Feedback Loop with Reality

Day 342 Week 50 Q4  Thursday, December 8, 2022

Anyone who brings into being some manifestation of insight, whether it be in the art, science or business domains, is to be congratulated. You are likely a creative outlier and possibly even an innovator if one more condition is met.  You have to have gotten into a feedback loop with reality.  What do I mean by that? And why does it matter? 

Well, we creative outliers are very good at creating a new world and going to live in it, at least in our minds. But until you bring your creation out into the world where others can experience it, and provide feedback, you are not yet in a feedback loop with reality and cannot benefit from this powerful often iterative mechanism.

You see, when you keep your creation a secret no one can benefit from it except for you. Although that can provide, and probably does provide to you, psychological benefits such as reducing stress, increasing meaning and supporting identity growth, which can ripple outward and benefit others, this is not nearly as powerful as sharing your manifestation directly with others, where it can generate meaning, experience, identity and even wealth for others.

And most likely, iteration is going to be required for your creation to become really useful. Writers need editors, musicians need producers, software developers need beta users, and of course, business people need customers. These are all examples of feedback loops with reality.  I can not tell you how many talented and even brilliant people I have met who are extremely reluctant to jump into the loop.

Very recently, I asked a composer a question I have asked many times. How are you going to deploy this piece of music? Not only do I often get a blank stare in response to this question, but I also often get an annoyed look, like how can you use such a low-level phrase to describe my brilliant work. I try to gently tell them that the first rev of everything is a starting point, not an ending point. Until you get into some sort of feedback loop with reality, an external from your reality, you may not even be able to complete the work or get it to the next level. I have been there myself, as almost no one wants to take the chance; they may get any negative feedback at all. But then again, if you do not take this chance, you also can not get any positive feedback either. You all know the question if the tree falls in a forest with no one there, does it make a sound? 

Well, I do not need to get philosophical about that one because, as a musician, I can quickly bring it down. If you write a piece of music and no one in the world hears it, then it probably does not matter very much. Or if you invent a new product and no one in the world ever sees it or tries it, you might be wasting your time.  Of course, it is possible to spend a very long time working on something before it is ready to expose it but I can assure you that getting feedback sooner is much better than later. 

It is a lot harder, more expensive, and less likely, to change something when it is completely finished than when it is still in the process of becoming. Try editing your album or movie after it is released. It is not going to happen!  So although it can be frightening even when you have received a lot of positive feedback in the past, it is a bit of a necessary evil. Until you you get into a feedback loop with reality, you do not have a business, you are not an artist, and you have not discovered a technical breakthrough. I mean, you might well be, but you will never know for sure.

Among other things, as a young man, the fear of rejection made it easier for me to design electrical circuits or computer programs than to expose my musical creations. I felt if people did not like my technical achievements, it would not matter nearly as much as if they did not like my music because the music was a reflection of my soul and the technical work was just something I did but was much less emotionally attached to. It took a long time to have the courage to jump into a feedback loop with reality musically or with my writing, and it can still be difficult.  

I have mentored inventors, with both patents and with two PhDs, from prestigious institutions, with large government grants who are still terrified to find out if there is a customer for what they have been doing of the last ten years. In fact, sometimes, they would rather ask a venture capitalist for $30M to start a company than ask a single customer if they would be willing to pay for the service or product they want to offer.

So, I get it; you can have all of the credentials in the world and all of the positive feedback that came with getting those credentials, but asking an actual customer what they think, can still be frightening. It may not feel natural or easy, but it is incredibly simple to ask someone what they like or need or want. You do not even need to ask. You can just expose someone and read their body language. It can not only be a cashless transaction but a wordless transaction. But there does need to be something that gets you into a feedback loop with reality, or you are possibly fooling yourself.

Now you can be rejected by the entire world for years and still turn out to be right. But you have to spend those years continuing to pitch and demo and get feedback from the outside world. Twice in my life, I spent five years getting rejected until, eventually, the idea got through, impacting many people. And it did not turn out that the external feedback was useful at all, but eventually, people agreed with me. 

So, I am not advocating being in a feedback loop with reality just to iterate and change because you do not know what you are doing. I am saying that until you get into this feedback loop with the reality that what you are doing does not matter very much and if along the way you can glean useful feedback, take it. And even if the feedback is negative, you will never know if you have the goods until it changes and acceptance follows. You can not even determine if the weather changed unless you are in this loop.

So, go there sooner rather than later. It can save a lot of grief and just possibly even improve your workflow, output or results.