Innovation Capability Part 1, A Robust Feedback System

By: Justin Follin

February 27, 2017
Learning Quickly

“Learning quickly” is like the name of a car driving an innovative organization. When “learning quickly” from failure is at high speed, the organization cruises.

A Robust Feedback System

[Common client issue: People generally seem to like each other here, but a lot of times we don’t have the real conversations in the meeting. We’re friendly and get along, but don’t have the honest conversations. Often we just talk over each other in meetings and it’s hard to know what people are getting out of talking with each other.]

The way to enable learning is through feedback. In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell famously posited that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for expertise.

We say that, with great feedback, you can cut that time in half.

Feedback is how we learn, and we want to learn quickly.

For this reason, prioritize feedback. It’s the base level skill of an innovative culture

In the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, CEO of open sourced software company Redhat, says about their feedback culture, “having candid, and what others might call difficult, conversations is the norm. We debate, we argue, and we complain. We let the sparks fly. The benefits of operating this way are immense because we are able to tackle the elephant in the room head on, but this kind of culture is hard to build and maintain, especially as companies grow.”

That last part is important “as companies grow.” Sure the conversations were honest and open when business was done over a couple beers and a shot of tequila.

But to keep that kind of openness as the company doubles or triples in size requires some work.

This is why we prioritize the creation of a robust feedback system: a shared understanding across the company of how to give and receive feedback.

Consider that the most difficult part of feedback is emotional: we cringe at the word “feedback” for a reason.

As Harvard’s Daniel Goldberg says, “Although a certain degree of analytical and technical skill is a minimum requirement for success, studies indicate that emotional intelligence may be the key attribute that distinguishes outstanding performers from those who are merely adequate.”

For this reason, a robust feedback system should promote, simultaneously, honesty (intellectual truth) and empathy (valuing the well-being of others emotions).

It should also promote some form of “Active” or “Generous” listening, focus more on what is going well, and leave the receiver of the feedback feeling empowered to improve.