feeding back, moving forward, building up

Last night I went to another meeting of the Mid Essex Magical Society (available to enhance a charity event near you – so long as it’s in Essex). Once a month we hold a Feedback Night. This is not where we try to see how close we can get a microphone to a loudspeaker before getting the loud screeching noise, It’s an opportunity for some of the magicians to perform a routine and receive constructive criticism from the rest of the club. It might be a relatively polished routine that we are looking to enhance or a work in progress where we would appreciate some advice.

Bearing in mind that MEMS is full of brilliant magicians, many of whom are members of the Magic Circle and have years of experience, you would have thought that performing in front of them would be quite scary. In fact it is something that I really appreciate because of the intent, tone and content of the feedback that I receive. The feedback is offered (admittedly because it has been invited by virtue of performing on Feedback Night) in a constructive way: “Have you thought about…”; “I noticed that…”; “You could try…” What is offered is not critical in the negative sense but it is thoughtful and considered, providing the performer with the opportunity to draw on years of experience, ideas, wisdom and skill.

Last night I performed a routine that I used in a service on the previous Sunday morning because after the service I reflected on what I’ve done and came up with an alternative way of performing the trick. I decided to run it past MEMS for their reflection. The feedback I received was very helpful and has given me food for thought (which is actually a pun if you know the routine I performed (actually it’s a pun whether or not you know the routine but you won’t recognise it as a pun unless you know the routine)).

How often do we invite feedback from others? I think most of the time we run away from it because we are afraid of negative criticism. But if we can learn to offer positive, constructive feedback that is designed to enhance and improve and is offered with grace and consideration of how it will be received then I think it is more likely to be welcomed (even better if it is invited rather than offered!).

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 we read these words: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” That’s certainly what happens at MEMS. I hope you get that experience too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

squeak screech howl (i.e. feedback)

About 6 months ago I joined the Mid Essex Magical Society (or MEMS for short). They have been very welcoming and I have really enjoyed the evenings I have been able to attend. (if you are looking to do a fundraising event in Essex they can provide a good evening’s magical entertainment for you at a reasonable rate. See here for more details.)

Last night I attended a session where we had four different performers offer routines for the rest of the society to watch and then offer feedback. I was one of the four performers and offered a stage routine that I’ve never done in public before. I decided that that would probably be safest so that it was not something I was particularly attached to, but also so that it could be developed and enhanced by the feedback from the rest of the group. I was pleasantly surprised by the response from the rest of the MEMS and helped by the feedback: not only the content but also the manner in which was offered. I have some new ideas to add to and hopefully enhance the routine.

Stew the Rabbit has not yet been introduced to the MEMS
Stew the Rabbit has not yet been introduced to the MEMS

Feedback is vital if we are to be able to grow. If we don’t know how people are receiving what we are doing it is very difficult for us to know how best to address any deficiencies (and indeed we may not be aware of any deficiencies) or enhance our strengths. But receiving feedback, or at least the thought of it, can be very frightening because we place ourselves in a position of vulnerability. We have probably all experienced feedback that was poorly delivered, was unhelpfully negative or even destructive.

I think giving good feedback is an artform that requires trust on both sides, honesty, tact, humility (and perhaps humour) and a genuine desire to improve and be improved. Good feedback is not personal in its nature; seeks to enhance and build up; is thought through and reflective; and is offered as opinion not fact. That was certainly the nature of the feedback that we received last night. In one of his letters Paul wrote to a church (1 Thessalonians 5:11) that they should:

Encourage one another and build each other up…

That is a foundation for good feedback. This does not mean that we do not offer advice and comments that will identify possible weaknesses but it is not possible to say “that was rubbish” if you are seeking to encourage one another and build each other up. Instead you could say, “Do you think that it would be better if you [insert suggestion]?”

Next time I am tempted to open my mouth and offer some advice I pray that I will remember that I should encourage and build up.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

These astute visionaries (from Clean Jokes) may need to improve their feedback techniques and expand their vision somewhat.

“But what … is it good for?”
–Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
–Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
–David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the1920s.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
–Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”
–Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
–Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872