This video series is for anybody who needs to learn and learn efficiently. It’s also for mentors and others who hope to help business founders be more effective. Learn how to elicit and give feedback to achieve your business goals more efficiently.
Read the Transcript of the Introduction Video
Laura, what is feedback and what role does it play in learning in an entrepreneurial context?
Feedback, in any mechanical system, is just a signal that is sent back to the source of operations to say, “This is the state of the outcome of what you’ve done.” For instance, a thermostat system is connected to the furnace to send a signal, “This is the temperature upstairs, should you keep running?” It’s just a communication to let you know the outcome of your activities.
The role of feedback in learning is pretty straightforward. We ask for signals about the outcomes of our activities so we can get where we intend to go faster and with less pain.
Why is learning and feedback of particular importance to founders of human scale businesses?
When you’re a founder of a microenterprise, it’s just you who has to make everything happen, at least initially. In contrast, when an employee joins a large organization, so much of what has been learned is already embedded in ongoing processes and policies and the way things are done.
If it’s just you and your microenterprise, there is a lot to learn. And you don’t have much time before you need to reach breakeven and then payback for your initial investment. The kinds of things that you need to learn include the consequences of your sourcing decisions, your channel selections, your marketing efforts, the way you actually develop your products, and how those all flow together over time through the financial flows and through interactions with your customers and suppliers.
What is it that people can expect to learn through the course of our conversations on giving and giving feedback?
We’ll talk about a really straightforward technique for both eliciting feedback from other people and giving feedback. Giving feedback is often a little threatening. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if we tell them what we really think. So, we’ll talk about how to establish the conditions for collaborative learning with the people who can really help us. Then we’ll talk about how to quell our fears about getting feedback on the outcomes of what we’re doing by learning to trust the process and figure out how to act constructively on what we hear when we get feedback.
Getting better at getting feedback can boost the effectiveness of our business endeavors. When we can elicit useful feedback, we achieve our objectives with fewer missteps and resources more quickly. Useful feedback is information that we cannot know otherwise and information we can act upon. In this course, Dave Bayless and I describe useful approaches to giving, as well as getting, feedback, and when and how that can benefit founders of new enterprises.
When “That’s Great!” Isn’t
As much as I enjoy hearing favorable feedback (don’t we all?), sometimes “That’s great!” isn’t very helpful. When we don’t know which parts of a complex set of activities produced the outcome perceived as “great,” we don’t know which actions to repeat because those were essential to the desired effect and which we can dispense with because they didn’t help or perhaps even muted the greatness. The feedback isn’t sufficiently specific. And when WE aren’t seeing the results we hope for from an effort, hearing “That’s great!” just makes us puzzled. Is the person being specious? Is she damning with faint praise, as the saying goes?
What Is Feedback Anyway?
Originally an engineering term, feedback refers to returning a signal about output to the system generating the signal. That enables the system to adjust operations to better meet its goal for output. While we often think of feedback as criticism, negative feedback is just one kind of feedback, intended to balance or reduce the output. The other kind of feedback is positive or reinforcing feedback. Reinforcing feedback applifies the system’s output. We need both reinforcing and balancing kinds to learn efficiently.
A Trusted Approach
“Benefits and Concerns” is a lightly structured approach to ensure that you hear (or provide) both reinforcing feedback and balancing feedback. It helps you elicit and explore specifics, not just generalities. Phrasing Concerns as “How to…” or “I wish I knew…” helps identify both process gaps and information gaps in our understanding. We then discuss how to unpack Concerns in ways to help you take do-able, schedule-able steps to act on the feedback you hear.
Isn’t It All about Customer Reviews?
Despite the ubiquity of customer product reviews (and incessant requests to provide them), we can benefit from asking many kinds of stakeholders to provide feedback. These might include vendors, our accountant, independent contractors, and others. The invitation to provide feedback creates a collaborative learning environment. It establishes mutual respect and reduces defensiveness all around. That, in turn, leads to more creative approaches to work.
Reducing the Pain, Increasing the Gain
Inviting others to help us see what we cannot see and to tell us how they interpret what they observe reduces the skills we need to acquire through trial and error. We cannot learn without mistakes, and we can learn from mistakes. However, learning solely through mistakes makes learning unnecessarily painful and slow. Most of us simply do not have deep enough pockets to learn everything we need to know as slowly as possible. Timely, specific, actionable feedback fuels efficient learning. Learning more with less pain helps us get where we want to go sooner. We also arrive at our destination in better shape, and that is great.