These words from Shakespeare’s, The Tempest[i], tell us that what has happened in the past has led up to today and influences tomorrow. We can use what has happened in the past to help shape the future.
After a big yacht race, after the excitement of our big win or crushing defeat has died down, the whole crew gathers together to discuss what went right, what went wrong and how this will help us do better in the future. Even the worst situations offer great opportunities for learning, and we try to salvage what positives we can. We try to catch the bricks thrown at us and use them to pave the way to future success.[ii]
Everyone is given the opportunity to voice their concerns, offer praise or ask a question. Everyone is encouraged to listen for and provide commentary on what just happened and how it helps us to move forward. To focus on solutions, rather than mistakes; on a successful future, rather than a failed past. Not feedback, feedforward.
Feedback focuses on the past—on what has already occurred. Feedforward focuses on extracting what we can from the past to improve the future. Put another way, the specific lessons of the past do not always apply equally well to the future, but we can study and learn from the past and apply the lessons learned —about what works, and what doesn’t—to the issues we will face in the future. The difference between feedback and feedforward is subtle but powerful.
Criticisms from your customers and suppliers can be a source of valuable information on how to improve your methods and productivity. Instead of thinking that the criticism is just meant to prove you wrong, extract from it a blueprint for how to do things right the next time.
Analyze each deal you’ve been involved in, whether you’ve won the deal or not. Look for the things you’ve done well, so you can keep doing them. Then look for the knowledge you can gain from the things you’ve done less well and figure out how you can use that knowledge to your advantage.
And the next time you offer constructive criticism, focus only on what could be done differently or how it could be done differently to improve the situation. Suggest a positive action that results in a benefit.
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[ii] Paraphrasing a quote attributed to David Brinkley, without citation
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