The importance of instant feedback Matt 08 May 2006

8 comments Latest by Vlad Stanescu

The instant feedback loop that’s built into Getting Real is one of the big reasons it succeeds. Instead of waiting months/years to find out if an idea is working, you get a meaningful response back right away. That means you can constantly learn and improve as you go along.

The Freakanomics boys latest piece, A Star Is Made, offers some scientific support for this notion. It explains that immediate feedback is a key element to exceptional performance, whether you’re a doctor, athlete, or programmer.

For example, most doctors actually perform worse the longer they are out of medical school due, in large part, to the increased lag time between making a decision and being able to judge its impact.

When a doctor reads a mammogram, she doesn’t know for certain if there is breast cancer or not. She will be able to know only weeks later, from a biopsy, or years later, when no cancer develops. Without meaningful feedback, a doctor’s ability actually deteriorates over time. Ericsson suggests a new mode of training. “Imagine a situation where a doctor could diagnose mammograms from old cases and immediately get feedback of the correct diagnosis for each case,” he says. “Working in such a learning environment, a doctor might see more different cancers in one day than in a couple of years of normal practice.”

8 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Aaron Blohowiak 09 May 06

Great Post.

Kendall 09 May 06

Interesting. I think this could be applied across the board. Certainly on the web the opportunity for instant feedback is easily attainable (as i write that i realize that i’ve missed an opportunity to implement that instant feedback loop - that will change).

But this also applies to so many other areas of interest/study. Allowing for users to experience things, react to them and give feedback would give the producers of any product or service the knowledge with which to make the vital decisions about the direction of their organization.

I know that this is retreading a lot of the Getting Real talks about. But I think the concept is solid. Thanks for the reminder.

Glenn Davies 09 May 06

Several years ago, I had lunch with a successful business man who had agreed to meet with me and listen to my ‘big’ idea. He listened throughout lunch, asked the right questions and then he said two words that have stuck with me since that time, “Fail Fast”.

At first I was clearly disappointed, but then I recovered and realized the wisdom in those carely chosen words. The concepts behind Getting Real are not new, the boys at 37s will tell you that, but they are new to a tired old club of developers who just don’t want to change (cross-browser compatible???). Instant feedback, built into your product and/or service, will limit your failures and move you closer to your next success.

Dave Churchville 09 May 06

Yes, rapid feedback is the core of Agile thinking (I often think of Getting Real as a custom agile methodology).

In my development projects over the last 15 years, the ones that had the most success had a tight feedback loop in place, either with actual customers, or at least with internal decision makers.

It’s hard to improve at anything without getting quick feedback, including software development and user interface design.

Of course, in the doctor example, it’s easier to give feedback because there’s a “right” answer. Unfortunately software and interface design often suffers from a large grey area in this regard. My “right” is your “wrong”, although we can sometimes agree on “good enough” or not. Sigh.

Scott Brooks 09 May 06


I couldn’t agree more.

As a visual communicator feedback to me is of the utmost importance. I need to know what people think of my concepts. I need specific feedback to make my/clients ‘thing’ better.
The problem seems to exist with the way organizations typically handle generating feedback.

The issue lies in the ineffectiveness of email as a means for collaboration within an organization. Typically clients use email as their means to share their ideas. (Not every company is as tech savvy as the readers of this blog unfortunately.)

The concept will disseminate from the originator. Generally following the organizational structure. As the idea reaches the bottom of the org chart feedback starts to bounce back but not to the originator. Generally to their manager who in an effort to justify their existence will massage the feedback, watering it down. This information is then funneled back to the originator who will further aggregate the information back to the design firm. These feedback funnels don’t help the process. They take the teeth out of the feedback. Lessening the effectivness of the product and lessening staff input.

So now you get a less then perfect product and a staff who feels like they haven’t been listened. No buy in.

There is also a disconnect for many people when you ask them to give verbal feedback on visual concept …. But that is another topic.



Andy Brudtkuhl 09 May 06

I think that’s one of the beauties of managing the edge — instant feedback. Constant interaction with users and clients creates an avenue for instant feedback. You guys are some of the best at using your blog as a feedback machine.

Rees Evans 10 May 06

This is abundantly clear in music performance. The more you perform in front of critical audiences the faster you get better. That’s why music schools have performance labs. It’s also a good reason to record youself, the most instant feedback possible.
Recording makes it possilbe to put yourself in the place of the audience, it is a good idea to try your own programming efforts trying to think like a user. Hard to do.

Vlad Stanescu 10 May 06

Great example with the doctor.

A similar example would be the one I recently heard in a documentary “Air Crash Investigation” where, when a Boeing 310 crashed in Russia, they found out that due to the fact that most pilots never actually get into a critical situation they don’t know how to handle those kind of events. Now they all do training in simulators for those kind of events.

Also I think that the instant feedback in software design is the best thing: you can find out if your idea is good after spending minimal time to develop it and trash it if it’s bad or invest more into it if it’s good. Too bad that most service buyers don’t think like this.

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