Fanning the Flames of Feedback — Part 4 from the D School

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Criticism is an interesting beast. For some of us it can be received, regardless of tone, and used to learn more about ourselves and work. For most, it can shut us down, belittling the opposing sides opinion, testing their “experience” in our field of choice, and ultimately leading to a harder stance, often misplaced.

I guess the results vary much like the definitions;

1.Criticism; the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

2.Criticism ; the analysis and judgment of the merits of a literary or artistic work.

Well if that doesn’t just run the gamut of like it or lump it, I’m unsure what does.

The fact is, when we pivot to the word “feedback” we can receive it like a musician who has gotten too close to the speaker, or what it is agnostically, information.

Critique, feedback, reaction to ones work, or the way they have presented it, regardless of intention, is a gift.

Stay with me.

If someone has a visceral reaction to what you’re doing it’s a positive, it’s DATA. Capturing that feedback without matching the emotion, reading too deeply into agenda, or simply getting pissed off, will ultimately serve you.

In our latest “share-outs” of our projects and how they were progressing, there was some emotional feedback, that led to emotional responses, including my own.

The fact is we’re working on projects we’re deeply passionate about. Projects that we have poured everything into, most of us with sacrifice both personally and in business. We’re working on climate change, better government, generosity, feeding children and systemic poverty.

When someone perceivably attacks that work, of course there’s a reaction, but it’s what we do with that data AND our reaction that’s important.

When I first opened Save On Meats, I received a lot of feedback. A few specific advocates were viscous in their approach and I in return reacted poorly. I was in shock that what I was trying to do with the project, feed and employ people in need, create a community space all were welcome, incubate business in a difficult neighbourhood, etc, were difficult and much needed. How could anyone possibly take issue with it? What were they thinking?

I immediately took the aforementioned stance and dismissed them in a multitude of ways. As the challenges grew deeper I realized that whilst we may never see eye to eye, there might be value in their critiques, so I revisited them. Sure enough, amongst the vitriol were some nuggets of great insight. If these nuggets existed here, then surely other critics had sprinkled some in as well?

I invited those advocates to have coffee with me, some were unwilling but others were excited to be heard, and those conversations led to partnerships, growth and huge learnings for me.

All of this has set the stage for the next part of my project here at Stanford. I’m designing a platform for people from Agencies, the empathetic giver (us) and the people on the ladder of homelessness to be able to engage in a multitude of ways.

In human centred design we’re meant to do exactly that, focus on the human who will use it. With that in mind I created a prototype that would run for 1 week and be entirely focused on Feedback from the Users.

Over 7 days, 18 volunteers on various rungs of the ladder of homelessness and 6 volunteers from agency side would participate. I held a town hall meeting and provided packages with digital watches, disposable cameras, waterproof notebooks & pens, socks and the option for a smart phone and a month of data.

The participants would respond to 3 prompts a day testing my assumptions of their needs, and also be asked to take images. Questions were sent at specific times and ranged from “Tell me about someone who makes you proud” to “Tell me about a skill you have and wish you could share more.” The answers were goosebump-inducing and I look forward to sharing.

I’m finishing this prototype with interviews and the most challenging part is not providing feedback on the feedback. Often we want to defend or to add to what someone has said to us; it’s a learned skill to stay even-keeled and listen. The greatest challenge for me personally is not to explode with excitement from what I’m learning.

I’ve had to settle for hard hugs at the end of each interview to convey my gratitude and genuine excitement.

Feedback is a gift and tis’ the season.


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