Feedback (and not just beta-testing)
I do a lot of betatesting of my #games and new tools. The process is creative, but I have had to learn to separate myself from the products so that I can receive #feedback without becoming defensive. This is harder than it sounds – when you pour everything you have into something novel, it can be hard to listen to criticism. But when I remember that others are suggesting real improvements to my product and not criticizing me, I can make better and stronger games and facilitation tools.
Beta-testing is a vital part of my design process and I need feed-back to learn and iterate. The final products are always better for the feedback.
My beta-testers are often client teams or random groups of people who are willing to put several hours of a day aside, try something very new and offer their opinion. These are people I rely on to provide honest input. Some don’t know me or my professional abilities. They don’t know my process or how I spend my time developing the games, they don’t see the research, or the tables covered in tokens, dice and index cards – they see a snap-shot, a (“final”) product. And while they can provide essential insights into my games, they really have no knowledge of me and if I am actually doing my best work in delivering the games they play.
I love being my own boss, there are many aspects that are great, but recently I realised something very important is missing. Feedback on me. Without feedback, how do I know what I am doing well and what areas I could be working on? What I have made progress on recently? Where I have put lots of effort without too many returns on that investment (of time or energy)? Without feedback I worry that I am not pushing myself hard enough or that I am missing opportunities to learn about new and unexpected things. An honest assessment of my weaknesses and growth potential would break my confirmation bias and allow me to discover whole new emerging areas of thought.
I am a product too … part of TabTalks is not just what I offer my clients, but who I offer my clients and how I interact with my clients. I still try to learn, but I no longer receive meaningful feed-back on me (negative and positive). On Tabatha. Not TabTalks.
I was out with friends the other night and many were excited to share some of the feedback they had received from their boss (or their team for those lucky enough to have 360s!) In the past, when I received performance reviews, they felt more process than content driven. There seemed to be a formula that mandated a percentage of good and bad; there were always aspects that were not great or that made me wonder if my boss was paying any attention to the work I did, but there was also praise and recognition for the work I had done. Sometimes hearing things about myself and how I could improve stung. But there was always that opportunity to do better, learn new things (or prove the boss wrong). There was the push to a new subject or competency that I could grow into, or a suggestion that I refocus my efforts.
A wise friend recently suggested that I do get feedback, the fact that people hire me to work with them … but this is only part of the picture. And while people do seem to like the products I deliver, I want to know if there are areas the person (me) who delivered those products could improve. I want to know what they liked about the process of working with me, what I could do better next time, what tools or techniques would have better served them, new areas of research or management that I should explore. I do want to know. I need to grow, and for that, I need to know.
A critical evaluation, when done well, ensures you grow and really understand your strengths, weaknesses and future possibilities. Someone who knows your work can point to areas of learning that might be of interest or improve your work in the future. Personal growth is about receiving feed-back, learning and iterating; people are always better for feedback.
So how does one get feedback as a solo-preneur? As a self-employed designer? I am going to try and be deliberate and ask. And not customer satisfaction surveys, but real discussions with clients about what my processes were like, what worked, what didn’t, did I deliver what was expected or was the quality better or worse? Are there emerging areas of knowledge that I should be aware of? I need to know.
Do other self-employed people have processes for feedback and evaluation? Real opportunities for professional reflection? I would love to hear!