James Brown On Giving Real-time Feedback

The legendary soul sensation James Brown had an incredible stage presence.

Mick Jagger is producing a bio-pic telling Brown's life story called "Get On Up", to be released this year. This reminded me of a story about Brown's dancing.

He was known to dance with his back to the audience sliding across the stage as if he were conducting his band. The audience thought this was part of the act and few realised what was going on.

The hand signals he flashed to his band with a splayed hand were not a high-five. He was signing "5 dollars" to a particular member of the band. 5 dollars was his fine for his musicians when he heard a wrong note or noticed unshined shoes. Each pulse of Brown’s hand was a five dollar fine; five pulses would mean a fine of twenty-five dollars!

If you look carefully, I'm sure you can see the musicians faces drop as they receive the signals.

There's a lesson here for all of us; feedback loops are more effective the sooner you give the feedback.

In a concert, Brown couldn't afford to wait until the end of the show to give feedback. If someone was out of time, he needed correction immediately.

This idea of giving quick feedback was popularised in the best selling book, "The One Minute Manager" by Kenneth Blanchard. I read the book about 15 years ago. The one thing I remember was a lesson that giving feedback as soon as the action has happened helps both the person receiving the feedback and the person giving it. This applies equally for both praise and criticism.

You know if you're on the right track, if you're not you know your manager will tell you so you can do something about it. No nasty surprises waiting for you at the next quarterly (or annual) review meeting.

I also think this lesson applies to startups in three ways.

Firstly, customer feedback needs to be gathered quickly.

This applies at all stages of a company. The quicker feedback can be gathered and understood from customers, the faster the learning cycles that can drive change and improvement.

Secondly, for early stage startups advisor and investor interaction needs a shorter cycle time.

At Forward Partners, we invest in very early stage eCommerce companies, often before they have achieved product-market fit. We don't wait for monthly board meetings to meet with entrepreneurs. Things move very fast in the earliest days of a company and a month is too long. Instead we schedule a weekly 30 minute catch up. This serves as a quick feedback loop in both directions and help us all keep on track.

Thirdly, keep projects on track with regular and quick updates.

A great example of short feedback loops is the daily stand-up meeting favoured by agile software development teams.

Things move fast in startups. They have to. It costs money to develop a business.

The Godfather Of Soul reminds us that when time is of the essence, give real-time feedback when you can.

comments powered by Disqus