Bell that feedback!
The perfect bell curve graph reflects the tendency of a majority to be centred about
the apex of a spread, while the minorities tail off to either extreme. Understanding
this can really help when dealing with difficult situations related to human behaviour.
The bell curve has always been, for me, the best representation of how people behave,
and it shows that approximately a quarter will always be at one extreme, and another
quarter at the other extreme, while 50% sit in between*. You need to decide which
group you're targeting and make your plans accordingly. The bell curve theory would
come in very handy for anyone dealing with public opinion as you can never make everyone
happy, but as long as you have enough people under the curve in your favour, you're
*The bell curve on public opinions might not always be the perfect bell curve as
it obviously depends on what you're dealing with eg. If you ask people 'Do you want
tax cuts?' - you might have 100% saying 'yes'. But in this article I'm not referring
either to masterpieces or to anything which will bring about such drastic changes
as to leave its mark on history. I'm referring more to everyday creations and the
related public opinion and feedback.
If everyone always gave the same feedback about everything, wouldn't life be boring?
The movie 'Delhi Belly' - loved by some, hated by others. FaceBook was full of people
arguing about their views and I was surprised by how extreme some of the views were.
A similar thing happened with the movie 'Dhobi Ghat' - some people thought it was
brilliant while others (including me) came out thinking what a load of rubbish it
was. There are very few things in life that give rise to universal approbation e.g.
Sachin Tendulkar or universal loathing eg. Kangana Ranuat (!!) Most things fall in
between. So take note: if your bell curve is really skewed to one side then you'd
better shine your shoes ready for world acclaim or pack lots of tins of baked beans
and head underground!
The best way to understand the Bell curve is to look at public opinion on something
- anything - which is not, as explained above, NOT out of the ordinary! If there are
a substantial number of people in the group, opinions will form and feedback will
flow. It might require a bit of coaxing, but feedback always flows and the bell curve
starts to form.
The fact is that people love to give feedback, especially when they've not been asked
for it. If you stand in a supermarket holding a clipboard and a pen, people will make
huge diversions to get to the exit door just to avoid being stopped to fill out a
long feedback questionnaire, but these same people, if they bumped into the manager
of the supermarket at a dinner party, would inundate him with so much feedback that
he would be forced to bring out a pen and paper to write it all down!
"I love the ambience in your store; your meat selection is amazing; your veggies are
the best," or "I couldn't find cat litter in your store; the staff were rude; the
checkout was slow; I couldn't find anywhere to park; the music was too loud," etc
Why is it like this? My understanding is that people like to give direct personal
feedback to the person who is responsible for the situation, and they like their feedback
to be acknowledged. They don't want to speak to a third party collecting feedback
because they assume that everything they say will just go into some report and get
lost among thousands of other feedback forms and never see the light of day. It always
seems like a waste of time.
The internet has changed everything, including how you give and receive feedback.
With the advent of the internet, everyone feels they're your dinner guests, sharing
a drink and getting direct access to you. Every blog, article, story, video, news
item, website or even photo (eg. FaceBook) has a "Comments" or "Feedback" box below
it. You can give feedback directly to the person and your comments are usually uploaded
for everyone to read. Now you feel important. Not only did you manage to give feedback
directly to the person concerned, but everyone else can read your comment and think
how intelligent you are. You've become a mini-celebrity because you were able to display
your understanding of the topic and demonstrate your way with words.
And if you want to give really bad feedback - something you've been dying to say to
someone about their work but couldn't say publicly in case of negative reactions from
others - now you can use a false name or give anonymous feedback! Even better! Previously,
you had to chose your words carefully and be diplomatic in your public criticism;
people had to read between the lines to understand your true meaning. But now, you
could go straight online after reading this piece, and post a comment directly to
me, signing it 'anonymous' and saying something like: Were you drunk when you wrote
this? This is a piece of junk!
I think feedback is great and the internet is one of the best ways to provide it.
The public loves it - it's a hit because it feeds our intrinsic need to state our
opinion and give our reaction. It gives us a voice - a name and an identity (unless
we choose to be anonymous) to speak our minds and tell the world how we feel. It's
power in our hands! Great for the general public but my concern is - how are the 'creators'
dealing with all this feedback?
