Saturday, July 27, 2013

Honest Feedback

I once worked with someone who knew that, if he needed to get an honest opinion on one of his decisions, the best person to ask was one of his employees during work hours. Whenever he wasn't sure if he'd made the right call, he would ask a particular woman into his office, make a serious face, and spend about ninety minutes explaining the details of a brief social disagreement he'd had with someone (often the person ahead of him in line at the supermarket, a telemarketer, or an employee he'd recently disciplined or fired).

Amazingly enough, it turned out that he'd always made the right call. Once he'd finished explaining the situation, loosening his collar, and worrying that he might've overreacted for shouting at someone or canceling their vacation time, his employee would give an understanding nod--occasionally clasping his hand--and tell him that actually, he'd been on the right side of the situation. It was unfortunate how it had turned out, yes, but he'd acted correctly. What else were you supposed to do, when the other person had done that?

He was always relieved after these meetings. When he'd been told that he'd acted completely properly, demonstrated his much-mentioned professionalism in his personal as well as professional life, and made the gutsy choices that needed to be made, he would flit around the office, all in smiles, letting other people know about the conversation he'd just had, and the honest feedback he'd gotten.

On that note, consider that JK Rowling was recently "outed" as the writer of an acclaimed crime novel. By "acclaimed," they mean critically-acclaimed. The book, as the article notes, had sold about 1,500 copies, despite being thrust onto the front retail rack of bookstores across the globe, and getting full positive treatment from major reviewers. Once the product-positioning and "consumer reviews" failed to make the piece of junk sell enough copies, the Sunday Times launched an "investigation," and someone mysteriously let the book's brand affiliation slip. It then became an overnight bestseller, purchased in the millions by people who had made independent, educated consumer choices about the book based merely on its back-cover summary.

As to the ruination of her deception, Rowling lamented:
I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience...It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.

Like political analysts, academic journal peer-review, or Conservative v. Labour v. Democrats v. Republicans, consumer product reviewers are great: they mollify not only the masses, but also some of the top people in the system itself, making them true believers. Ronald Reagan, for example, probably actually believed that the Democratic Party of the United States was against his policies to lower taxes on the wealthy and slaughter Nicaraguan babies. Smarter cons, like Obama, know what's going on, but a not-insignificant percentage (sic) of the American Congress probably actually believes that they are legislators doing the best they can within the system.

In case you haven't figured this out yet, here's a good maxim for the times:

If it is someone's job to review a product or service, they are getting paid, through intermediaries, by the producers of that product or service. They are not objective or "outside." Their job is to appear to be a third-party in order to encourage hapless consumers to buy and to buy more. Any mild or negative perspectives they offer are done as part of the scheme, in order to make it appear that their positive reviews have meaning.

The White House Press Club--the U.S. News & World Report "college rankings"--the list of the best online MBAs--the hottest 10 new restaurants in your part of town--the best new energy-efficient pickup trucks of the year-- *yawn*

And Then Came The Next One.

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