Feedback is a necessary element of learning. According to Wikipedia, Feedback occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop. The form of this information fed back to the control mechanism or initiator often determines further action.
In most simple terms: if you get positive feedback (result as wanted) you will do more of what you did before, if you get negative feedback (result not as wanted) you will probably change what you did before in the hope to get a positive result, or you will stop what you did altogether.
Much of the work on behavioural change relies on feedback (whether this is the optimal way to go is a question not to be discussed here). Carrots and Sticks, and the C of ABC are very much about feedback. Also the Plan-Do-Check/Study-Act cycle and the scientific method are based on (among other things) feedback.
Trial - error - learning
Feedback is also what trial and error is all about. Mommy says to toddler “Do not touch the stove. It is hot”. Toddler follows human nature and is going to explore for himself anyway. Toddler burns his fingers and learns the lesson through a harsh and direct form of feedback. Toddler might even have some second loop learning (“Must listen more often to mommy, she knows stuff”) although that may go overboard when the teenage years arrive. But I digress…
Feedback teaches us about our actions and the system we are in and this contributes to our learning. We have to realise, of course, that some things are complicated or complex and in some cases what we perceive as feedback of a cause-and-effect relationship is not necessarily that. We may get back to that another time, for now we stick to another thing related to feedback.
Feedback in practice: A silly example
Feedback must be specific and understandable to be useful.
The other week I accidentally ended up on the Amazon page of my book and I saw that some people had left a review. Until then I had not realised that this was a possibility, so this was nice surprise. I had gotten feedback on the book through various channels, and here was yet another one.
Obviously, I was very pleased to see some extremely positive reviews. The interesting thing is, however, that one often learns most (at least with regard to things that should be changed) from critical or even negative feedback. So far two of those.
One reviewer complained about the small print. Point taken. I had received similar feedback from two or three other readers previously, and while I still stand back the decision to keep the number of pages below 300 and not delay the publishing date by redoing the entire layout (ETTO!), I see that a larger font would have been better. This is good feedback. Lesson learned. For the next book, I will do the print differently. I will also be able to fill a book more quickly, so kind of a win-win situation.
The other reviewer, however, managed to leave the comment “Not what I expected”.
Okay… What to do with that kind of feedback? It could in fact have been useful if he had specified what these expectations were. Then I could have decided if his expectations matched with my objectives when I wrote the book. Did he expect something in full colour? A couple of how-to checklists? Long, thorough discussions of safety subjects? All valid expectations for him (or her), but none of these were included in my plans this time. I might consider them for another book, however, if I was convinced that they would fit the purpose.
Since the feedback says nothing about the book, but only something about the reviewer, there will alas be no learning from this kind of feedback. Well, apart from that it served as a learning example here. So at least we have that and it wasn’t all useless. And maybe I should work on my mind-reading powers...
Feedback? Yes, Please!
I am here to learn, to explore, to discuss and to improve. Professionally and personally. In that respect I think it is valuable and great to get (and give) feedback - positive AND negative, as long as it is constructive. So please keep it coming, to me and to others, so that we can improve.
Also published on Linkedin.