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Liz Gerber

The Trifecta of Feedback



Thumbs down image by ancient history. Thumbs up image by Photosightfaces.

Justin Bieber told his one million Twitter followers recently that he has “lots of ideas."

At the same time on Twitter, Bill Clinton shared his ideas about universal access to healthcare, Thomas Friedman offered solutions for the resolving the environmental crisis, and Veronika Scott shared her ideas about eradicating homelessness in Detroit.

Social media has made it possible for everyone — known or not, with ideas for social impact or not — to share his or her ideas with large groups of people at anytime anywhere in the world.

While social media has radically increased the ease of sharing ideas, we often forget how to receive feedback on those ideas. As social innovators, we need to remember how to get feedback so that the quality of our ideas can improve more quickly, our solutions can be refined, and simple, and address concerns of diverse stakeholders.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve worked with thousands of social innovators — engineers increasing response time to emergency disaster and educators addressing mental health issues and more. During this time, I’ve learned that these people, independently of their domain, consistently do three things after they share their ideas.

Based on this experience, I offer the trifecta of feedback.

Step 1

Listen to the feedback.  Remember the feedback is about the idea, not you. Social change makers are most effective when they think about feedback as information to inform their solutions, rather than criticism about themselves.

Mert Iseri is the CEO of Swipesense, a company who makes mobile hand sanitizers to reduce hospital acquired infections. The product allows nurses and doctors to sanitize their hands just before they interact with a patient, thereby reducing the spread of diseases from patient to patient, and the resulting 100,000 deaths that occur each year in US hospitals. During the early stages of his development, a nurse told Mert that his prototype was leaky and difficult to use. Mert didn’t take the feedback as a criticism of his design ability, but rather as feedback that his solution needed refinement before nurses and doctors could use the product to prevent the spread of diseases. Mert ran back to his workshop, refined his design, and returned back to the nurse with a new model.

Step 2

Thank people who give feedback. Whether you agree or not, the person cared enough about the idea to share his or her thoughts.

Hannah Chung is the Chief Creative Officer of Sproutel, a company that makes interactive games for kids with chronic illness. Last week, when Hannah shared her current game for children with diabetes at a conference, regardless of whether she received both positive and negative feedback on her work, she thanked the people for taking the time to react to her game. She recognizes that people have the choice to sit in the audience, text or play games on their phone, and not listen or respond to her ideas. By thanking them, she’s appreciating the time they give to both listening and thinking about her work, giving her insights that she might not come to by herself.

Step 3

Place the feedback in one of three buckets labeled Accept. Reject. Reflect further. Just because feedback is given does not mean that it needs to be integrated into the work.

Since 2008 when I created Design for America — a national network of social entrepreneurs tackling challenges in education, environment, healthcare and the economy — I’ve received a lot of feedback on ways to improve the network. As the network expands and more people know about it, the amount and diversity of feedback increases. Suggestions range from inviting high school students to join, creating an online curriculum, and expanding to China. After listening and thanking the person giving the feedback, I take time to think about whether I will act on the feedback, not act on the feedback, or think more about what to do. In this way, feedback is always informing and prioritizing items on my “to do” list and improving the Design for America network.

So what does this mean for you? If you want to be a social change maker, it’s not enough to tweet your ideas for social change every day. You’ve got to remember how to receive feedback. If you remember the trifecta of feedback, you can radically improve the quality of your ideas and make greater social impact.

Posted in: Community, Design Practice, Social Enterprise

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