Pondering feedback, goals, and transparency

27258052_3e374c654e_mEver notice how just knowing something is real can change your behavior?  Like when you look in a mirror and notice a piece of food from lunch stuck in your teeth?  Or you’re cruisin’ down the highway only to glance at the speedometer and notice you are going 20 MPH over the speed limit?  Most people react suddenly in these cases and make adjustments.

I find this is especially true when two other conditions are present: a clear goal which helps you know what feedback to value, and transparency of this goal (and progress toward it), which helps others help you maintain your commitment and keep you honest.

I just had a great chat with a new friend, Kate Niederhoffer, about how to put metrics in the hands of people inside organizations, along the lines of how biofeedback helps people make good health care decisions. Like how Cardionet puts a device in your chest that tracks and reports information about your heart so you can act BEFORE a big problem and get medical intervention to keep you in good shape.  For a deeper read on metrics in social systems check out Kate’s blog, social abacus.

So how can we use these ideas to help people in organizations get information early enough to act in ways that keep things in line?  So much of what is happening is subjective and hard to capture, but the more clearly we state our goals, and tap into people around us, the easier it is to recognize patterns and adjust our behaviors.

One company that is on to this issue in a big way is Rypple.  They’ve built a web-based feedback platform that can help you ask questions and aggregate input.  Then you can discuss that input with a few advisors and make adjustments in your behavior.  This is just the tip of the iceberg and I expect they will have many more cool features to make this process even easier. What if Facebook or Twitter provided more aggregation tools based on all of the input you gather from your friends and followers?  How would this change your behavior?

One more thought: organizations are so complex, how can we help people gather feedback from many streams and see patterns in easy to understand images (like your teeth in the mirror)?  Check out We Feel Fine for some inspirational ideas.