Feedback Fallow

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A few semesters ago, a student told me about their goal of reading 100 nonfiction books throughout the year.

They were on book 21 and asked if I had any recommendations.

I had plenty and provided a few, but I first asked them about the latest book they read.

It was Give and Take by Adam Grant, which I’d read and enjoyed nearly ten years prior.

“What are your takeaways from the book?” I asked.

They provided a solid synopsis.

Based on what you learned, have you changed or considered changing any parts of your life?

At first, they lit up with excitement, as if they had once planned to change a few things, but then their demeanor moved to disappointment.

“I haven’t,” they said.

Has anybody else spent years trying to cram information but, looking back, realized that in your blazing through brilliant ideas you haven’t adopted any of them in your life? I sure have.

At this point, I applauded them for their noble goal of learning—and how there can be benefits to downloading a ton of information at once and then assembling it later—but I also cautioned them.

This opened up a great discussion about goals, motives, and generally slowing down to wake up. I told them how I’ve shifted to reading and fully absorbing three books a year, practicing what they preach, and seeing how it works for me.

It all led me to see parallels with how we give, receive, process, seek, and use feedback at work.

Are you trying to seed desiccated soil?

“Fallow has been defined as a farming practice wherein no crop is grown and all plant growth is controlled by cultivation or chemicals during a season when a crop might normally be grown.”

In other words, a field is left unseeded for a season to restore and improve soil health (it also replenishes certain types of biodiversity) in preparation for the next planting.

In my experience facilitating employee feedback training, there aren’t enough feedback fallow periods—times dedicated to just being for a little while so our learning soil becomes fertile.

For those primarily in the position of giving feedback, this could mean intentionally pausing on giving more negative feedback to a colleague who has already received a ton of it. Your shift may now involve providing positive feedback about how you’re beginning to see improvements blossom.

Some feedback seekers I’ve talked to find it far easier to gather new feedback rather than slowing down to squeeze every last drop of improvement from what they’ve already received.

For those primarily in the position of receiving feedback, it may be worth routinely mentioning to your primary giver how you continue to actively work on the specific feedback they provided you weeks or months ago. You may find that they appreciate this information and that it slows down the frequency with which they provide you with new negative feedback (unless it involves something urgent).

Seeding healthy soil

Also, depending on challenging life circumstances, your professional growth might need to enter a fallow period for a bit. I know traditional economists, the majority of the corporate world, and self-improvement nuts might not like that one, but constant infinite growth is a fallacy.

For more on that fallacy, check out Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth.

Like my student who wanted to read 100 books and was perhaps on the path to achieving the goal but not changing much as a result, too quickly adopting growth goals or not allowing yourself time to absorb what you’re learning could mean you either choose the wrong goals or hinder the growth you are trying so hard to pursue.

Instead, consider those times when you are ultra-receptive to learning. How do you feel during these times?

Are you in a playful mood or perhaps feeling neutral? Where are your energy levels? Do you feel exhausted and without sleep, or are you rested? These will differ for all of us.

For many, the systems around us see us as robotic cogs that occasionally need some WD-40 to keep doing.

I think we are more like the soil, the earth with which we share elements and will all eventually return to.

As such, professional growth demands periods of being.


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