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  • Feedback Etiquette And Empowering Your Team

    [10.03.19]
    - Mark Webster
  • After more than a decade in AAA game development, billion-dollar franchises and award-winning titles, I am taking a beat to explore what else is out there. This has afforded me a moment to reflect on my journey and the things I've learned along the way. So, with time on my hands, I thought I would share some of the bits I've found most useful.

    "This Sucks! Do This." or "Why We Need Feedback Etiquette" 

    When it comes to the process of giving and receiving creative feedback, we tend to put the responsibility on the receiver to develop a tough skin and to not take remarks personally.

    It's not that feedback is intentionally harsh or personal, but it can come across as such due to tight deadlines, personality type mixes, or a noble drive to bring out the best in people. It's understandable and the truth is that feedback is so valuable that obtaining it is worth the price of a suboptimal process. It is only through feedback that we can improve our designs and stretch our art beyond the limits of our own perspective.

    That said, it's in the best interest of productivity and general human decency that everyone involved in the process work to ensure feedback is effective, respectful and empowering.

    Why do we want feedback to empower? 

    We want Creatives to invest their hearts and souls into bringing to life the vision of our projects. This is what makes designs sing and art transcendent.

    It is incongruent then in one moment to encourage Creatives to bring out the treasures of their heart and then ask them to toughen up as we hit it with sticks.

    So how do we navigate this delicate balance between honest feedback and creative expression while keeping everyone heading in the same direction?

    Below are a couple techniques I've learned to help cultivate a positive creative culture throughout the often-challenging process of feedback.

    Provoke Ownership. 

    As the age-old adage goes, give a man to fish and he'll eat... teach a man to fish and he'll learn to clean and gut it himself.

    The best feedback is that which inspires a Creative to take ownership over the issue, process or resulting deliverable.

    This doesn't mean they should have free reign to do whatever they like, but rather they are involved in the feedback process to the point that many of the resulting action items are of their own devising.

    The greater the sense of ownership a Creative has towards an idea, strategy or solution the more engaged they are to see it succeed.

    • Provoke by Asking Questions.

      Properly phrased, questions are an excellent means of guiding a Creative into ownership.

      Rather the explicitly identifying issues or prescribing solutions, we can use questions to engage a Creative in the problem spotting and solving process. Through conversation, we can bring them into the place of self-identifying the issues or solutions we are already seeing.

      We might start a feedback session by asking something open ended like ‘What more would we want to do with this?'. Perhaps they've already identified the issue and we can celebrate their forethought. If not, we can nudge them with a leading question such as ‘Hmm... how do we see the player managing this?'. Keep things tactful and both parties will work together to make the Creative's latest the best it can be.

    • Provoke by Begging the Question. 

      The goal here is to get a Creative to engage in the feedback process, offering their own thoughts and assessments of the product.

      If questions are not working, sometimes silence can elicit a response. For example, I might start a sentence and then trail as if mid thought. Something like ‘oh, that over here, it's making me think....'. Often this is enough to engage a Creative. Perhaps they ask a clarifying question or attempt to finish the sentence. In either case you now have the conversation ball rolling and can kick it back and forth.

    • Provoke by Not Having Answers. 

      A Creative is a lot like a Player in that they both typically take the path of least resistance. If we condition a Creative to expect us to always provide an answer, they are less likely to try to identify issues before bringing it for feedback. Similarly, if we always have a critique, they may choose to leave a few rough edges for us to call out rather than taking something to completion.

      Both cases can cut the Creative out of the conversation, decreasing their personal stake in seeing the situations addressed.

      If we have a solution in mind, often the best results come from inviting the Creative into our thought process. By doing this they can arrive at the desired conclusion on their own. Often this extra effort of bringing the Creative into our perspective results in them discovering a more effective solution then the one we initially had in mind.

      Overall using the feedback process to instill a sense of ownership may lengthen the initial feedback process. However, this early investment pays for itself in higher quality output from Creatives who are better equipped and motivated to self-evaluate their own work moving forward.

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