Feedback ContrarianLand

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Feedback is dead.

Feedback doesn’t work.

Where there’s a generally accepted truth, there will be contrarians, those who reject the generally accepted.

But, especially in today’s post-truth era, where there’s a generally accepted truth that is complex and where a brand could be built or money could be made, there are Contrarians with a capital C.

These are the folks who, usually through cunning, make provocative “that can’t be true” type comments and back them up with carefully selected confirmatory data that ignores the data that made the original idea generally accepted.

So, if they can misrepresent the original idea and then counter that misrepresentation with a solution that helps their brand or pads their pockets, they’ve created a horse worth riding until something better comes along.

Fellow feedback nerds have asked me about these types of “feedback is dead” comments, which continue gaining traction even years after publication. There are plenty of rebuttals, most of which I agree with (you can find a few at the end of this post), but here are the thoughts I have that may add something new.

Some conspiracy theorists can change their minds when they experience something for themselves.

But willingness to change may be off the table with entrenched Contrarians.

So I won’t highlight the thousands of academic studies on feedback over many decades that overwhelmingly show feedback’s vital role in learning and growth.

And I won’t ramble on about the human experience, of myself being here and you being there, both of which result from feedback not being dead and working quite well.

But I will call out some formulas. It is my hope that in this age when our attention spans may be shrinking in measurable ways, we keep building our collective awareness around how such formulas capture, sustain, and then monetize our attention.

One goes something like this:

You know this thing [in feedback’s case, that helped billions of people throughout human history?]

It actually doesn’t work.

Do you know what does?

[vibe] Of course you don’t.

But I do. [of course]

And I did the research to validate it [uh-huh]

[Call to action]

Another version has many variations and has become the copywriting star of popular self-help influencers. You will often see these formulas used in the first posts you see when you open X, Threads, or LinkedIn. At this point, ChatGPT can churn out hundreds of them in just a few minutes. They go something like:


I’m a self-made (usually: millionaire). [Note: this is itself a fallacy]

But I wasn’t always.

I used to do X, as you are likely doing now.

Over time, I learned hard lessons.

And I’m sharing them all with you now. [vibe: purely out of my inner goodness]

Here are the 7 things I did to turn my life from hell to hell yeah.

And a slightly different variation:


You want to be X [unsaid: like me].

I did too.

But for X years I approached it all wrong.

Yesterday, I just achieved X.

And to celebrate, I’m sharing all my secrets. [are they secrets?]

[Call to action]

Some final thoughts

It’s always worth questioning long-standing ideas and highlighting research that expands our perspectives, explores new scenarios, and works with different variables.

It’s also worth looking at the data in aggregate and over time.

It’s also worth looking at your own life’s experience.

It’s also worth investigating underlying motives.

Negative feedback and positive feedback have helped me make dramatic improvements in everything I’ve ever done—whether I was standing in a cage to fight another martial artist or investigating a genocide.

As someone who appreciates the complexity of our world, blanket statements meant to apply to entire groups usually cause me to pause. So the blanket statement of “feedback doesn’t work” strikes me as complete nonsense.

Was the feedback I received always helpful? Absolutely not.

Was it always delivered in the best way? Nope.

Did some or even much of it contain bias, and was some or even much of it subjective? Indeed. Such is the human experience.

Did that bias and subjectivity make all of it unhelpful? No. In fact, if non-bias and non-subjectivity are the barometer, we should probably stop talking to each other.

Could people from all walks of life improve their feedback literacy, and might the world be better as a result? I believe so. That’s why I do what I do.

Does all of that mean feedback is dead and doesn’t work?

Only in Feedback ContrarianLand.


Other perspectives

  1. Feedback is not a waste of time by Hanna Hart
  2. There is No Feedback Fallacy by Jack Zenger
  3. Feedback isn’t the problem, but the way that we deliver it is broken by Shelley Osborne

Other reads you may find interesting

  1. The 7 deadly sins of research by Gemma Conroy
  2. The Dunning-Kruger Effect in Feedback