When feedback is counterproductive, and music is the answer


Music is an art form, which relies heavily on improvisation and trying new things, in order to find the sound that you need. There isn’t a specific recipe for writing music and songs, and you can’t create new music by simply following a few predetermined steps. As a musician you have to think in the moment and feel the situation, you have to try new things which will unavoidably fail, but at some point the sound you need is there and everything else falls into place.

In a recent article, Jens Skou Olsen from the Innovation institute at Roskilde University explores how improvisation in music, can inspire a new approach to using systematic feedback in an organization. Systematic feedback is a commonly used tool in organizations, which can help sustain an exchange regarding the quality and performance of work, it can help effectively control the development of employees and continuously improve the quality of their work.

Systematic feedback can however also be a source of counterproductivity, according to Jens Skou Olsen’s research. It can function as a source of asymmetry between the provider and the receiver of feedback, an asymmetry which can be counterproductive to an employees work and well being. According to Jens Skou Olsen, systematic feedback in general necessitates certain conditions to be present, in order for it to be effective. If these are not present, it could lead to counterproductivity and a lack of dialogue.

Jens Skou Olsen points out that it is the relationship between the provider and receiver of feedback, which is ultimately the cause of a counterproductive asymmetry. The basic relationship for systematic feedback, is that the one who provides the feedback is in control, and the person who receives feedback must submit to this control. This is the traditional relationship of systematic feedback, and Jens Skou Olsen states in his article, that this relationship could benefit from being developed or enhanced with the improvisation found in music.

Jens Skou Olsen discusses how everyone involved in musical improvisation, although they may have different functions like the soloist compared to the rhythmic section, is equal and contributing with their own unique input. This is unlike the process of systematic feedback, where the formality of the evaluation and the polarization between a manager and an employee, leads to the inclusion and exclusion of certain people in the organization.

Instead, Jens Skou Olsen proposes that feedback shouldn’t be something which has to be planned, structured, systematic, reported or evaluated. It should be improvised as part of the daily, informal and collaborative dynamics that are part of people’s co-existence in an organization. By being that, Jens Skoul Olsen expects that feedback can be helpful on a daily basis, and be a natural and valuable part of working, instead of sometimes being feared and counter productive.