How to Knock a Box off a Stool with a Cookie

In a recent workshop, I invited a participant to knock a small box off a stool using a cookie. She stood with her back to the stool and tossed the cookie over her shoulder – without looking. (The cookie was wrapped.)

The audience was instructed to remain silent. The first toss hit the ceiling and dropped about two feet behind her.

Her second attempt flew about half way to the stool. But she couldn’t see where it fell.

I asked the audience to give her feedback. Someone in the second row said, “Throw it harder.” Another said, “Hold your hand a little higher.”

Stop:

I stopped the process and said, “That’s not feedback. That’s instruction. Let’s try again.”

Another participant said, “You were about half way to the target.” I asked her to try again.

The cookie fell short by about a foot. “Give her feedback.”

“Your line is perfect,” someone said. Another responded, “You were about a foot short and too low.”

On her fifth try, she knocked the box off the stool. Everyone exploded with applause.

Debrief:

“Did you feel judged by the feedback?” I asked. “No,” she smiled.

I asked her, “How did you feel?” She said, “It was exciting.”

Feedback – done well – energizes performance. Done poorly, it sucks the life out of people.

Lessons:

  1. Feedback is simply noticing behaviors, impact, or results as compared to known standards or expectations.
  2. No one improves until they receive feedback, even if the feedback is the sound of a cookie hitting the ceiling.
  3. Successfully knocking the box off the stool is a random accident apart from feedback.
  4. Give high performers freedom to adapt. Give novices or low performers feedback and instruction.
  5. Feedback should energize people, even if it might sting at first. People want to succeed.

What mistakes have you seen when it comes to giving feedback?

What does good feedback look like from your perspective?