Your Work Is Awesome, Your Work Is Crap

Changing the world requires telling people when you feel delighted, and when you feel you’re suffering.

Last week was our annual trip to the Belgian Ardennes, where my friends and I enjoyed 7 days of reading, walking, playing, and eating. We had a great time in a wonderful house. There was just one problem… The design chairs in the living room were nice to look at, but awful to sit in. And so I told the owners, “Awesome house, crappy chairs!”

Changing the world requires open and honest feedback.

How else are we going to make this world a better place?

This means you must be able to tell someone, “Look, I really like you, but your service is crap.”

Part of my commitment to change the world is to let customers, suppliers, and partners know when I feel delighted and when I’m suffering. If you’ve served me the best Tom Kha Kai in 10 years, I will say, “Your work is awesome!” But when you let me read my books in a 500 EUR camping chair, I will say, “Your work is crap!

And I expect the same in return.

Because, if nobody does, the world will look exactly the same 100 years from now. Except it could be 5 degrees warmer. And many more people will be sitting in camping chairs.

(Jurgen Appelo is author of Management 3.0, a best-selling management book for Agile developers. It has a picture of a monster in it.)

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  • Patrick

    I can honestly say that I enjoy reading your blog and that I have been doing so for quite some time. This post however, is the most significant one yet. Although feedback is sometimes very hard to swallow, it is probably the only way to learn and to improve because it clarifies a gap or difference.
    Now I hope you accept my muble addition that feedback in itself doesn’t have to be verbal. Verbal feedback can be doubted because someone can “doubt” the honesty or expertise of the person who provides the feedback. The feedback is stronger when it comes from a variety of people or, even better, directly from nature. Experiencing physical pain yourself when your crappy homemade camping chair collapses under your weight is more convincing that someone else experiencing that pain and telling you about it.
    Nevertheless, the world would be a better place if people learn to listen to, accept and work with feedback more than they do now.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Indeed, entire books have been written about _how_ to give feedback. But at least start somewhere.
    Thanks for the awesome comment! 🙂

  • http://www.linkedin.com/riccardobua Riccardo Bua

    Hi Jurgen,
    I will take your word and tell you that I love your blog and this post, still I consider being able to provide such a feedback is crap 😉
    I will explain why, I think culture is playing a big role on this one, this sort of attitude might work in a nordic environment, but globally wise it might lead to big failures.
    In some countries face value is all, providing straight negative feedback would alienate their attention and push them to consider you a serious offender.
    So feedback is needed and should be direct, positive and negative and as much as possible truthful, still most of the time you can’t point out the negative and yes that causes issues down the way that you later have to deal with.
    Regards,
    Riccardo

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Hi Riccardo,
    I agree! If you give your feedback in the wrong way, you achieve nothing.
    But at the same time, if you _don’t_ give feedback, you also achieve nothing.
    So the question becomes _how_ to tell people their work is crap. That’s an entirely different topic.
    Thanks for the awesome feedback! 🙂

  • http://profile.typepad.com/andrewmfuqua Andrewmfuqua

    There was a well known speaker/author type about 20 years ago whose big thing was not putting up with poor customer service. Wish I could remember who that was. Too bad that didn’t catch on. Seems to have been forgotten. Thanks for bringing it back up.

  • http://blog.scrumphony.com Marc Löffler

    Hi Jurgen
    I totally agree with your post. There is still not enough open and honest feedback out there. In my experience most people are happy if they get feedback. I wrote about some of my experience with uncalled feedback in a blog post about half a year ago. You can find it here: http://blog.scrumphony.com/2011/04/food-for-thought-3-uncalled-feedback/
    The essence of it is this sentence:
    “So what I want to say is this. If you are displeased, unsatisfied or annoyed just open your mouth and talk. Nobody will hit you (at least most of them) for telling them what you have observed. In most cases, they will be happy that at least one person was courageous enough to tell them the simple truth.”

  • http://www.dba.at Clemens Bindeus-Fischnaller

    Not everybody takes up feedback in the same way.
    Hi Jurgen,
    “Look, I really like you, but your service is crap.”
    As a consumer, I don’t care how this feedback might affect the addressee. I want to express my “suffering” (as you call it).
    As a manager, I need to take more care. After all, my primary interest should be the professional development of my crew. (Crappy results are daily business and being a professional manager I anticipate that to a certain degree and take necessary precautions:-))
    Especially junior team members have a strange and not so professional attitude towards their work. If you criticize their work, you criticize them personally.
    In his book “Managing Technical People”, Watts S. Humphrey uses the terms “Relationship Maturity” and “Task Maturity”. Based on those two dimensions, Watts explains how to give feedback in a way so it is most likely to help.