The deeper I go into using the internet to expand my coaching business, the wider the variety of services I encounter (and often use). Each service has its own particular approach to what it does, and for some of them, I get to interact with the service providers themselves. One of these services (which shall remain nameless to prevent my being ‘blacklisted’ from it) has been quite an education for me. The service owner occasionally asks for feedback then, when he receives it, generally posts a reply as to why the feedback doesn't count. Watching him operate over the past few months has been a real education - an education about how not to run a business!
Innovation flows from the process of brainstorming: allowing the problematic issues themselves to suggest solutions. That's one reason why I never talk about ‘problems’ - remember that our language not only represents, but creates our perceived reality - because ‘issues’ (rather than ‘problems') are always opportunities for creative growth. If, as business women and men, we reject these opportunities for innovation out of hand, our organizations, systems, and even our products and services will soon become stale. Furthermore, when we reject feedback (or feed-forward), people will very quickly learn not to offer us any.
For any project - be it as large as a business or as small as a sales letter - both feedback and feedforward are essential elements. The word ‘feedforward’ was coined by Marshall Goldsmith to highlight the relationship between evaluations (feedback) and suggestions (feedforward). What approaches could you take to these brainstorming approaches? Odd as it might sound, the best (most productive) approach is always to accept these offerings uncritically and look for the positive in them. Knee-jerk reactions should have no place in brainstorming: any advertising agent will tell you that the most outrageous ideas most often contain grains of the greatest brilliance.
Don't censor yourself, and, for Pete's sake, don't censor your critics! When people feel that you actually appreciate any and all input, they will be anxious to give you more. People love to feel listened-to, even when their ideas aren't actually implemented. You always want to open the spigot of creativity, never to stifle it. So, watch yourself: do you ever respond to suggestions with ‘but', or with reasons why the idea won't work? If so, it's time for a change. Try responding with, “How could we implement that?" instead.
Here's a final example. This service I was referring to earlier has a listserve that was created to allow users to share experiences and to ask questions. Over time, people have begun using the listserve to promote products hosted on this service. Responding to criticisms, several times I suggested starting another listserve specifically to service the product promotion people. Every time, the service owner has responded with “We don't have the resources to do that. " The issue remains a problem, those in the community who would have been willing to volunteer to manage a new listserve were not solicited, and those of us who see my suggestion as a viable option will (most likely) not continue championing our ‘cause’. Furthermore, we're probably not going to become involved in other issues because of our bad experience. See? Could this be a good time for you to take a close look at how you handle your feedback and feedforward?
H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
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