The Real Reason Your Good Ideas Fail: Poor Feedback

Improve ideas in your workplace with these crucial feedback tips and tools

Are you struggling to produce good ideas at work?  If so, you’re not alone.  When I ask this question in workshops or during workplace training's, the collective response is yes.  The good news, however, is you don't lack the creativity to conjure up good ideas.  No, the real reason your ideas fail to become good is because of poor feedback. 

Noted cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant once said,

Good ideas are common – what’s uncommon are people who’ll work hard enough to bring them about.”

Part of working hard is giving and receiving good feedback.  Unfortunately, your feedback and that of your colleagues is almost always terrible.

Why is our feedback so poor?

Our feedback is poor for a variety of reasons.  The biggest is that we are hardwired for the negative.  We’ve evolved over thousands of years, keeping a close look out for things that might kill or hurt us.  That evolutionary focus on the negative (negativity bias) ensures we identify what is wrong.  Unfortunately, we don’t often articulate what is right and good, and furthermore, how to make those things better.  If we want our ideas to become good ideas, then one of our goals should be to give good feedback.  There are additional approaches to transforming your ideas into good ideas – which I’ll cover in later blog posts – for now, let’s focus on feedback.

How to give good feedback?

To give good feedback, it’s best to concentrate on 2 approaches:

Give specific and actionable feedback.  

Just about any book on management or training will give you the same guidance.  In practice, however, people given this advice still respond with vague and generally dreadful feedback.  That’s because they often don’t have experience or practice giving specific and actionable advice.  Make it simple and easy by using the following quad chart to capture feedback.

Quad Chart Feedback Tool

Quad Chart Feedback Tool

The great advantage of using this feedback tool is that it provides a cognitive template (i.e. similar to Mad Libs) that drives the feedback to something that is both specific and actionable.  To better understand the tool, here is a description of the individual quadrants in this quad chart.  Following these descriptions, I’ll offer practical advice on how you might use this feedback tool (e.g. tips I’ve developed from my experiences).

I Like – This quadrant captures what I Like about the idea.

I Wish – This quadrant captures what I Wish about the idea.  You can think of this quadrant as ideas for improvement.

Questions – This quadrant captures questions to help me better understand the idea.  These can be clarifying questions, context-gathering questions, technical or non-technical questions – basically any question that helps you gain a better understanding.

Concerns – This quadrant captures any concerns you might have about the idea.  Depending on your domain or problem space, this can cover a wide range.  For example, you might have concerns about the safety of implementing the idea, or maybe you have concerns about the business viability, or concerns about how quickly you can operationalize the idea. 

Tips On Using the Quad Chart Feedback Tool

When it is time for feedback, it is important that you ask your colleagues or feedback participants to capture their critique on post-it notes with one feedback item per post-it note.  There are a few reasons for this approach.  First, a post-it note is limited in size (typically 3x5 or 2x2 inches).  That space limitation forces the person giving feedback to cut out the superfluous and focus on the most important considerations.  Second, it minimizes the desire to preamble.  Often, people giving feedback preface their response with a long explanation.  Doing so limits the amount of feedback from others.  Third, it captures the feedback concretely for further review and reflection at a later time.

Give Feedback with Radical Candor

The phrase “radical candor” has been popularized by Kim Scott – an accomplished director at several big Silicon Valley firms over the years.  Basically, giving feedback with radical candor comes down to two different questions:  how much do you care about someone and how much are you willing to piss them off.  If you care about someone, then it’s your moral obligation to challenge and push that person as much as possible.  That uncomfortable space is where ideas grow and develop into something great. 

Often times, however, we’re afraid of offending our colleagues when giving feedback.  Consequently, we tend to water down our feedback or to preface it with qualifiers such as “from my perspective,” or “this is just one viewpoint.”  To help you give radically candid feedback, remember the acronym HHIPP, and try using it’s framework.  That is, your feedback should be humble, helpful, immediate, private if it is criticism, and public if it is praise (HHIPP).  A note of advice – it’s always a great idea to set expectations with your colleagues about feedback by asking them what it is they want to accomplish, or to confirm if they even want feedback.  This is beneficial for both sides because they may have specific goals related to professional improvement.  Or, on the other side, they may not even desire feedback. 

            Remember, if you want to transform your good idea to into something great and tangible, seek out good feedback.  Similarly, if you want to help your colleagues develop great ideas, remember to give good feedback – be it with a quad chart feedback tool or by embracing radically candid feedback.