there. 

So I must find people that love me and/or my topic enough to engage. 

And like a masochistic fool I can't just jump into one crucible. 

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I need several ruthless providers of feedback. Remember moral number one. Feedback equals guessing when you're plowing new ground. So I want to hear more than one set of guesses. I want to hear from a melting pot of perspectives and attitudes and specialties. I need to ask each of them to shred my work on a regular basis.  That's how I create something worth creating.

Of course there’s the risk that I’ll overdo it and get so much feedback that I confuse myself. Or just burn up the clock and get nothing done. But that’s not a problem for me. I’m much more likely to go solo with zero feedback.

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So for my map I need to make two changes to Feedback. First I need to add an “s” to remind me to reach out to multiple sources of feedback. Create that melting pot.

Second, I want to put that "s" in parentheses. Feedback(s). The parentheses are there to remind me of a crucible. To remind me to find "feedbackers" that will bring the most intense heat. Informed heartless bastards that will stop at nothing to Help Growth Happen...

Next time we’re going to hit one more important source of feedback. The asshole that’s always putting me down.

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