The power of feedback

Yeah – I know.  Of course feedback is important. We’ve read the studies that say you should say 3 positive things for every negative thing, and keep people updated because it’s bad to surprise people at performance review time.

Today I was thinking about feedback as a measurement of progress. I’m not even thinking about managerial feedback – just the feeling that you know you are making progress. A light went off for me (it was dim, but definitely a light) when I connected a few dots today, and I wanted to share it here before I forgot what I was thinking.

A few months ago, I bought my Dad a Nintendo Wii. He used one while in therapy, and thought it would be good for his recovery. I don’t play video games much, but I do play his Wii when I visit. I normally get bored with video games quickly, but for some reason, I almost always crave one more round of tennis, baseball, or whatever I’m playing. I realized that the motivation came a bit from the fun of the game, but mostly from the feedback. When you win a game, you get points – more if you slaughter the computer players, and you lose points if you lose to the computer. At the end of each match I find myself waiting patiently to see how many points I got or lost. If I lost points, I wanted to play again to see if I could get them back. If I won, I wanted to play again to see if I could get even more. The Wii is crack with a different form of feedback.

I happen to be visiting my parents because I’m behind on a non-work related project and wanted some focused time to get caught up. I found the quietest place I could this morning and started working. After a while, I notices something – I was making progress. I could see the progress, and that helped me feel the progress. The funny thing was, that the more progress I saw, the more I wanted to do. "The flow" feeds onto itself.

That made me think about work in general. My job is weird in a way that I rarely get feedback from my manager. It’s not that he’s a bad manager (or even a moron), the work is just too open-ended. Nevertheless, I am swamped all day – every day. As I thought about feedback, I realized something profound. Some days when I go home from work, I have this feeling that I’ve completely kicked ass, while other days I feel like "work" was a waste of my time that day. The difference in every case I could recall was that on the "kick-ass" days, I left work with a feeling of accomplishment – I could see or feel substantial progress from my daily efforts. The feedback was self generated, but highly apparent.

I’m going to pay attention to this phenomenon and see if it is accurate. I have more ideas on this, but I’ll save them for another day.

Comments (2)

  1. The Sandwich approach to feedback…. Roger Schwarz has a great commentary on that:

    “Alice, I have some negative feedback to give you. To get you receptive to the negative feedback, I’ll begin by giving you some positive feedback. Then I’ll give you the negative feedback – the main reason I wanted to talk with you today. Finally, to reduce the chance of your becoming angry, I’ll end by giving you some more positive feedback.”

  2. Alan Page says:

    Glad I read the link – I was afraid the quote was serious.

    I’ve found that giving feedback to others is only loosely related to self-realized feedback – as I think about it a bit, probably because from a managerial pov, good feedback is customized to the individual.

    My point hidden in the blabbing above is that people are more motivated to work (or play) if there is consistent feedback on their progress. It’s true on the wii, and true in my my own work…sometimes.