The next letter in Seth Godin’s Grownup ABC book is “F”. “F” is for Feedback. “Feedback is either a crutch or a weapon. Use feedback to make your work smaller, safer, more likely to please everyone (and fail in the long run). Or use it as a lever, to further push you to embrace what you fear (and what you’re capable of).”
That certainly sounds like a contrarian perspective on feedback. The good news is, that we still have the power to use feedback in whatever way we desire. Seth sets up our usage of failure as a binary choice between two extremes. On the one hand, you can embrace feedback to make your work more pleasing to everyone, and fail in the long run; or on the other hand, you can use feedback to further push you to embrace what you fear, and push you further towards what you are capable of, I assume, also in the long run.
One logical conclusion that results from the latter extreme is that one needs to be pushed to maximize his/her potential – what they are capable of. It is also noteworthy that the origins of this push are normally external; however, that external push can be internalized at some point and leveraged to drive you into a fuller expression of the masterpiece you were created to be.
I would certainly agree that you need to be pushed to become the best that you can be, and those pushes normally come from outside of us. They can come from a positive slant – vision, passion, following a dynamic leader, etc., or from a more negative slant – a holy discontent with a particular form of injustice, or negative experiences at the hands of someone who has been an influencer in your life at some point, an abusive parent, spouse, friend, etc. When, how, and to what extent we internalize these external pushes decide whether they make us better, or worse, in the long run.
Seth also is saying, that making your work smaller, safer, and more likely to please will result in long term failure. Long-term failure implies that it may initially seem like things are going better as a result of your efforts to make things easier, safer, and more likely to please. This immediate, positive, feedback reinforces the long-term negative behavior until you are so far down the path that there is no turning back, and failure is all but inevitable.
Most Christians spend a great deal of their praying words on safety, removing or avoiding difficulties, etc. If Seth is right, maybe we really should be praying for the opposite. Perhaps this helps explain where the writer of the book of James, in the Bible, is referring to when he says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4 (NLT). That is certainly not one of my favorite verses, but it has rung true in my life over the years. I have learned, and grown, much more from failures and trials than I have from successes and things being easy.
I am still not sure I understand what any of that has to do with the concept of feedback in general. Maybe it is about engaging in activities and endeavors that put you in a position to receive feedback that will be strong, deliberate, and clearly for or against what you are doing. Maybe Seth is referring to feedback being results, or lack of results of your efforts. Are you trying to make your little part of the world a better place? If it’s not much better after you engage it, maybe that is the kind of feedback we are talking about.
Maybe Seth is referring to being in the ongoing habit of soliciting and expecting feedback related to the things we are not only saying – but doing. Maybe it’s looking for and internalizing constructive negative feedback rather than settling for the patronizing, brain-dead platitudes that some people lavish on us in an effort to control us, or make themselves look considerate and spiritual. Maybe it’s all of them; could be none of them. The mind of Seth is a deep and oft confusing place to temporarily dwell. This particular letter is leaving some of my questions unanswered – at least for the moment.