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How to improve without receiving feedback

zellwk profile image Zell Liew 🤗 Originally published at zellwk.com ・5 min read

I often get requests from people who want me to look through their work and provide them with feedback. While asking for feedback is a praise-worthy thing – because you want to improve – I don't have the time and resources to give feedback to everyone.

I suspect that's the case for others too. We're all busy.

When I ask others for feedback, sometimes I don't get responses. Sometimes I get subpar responses. I found it hard to get specific, detailed, and actionable advice from people unless they have a skin in the game for helping me out.

For example: You're paying for their services, so they have an incentive to help you. Another example: You're in a project together with them; if you succeed they succeed.

If you get specific and helpful feedback, great! Use that feedback and improve. But the question remains: How can you improve if you don't get feedback?

Feedback comes in many forms

Many people fail to realise that feedback comes in many forms. They're not always communicated in words. They may not be written or verbal.

For example, when you talk to a person, if you pay enough attention, you can spot physical cues that say whether they're receptive to your ideas. This is commonly known as watching the body language. That's one form of feedback that we don't recognise as "feedback".

Results are excellent feedback

The world we know works in a sensible way. If you throw an apple up into the sky, the apple will always come down. There's a cause and effect for everything.

Results show you the effect. When you see results, you can figure out what caused that result.

There are plenty of good examples. For example, Selling stuff:

  • If you're trying to sell something and nobody is buying, you know that something is wrong.
  • If people are buying the thing you're selling, then you know something is right.

Job interviews:

  • If you're not getting interviews, then something is probably wrong with your resume.
  • If you're getting interviews but not getting the job, then you might have done something wrong that inside the interview that turns people off.

It's not hard to see where possible causes of errors come from. Once you know the error, you can try to fix the cause.

Coding:

  • If something doesn't show up the way you want it to, then probably something is wrong with the CSS.
  • If you get an error in the console, then probably you made a typo with JavaScript.

Everything is a cause and effect. Once you see the results, you can try and work out the cause.

If you cannot work out the cause, then it means you're missing vital information. In this case, it helps if you get feedback from a person. If you cannot get free feedback, consider paying for feedback.

Emotions can also be feedback

Let's say you're trying to code something. You wrote some code that works, but you're not proud of it.

Why aren't you proud of it?

  • Is it because it looks ugly?
  • Is it because the code is messy?
  • Is it because you aren't using something you wanted to use? (Like OOP for example).

There are lots of potential reasons about that dissatisfaction. If you figure out what it is, then you have the ability to act on it.

If it is a knowledge gap, you have the chance to acquire that knowledge by reading a book, going through a course, reading articles, etc.

If it is a practice gap, then you simply need more practice.

If it is neither and you're still feeling frustrated, maybe it is linked to your views of yourself. Then perhaps go for therapy and work out the kinks in your emotional system so you don't feel so bad about yourself.

I'm serious. I actually needed a coaching program to pull myself to a point where I can accept the work I'm doing. I wrote about my experience here if you're interested to find out more.

Feedback and Quality

We like to believe that feedback leads to quality. This is mostly true. But you have to be careful about taking this statement as an objective truth.

For example: Imagine getting EVERYONE's feedback on the thing you just made. Some people will hate it. Some people will like it. You'll get conflicting answers. If you want to accept all feedback, then you're doomed to fail already.

You need to be specific about the kind of feedback you accept.

Quantity and Feedback

When you don't have qualitative feedback from others, you can produce more work. When you produce more work, you get more feedback (from results) and you can self-correct along the way.

There's a study where a group of photography students were spilt into two. One group were told to take the best photo they can. The second group were told to take as many pictures as they can.

When they submitted their assignments at the end of the term, photos from the second group consistently outperformed photos from the first group.

Why? Because the second group has the chance to see the results of their work and correct any errors they see. Plus point: when they have more photos, they can get more feedback from people.

(Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of this study anymore).

So do more work and you'll get more feedback automatically.

It's also important for you to show that work to others. It doesn't matter what they say. When people say something about it, you get a better grasp of reality. And you get to improve your work.

This is why it's so useful to learn in public.

Feedback and blindspots

It's hard to get feedback for things that are in your blindspot. You will dismiss it most of the time because it IS in your blindspot.

It often takes people to point out that thing in a very blunt way before you can see it. When this happens, make sure you take note of this feedback and work on it. Because it can change your life for the better.

For example: I suck at relationships with people. I had to get to a point where my family members blew up at each other before I see what I need to work on.

When you don't have the answer...

Sometimes you don't know what you can improve on. That's okay! It means you've already done your best. It's okay to leave it and continue working on other stuff.

But you've done the work and tried to identify the problem. You will automatically keep a watch out for information and solutions that'll help you improve. This is done automatically by your brains.

If a solution pops up, you need to grab that solution. That'll help you improve. For me, this often means paying for books or courses.

Wrapping up

Feedback doesn't have to come from verbal or written communication.

Feedback is always around. Keep your eyes open and you'll get them.

I hope this helps you somehow.


Thanks for reading. This article was originally posted on my blog. Sign up for my newsletter if you want more articles to help you become a better frontend developer.

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