Buried treasure

One of the beautiful things about symbols is that they say a lot with a little. For example, consider the question mark. It’s a symbol of uncertainty, of the unknown, and of man’s curiosity. Every new discovery and every nanometre of progress is preceded by the humble question mark. It’s a beautiful thing. Or consider these three:

– = +

This could be considered a representation of a design ethic, or of a philosophy, a way of life. Less is more. It could also be said to construe a message: every loss contains a win. Of course, in the midst of a loss, it’s hard to see how a win can be extracted. A pro athlete doesn’t lose in the championship final and immediately reflect upon what the defeat can teach him. No. He feels the loss. It hurts him. Only once that pain is accepted and alleviated can it give way to consideration and analysis. So it would probably be more accurate to change “every loss contains a win” to “present loss = future win”. But still, that doesn’t sound as snappy as I’d like. So I propose the following formulation:

Negative feedback; positive gain.

Now, what those four words don’t mention is the difficulty of extracting positive gain from negative feedback. See, some negative feedback is explicit about exactly what’s wrong. If a multitude of people say, “BORING”, you know you need to work on interestingness. If someone tells you to polish your communication skills, you know you need to pinpoint what you’re trying to say and re-think how you say it. Those examples are straightforward. Others are less so. But how do you get past that?

Simple. Think of it as a treasure hunt. Buried within every piece of feedback—especially the negative—is something of value. Sometimes it’s a base metal that’s lurking in the dirt, and sometimes it’s a nugget of gold. But what you can be certain of is that there is always something buried within it. So rather than getting all butt-hurt when someone gives you feedback that doesn’t flatter your ego, pretend to be a child. Not so you can respond immaturely with sighs and sulks, but so you can pretend to be an intrepid explorer, digging through the feedback in search of buried treasure.