This post was originally published on Hatch, our internal version of Medium, on September 19, 2013. See Hatching Inside Medium for context on this collection.

The Importance of Candid Feedback

Earlier on when Medium was Obvious, a few of us did some research into how to build constructive feedback loops where we get completely candid feedback early and often (something that sometimes feels awkward because we all want to be nice and don’t want to dismiss someone’s ideas).

As we embark on new and exciting features, I dug up my notes from way back and modified them a bit. They are still as relevant as ever.

There is a strong emphasis on collaboration and a friendly workplace. How do we balance an optimistic culture that promotes risk-taking with getting honest feedback and criticism regarding a product?

Main takeaways from research and some concrete feedback frameworks.

  • Short-term daily loops and longer-term feedback loops are effective in getting feedback at all stages. There are no surprises when someone finally gets it “good enough” and presents. Pixar calls these “dailies.”
  • Create an environment where everyone feels open to share and provide honest feedback
  • Create frameworks for critique that combine honest feedback with complete ownership and control, such as Pixar’s “brain trust” meetings (from Pixar’s Secret for Delivering Tough Feedback)

What was the “secret” that allowed directors to receive brutally honest feedback without feeling angry or defensive? Simple: The brain trust has no authority. There are no mandatory notes, and the brain trust has no authority over the person to whom they’re giving feedback. The people receiving feedback are the only ones responsible for making a great movie, so they’re under no obligation to take the feedback. And here’s the crazy psychological twist: Because they’re under no obligation to take the feedback, of course, they take a lot of it.

  • Present multiple ideas at a time to critique as people give more honest feedback and the presenter is less attached to one particular idea.
  • Presenter requests that for each idea, everyone writes down one thing you really like and one thing that might not work.

My hypothesis is that using these feedback prompts will provide a safe space to provide and receive candid feedback.

Co-founder of coleadership.com, transforming engineers into leaders. Previously engineering at @Medium, Pulse, and Google.

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