Does Feedback Determine Your Direction?

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Feedback in a public address system is annoying. It may be an indication that the mic is too close to the speakers. It may be that the volume is too high. Whatever the cause, it needs to be fixed. An adjustment needs to be made.

Luther experienced feedback from the PA. He also got some feedback on his speech. “Atta boy, Luther!” He’s a terrible public speaker who doesn’t need to be encouraged. The applause and shout outs might have caused him to think he was headed in the right direction though.

Feedback can let us know what our next step should be – what adjustments need to be made so we can improve. Or it can derail us, delude us and frustrate us by robbing us of clarity.

Daily we’re surrounded by feedback. Twitter, blog comments, Google +, Facebook, YouTube comments, Flickr comments and a thousand other services provide some way for people to communicate with each other. Feedback.

Does feedback change your course? Which feedback do you find most useful in helping you figure out your next step?

In “The Design of Future Things” author Donald A. Norman writes of technical design, but stretch your application of what he says.

Today, many automatic devices do provide minimal feedback, but much of the time it is through bleeps and burps, ring tones and flashing lights. This feedback is more annoying than informing, and even when it does inform, it provides partial information at best. In commercial settings, such as manufacturing plants, electric generating plants, hospital operating rooms, or inside the cockpits of aircraft, when problems arise, many different monitoring systems and pieces of equipment sound alarms. The resulting cacophony can be so disturbing that the people involved may waste precious time turning all the alarms off so that they can concentrate on fixing the problems.

In the design of smart cars and homes and other forms of automation, Norman argues that we “need to transition toward a more supportive form of two-way interaction.” The key may be that term, supportive. Feedback should have a benefit. That doesn’t mean it must always be, “Atta boy, Luther!” It shouldn’t just be noise. We need feedback to help us figure things out. Or do we?

Does feedback determine your direction? Do you alter your course based on feedback?