This is the simple formula for constant and never-ending improvement (CANI) in anything:
- do the thing
- listen to the feedback
- analyze and assess the feedback
- adjust and tweak
The linchpin of this process is the feedback. Doing something repeatedly, without more, will not help you improve. You may get faster at doing the thing, such that you can do more of it within a certain time frame, but your quality won’t necessarily improve.
3 Feedback Channels Necessary for Constant and Never-Ending Improvement
Here are the three feedback channels that will help you on your path of CANI.
The most effective learning is experiential. Cognitive understanding happens in the mind, but true knowledge is embodied. It comes only from experience. This is why doing the thing you want to improve is a crucial first step.
Studies show that self-reflection and self-assessment can improve performance dramatically. Reflection provides a structure in which to make sense of learning. This helps us take concepts and theories and put them into practice.
When we can critically appraise what we experienced via practice, we can improve ongoing practice by using the information and knowledge we are gaining from the experience.
A consistent ritual of self-reflection opens us to see patterns in our work. This helps us create a more direct path to the results we desire.
The most effective way to do this type of reflection is through journaling. Don’t just write down the bullets of what you did; this isn’t about time tracking. Writing about what you did will yield the insights that lead to improvement.
But self-reflection is not enough.
(2) Collaborative Assessment
One study in the academic context showed that although self-reflection on both how and what students learned led to improvements in academic performance, the improvements were limited.
Other research suggests that reflective assessment is most effective when it involves others. This offers the chance to collaborate and share ideas about changes and new ways of operating.
(3) External Feedback
There are three main sources of external feedback:
If you’re performing stand-up comedy or giving a talk or presentation, the feedback may come in the form of laughter or silence. It may be a standing ovation or people asleep in their chairs. When people walk out in the middle, that’s feedback. When they stay in their seats until the very end, that’s also feedback. Asking questions is feedback.
Your audience doesn’t need to be a big group; it can be an audience of one. “Audience” also includes your clients and customers, your spouse, your kids, your friends — whoever is the target market for your work.
Two crucial pieces of advice about the audience:
Listen with “Honest Ears”
An important piece of advice I received from comedians Harrison Greenbaum and Gibran Saleem is to listen with “honest ears.” One guy laughing loud does not mean your set was funny. This applies outside of comedy as well. One person walking out of your talk doesn’t mean you bombed. A few people coming to your open house doesn’t mean your home is priced properly.
Know Who Your Audience Is — and Isn’t
It’s crucial to know who your audience is — and isn’t — so that you are listening to the right audience feedback. In real estate, it’s common for a seller to get wrapped up in how much their friends love their home, what an appraiser valued it at, or even what other real estate agents told them. The only opinions that matter are those of the prospective buyers.
Similarly, in your work, watch out for where people who are not your audience try to give you feedback.
(b) Objective Observation
One place where self-assessment falls short is that we are not objective about our own performance. We view our work through the lens of our subjective experience, which is tainted by the emotions we felt before, during, and after the experience.
How you feel going into something is often how you feel while you’re in it and after you finish. This is shaped by many factors, some of which you may be aware of and others of which you are not aware.
Our memories are not accurate. And we cannot be in the experience and observing the experience at the same time. So we need objective observation of our work.
The three most common means of objective observation are
These tell us exactly what we said or did.
(c) Outside Expert
Even if you engage in the other methods of feedback, you will limit your rate and scale of improvement unless you have an outside expert such as a teacher, coach, trainer, mentor, or consultant.
The simple reason is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Experience generates knowledge. You can watch a video or listen to an audio, but do you know what you are looking for? Even if you have a list of criteria, you are probably not seeing everything.
A seasoned professional can see things that aren’t obvious to a novice.
The most effective way an outside expert can help you is by watching you in action. The classic example is that of a fitness trainer. If you work with a trainer in the gym, the trainer will correct your form and push you to your limit in a safe way. Without the trainer, you might err by going to an extreme: either by pushing yourself too hard or playing it too safe.
In the same way, consultants typically go on-site to a company to observe the employees at work and see where things need to be adjusted.
When a coach or consultant can watch you in action, it speeds up your pace of improvement because they can tell you in real time where and how to adjust. For example, when I help other real estate agents and solopreneurs implement better systems in their businesses, I always do this on-site at their home or office so I can see how they work.
Where are you receiving or lacking feedback?
To recap, here are the 3 feedback channels. (Yes, I know it’s really 6.)
- collaborative assessment
- external feedback
- objective observation
- outside expert
If you are serious about improving your skills, you must use all of these feedback channels. In my experience, there is one feedback channel that most solopreneurs and freelancers are missing. I’ll cover that in a separate article.
In the meantime, reflect on your feedback channels.
- Which of these do you have, and which do you lack?
- Of those that you use, where are you receiving strong feedback and where are you receiving weak feedback?
Please share in the comments; I’d love to hear your responses and see if I’m right!