What we call feedback is isolating

Since Covid-19, I have been in a broken feedback loop. I think we have a related experience that we should be open about.

4 February 2022#mental-health
“it takes a village to grow a human mind.”

A crisis of conscientiousness (lack of self regulation)

The research is clear: social isolation is at the root of the cause of many of the major social dilemmas today [1].

I look at the modern isolation crisis is a giant broken feedback loop. Yet we are all told the prize of our work is about the quality of information itself rather than what form it possesses.

Ask your self, when was the last time you felt like you were being held truly accountable? When was the last time you said you would do something, you didn’t do it, and there was some demonstrable consequence for that behavior? I’m sure I’m not alone here. I’m not trying to be critical or shame anyone - but we have a problem. And measuring it alone will not fix this. We need to do something about it.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “what gets measured gets improved.” But, how often do you ask yourself why you are measuring? And are you measuring the right thing? Do you have a plan for what to do when your metrics reach a certain level or point of inflection? And finally, who is really accountable for those decisions?

If I had to guess, most people would say they are being held accountable and that their leaders are measuring the right things. I’m not so sure about that and here’s why: accountability becomes an issue when people don’t follow through with their commitments. There is no accountability when people do what they say they will do. When you hold someone accountable - it means you have already gone through the process of making sure they know what is expected of them, how to accomplish it, and why it matters in the first place. It also means that there is some sort of demonstrable consequence for not meeting those expectations. This may be why leadership development programs often don’t show results - because there is no real accountability after the fact.

They pay us to think

When was the last time you heard that a person who didn’t follow through was held to some effect?

I think we number the days of the KPI driven performance review. We can’t measure our thoughts, so we can’t quantify the amount of time and care it takes to generate output for so-called infotainment.

I believe we are all valuable knowledge workers, and in our work we are each held accountable to create value, but the social changes over the last 50 years have removed natural accountability built into society and cause us to seek it out. So many of us become stuck, unhappy, and knowing they don’t have to be.

I would love to see a movement of people taking back control of their lives and their work. We have become so used to being told what to do and how to do it that we have lost sight of what we are capable of. We need to remember that we are the experts in our own lives and we know what is best for us.

Today you are alone

You can’t be honest with yourself when you are in an accountability vacuum. It leads to uneasy loneliness. By putting their toe in a sort of “doing” swimming pool without help from others, modern humans become plagued by thoughts of doubts and a unique sort of loneliness. They become lonely because they don’t have what it takes — people who are in it together.[2]

What they first regarded as an independent value in themselves soon becomes clear they need others who are with them and can recognize them for who they are.

I know about this lonely scenario, because I spent most of 2020 and 2021 unemployed in a feedback vacuum. Out of the various networking contacts, interviews, and job screens I found myself in, I often needed to solicit feedback. With a high rate only to get nothing in return.

R.I.P. Marshall 2020-2020

Thinking back, I wanted to feel like I was still prepared me to do the things I was supposed to be doing. I could not focus on what was important to me — because I had no feedback on the things I tried to make.

All I understood was if I didn’t find a job, the job search requirements could withdraw all of my ongoing unemployment claims. In my mind, I was being held accountable to a standard impossible to reach. How was I to say with certain accountability I’d been applying for jobs, but had little written record of why I was not being offered a job?

I realize now that I was being paranoid, but I also know I’m not alone[3].

Now, I’m back working with a team who values feedback: and what I was missing was it’s not the actual content that was important.

People will stop to ask themselves, what is it you are saying is valuable here? Having a job?

It's the container stupid

What I learned was it’s not just the output we produce that brings value - it’s the total knowledge (input + output) that we can bring to the community that brings value.

Technology and specializations of work in the modern world create the vast amount of value we see today. The content we produce and the rate we can perform ghastly outpaces any amount of value humans have created in history. But as the world works and it pays humans to think about the same problems over and over, day-to-day, we act as if it’s the content itself is valuable.

It’s not what we hold inside that brings value to our work. It’s the relationships we build and how we contain them bringing us together. But just knowing that is not enough. Because we have lost control of our containers. And we are no longer in control of our the value we create.

Individuals value feedback

I look at my work I produced and attempted to produce over 2020-2021, and it still makes it hard to know what sets me apart.

It’s not even the fact I didn’t get the feedback I wanted. What bothered me was the silence.

I am not sure why it’s okay in society today to give feedback through silence, but I know I’m guilty, too. But when you expect feedback, you can’t help but look at silence as an attempt to ignore negative behavior. If someone has a need for evaluation, their preferences might be one issue, but in most expressions of work, we can't fully appreciate it without critical evaluation. And I think that state of loss where my work after Coronavirus had been missing and left me feeling stagnant, isolated and ... weird.

Bart Simpson isolated

I suppose it’s possible for me to reframe those weird feelings. I suppose the feedback and message I could repeat back to myself is my work has been good enough. And I’m too worried and anxious and instead I should be gracious and roll with things... but gratitude is not what I’m after. I’m not asking for feedback on these sorts of things because I’m seeking approval or appreciation — I like to ask for feedback because I value the process.

Like many of you, in my history, I don’t take unasked for criticism very well. It stands out in a lot of instances in my mind, so I can imagine these negative feelings stand out in the minds of you too. I understand it might be sometimes painful to reach for feedback, but as I'm reminded recently, communication is a two-way street.

“it takes a village to grow a human mind.” - Peter Shallard [2]

Consider perhaps that perspective is another one of those silly little tricks we play on ourselves. So it's also important not take everyone else's so seriously.

Like the painter who is afraid to paint, and the actor who is afraid to act, and the writer who is afraid to write, it’s the person who is afraid to be themselves who never learns to improve their craft.

Accountability should always create our aim and standard

Like with any feedback, you can take my thoughts and do nothing.

You can take your thoughts and try to do it yourself.

Or you can take the message and solve the isolation problem in your life.

Use external support and take action to bridge the gap. Because it's the form of social accountability available to you keeps you stuck where you are.


Citations

1

McDowell CP, Meyer JD, Russell DW, Sue Brower C, Lansing J, Herring MP. Bidirectional Associations Between Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms and Loneliness During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Dynamic Panel Models With Fixed Effects. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Dec 9;12:738892. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.738892. PMID: 34955910; PMCID: PMC8695764.

2

“This Is What Will Make You Finally Take Action" - How To Bridge The Learning Doing Gap with Peter Shallard” The Science of Success, May 31, 2018, https://www.successpodcast.com/show-notes/2018/5/30/this-is-what-will-make-you-finally-take-action-how-to-bridge-the-learning-doing-gap-with-peter-shallard.

3

Mansour KA, Greenwood CJ, Biden EJ, Francis LM, Olsson CA, Macdonald JA. Pre-pandemic Predictors of Loneliness in Adult Men During COVID-19. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Dec 8;12:775588. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.775588. PMID: 34955922; PMCID: PMC8692260.

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