In pre-internet days, if a famous writer wrote a book or a play or a movie, they would
have had to wait for the critics to say stuff in newspapers and would get feedback
from people who met them at parties, called them on the phone or maybe wrote to them
by snail mail. These were the only 'direct' communication formats available. Some
nice comments, some not so nice, maybe a few nasty ones. But all in all - how many
'direct' comments on average would they get, directly communicated to them? 20? 30?
100? 500? I think it's safe to say that there wouldn't be more than that unless, of
course, we're talking about a masterpiece or master junk.
Today, the same writers, authors and musicians would get close to 2,000 - 5,000 or
even more emails, comments and feedback on FaceBook, Twitter, review websites and
various electronic sources within the first few days! Add to this the fact that the
number of really nasty comments account for a much larger proportion because of the
possibility of being anonymous, which is something authors in pre-internet days didn't
have to contend with. I really doubt any of them had to put up with something like
1,000 people telling them directly that their work is rubbish! Today, that's possible
- thanks to the internet! Imagine you're one
of those authors who has written something from the heart and 1,000 people come up
to you to tell you to your face (effectively) that your work is a piece of junk. How
would that make you feel? I would feel like a piece of junk myself!
How does one deal with this barrage of feedback, especially the nasty comments?
One of the ways to survive the mental stress from the barrage of nasty feedback is
to remind yourself that most reactions fall around the centre of the bell curve. Assume
you get 5,000 comments; if you collate this as per the bell curve then we can make
the assumption that approximately 1,250 (25%) people are telling you that you suck!
It's human nature to forget that you received 3,750 (75%) other comments which said
your work was OK, or the best; instead you'll keep thinking about the nasty feedback.
When you close your eyes at night, the nasty comments will be going round and round
in your head.
A common reaction of newbies to 'feedbacks galore' is to get defensive over these
nasty comments and to attempt to explain what they were trying to say. This starts
a debate which can go on forever. Or they launch an aggressive counter-attack to try
and show that their assailant was incapable of making intelligent observations. This
results in nasty exchanges in which people say things they later regret.
But the crazy thing about the internet is that, while in normal life you might say
something nasty and by the next day it would be forgotten, and anyone who wasn't actually
there wouldn't even have heard about it, on the internet it's as if every word you
utter - every sentence you've ever written - has been indelibly recorded as part of
history and will remain there forever (especially if you don't have a delete option
and you're not the moderator / administrator of that page!) Ten years later, when
someone clicks on that link, they will read your comments and create an image of you.
Ask me about it! In a crazy moment nearly 15 years ago I wrote a piece for some obscure
website describing heartache. I still get sympathy emails because I've never been
able to remove it, and the worst of it is that there's no date on it so people think
I'm going through those feelings today which is not exactly appreciated by my wife!
Be careful how you reply to your fans or your critics on the internet as it can really
come back to haunt you!
I believe that if you're in any profession where you receive opinions from the public,
then you need to have a thick skin and not be sensitive or defensive about what you've
done. An important thing to remember is that you will never be able to make everyone
happy! There will always be people who simply hate what you've created and will ridicule
it publicly. You can either spend the rest of your life thinking about what they said
and why they said whatever they did, OR you can shrug your shoulders, let it slide
off you like water off a duck's back, and move on to your next piece. If it's really
bothering you then you can convince yourself that they are all asinine comments from
stupid, thick, IQ-challenged morons, and then move on! :) But move on you must, or
you will sink into depression and be too scared to create anything new!
The best way to get over the hurt from feedback is to create something new. Immerse
yourself in a new project and move on. If you have the maturity, then learn from the
feedback - if it's worth learning from - and improve in your next piece. If you're
new to this and unable to deal with the nastiness, then spend more time connecting
with the people who gave you good feedback - it always helps your ego! Remind yourself
that there are MORE people in the world who liked your work, so focus on the 75% and
continue doing what you know best. Never be scared of feedback and never block it
as this would keep you away from the 75% who are positive about your work.
Always remember, if you've chosen to do something in the public domain, be prepared
for feedback - all kinds of feedback - especially if you've created something of substance.
I've written things in the public domain before and to be honest, while I've been
appreciated many times, I've also been ridiculed, insulted and mocked just as often.
But do you know when I felt the worst? When something I wrote got NO feedback - it
just didn't evoke any response worth reading from anyone.
That day I felt worse than a piece of junk!
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