May 2023 – on feedback, alignment, overwork, and the power of performance review


Here is what “crossed my desk” in the month of May:

  • Trends: can’t follow them, can’t get ahead of them. Look for something else
  • The ingredient every performance review needs
  • The reason why you don’t give more feedback
  • Want autonomy? Seek alignment
  • The birth of brainstorming
  • Overwork. It’s creeping in
  • AI Index Report for 2023
  • Are you a Luddite?
NASA [1]


On performance reviews: You can’t outsource reflection

Johnathan and Melissa Nightingale from rawsignalgroup:

The reason people walk away at cocktail parties is because so much of the hard work of management is unsexy. Unglamorous. It is a grind, and often thankless. And nowhere is this more true than in performance reviews.

Performance reviews, when they’re done well, are an opportunity for reflection, and alignment. Reflection because we both get a chance to really think about what the quarter/half/year has been. A chance to pull a broader narrative out of the day-to-day work, and build a thoughtful opinion about what we could each have done differently. And then to discuss those, and see where they match and where they don’t, and get to a clearer shared sense of where to go next.

We get that you may never have had a performance review that did that effectively. There are a lot of bosses out there that don’t have the competence or support to do them that way. But, for what it’s worth: if they’re done well, that’s what they are. They are a cosmically magical tool for navigating the complicated power dynamics of two people in a management relationship and getting to a shared understanding of how it’s going.


Without alignment, autonomy is squandered

The first tweet is clickbait but the thread is worth reading.

Click on the image to go to the tweet



Anne Helen Petersen:

Overwork has been a pathology and a solution, a part of the office status quo, for decadesDigital technologies just expanded the life territory available for colonization.

First, it was that you could bring your laptop home.

Then, it was that you could bring a computer the size of a phone everywhere you went.

Then work from home, then the triple peak day, then work from anywhere.

The whole article is well worth reading.


Give more feedback. People want it more than you think.

According to existing research, people avoid giving feedback for two primary reasons:

  1. they don’t want to hurt others’ feelings or embarrass them, and
  2. they don’t want to be seen as the bearer of bad news.

A group of researchers wondered whether people hesitate to give others feedback because they simply don’t recognize how much other people want to hear their feedback.

Their results:

In almost every situation, people underestimated others’ desire for feedback. And the more consequential the situation, the more people underestimated the desire for feedback.

Their suggestion:

If you ever find yourself hesitating about whether to give someone feedback, you might try out one of our tested interventions: briefly imagining how much you would want the feedback if you were the other person. This might help you to realize how much the other person wants the feedback and may make you more likely to actually give your feedback.


Matt Klein thinks that brand forecasting has lost its way

The vast majority of people have not even heard of what marketers are obsessing over. (…)

Trends are trending. And the trending is seen as trends. It’s a mess. For this reason, we need to break up with trends as we currently know them.

He offers three reasons why we should do so:

First, they are exhausting. (…)

Second, they are futile. (…)

And third, these trends are empty—devoid of meaning. Let’s go back to Physics 101. Sorry. The equation for force is (F)orce = (m)ass x (a)cceleration. Or more simply, force is calculated by the ‘weight’ of something multiplied by its ‘speed’.

Why do we care about physics and force? Because culture is made up of forces: the crosswinds, efforts, and influences of ideas and behaviours.

But the problem is, we’re messing up the equation when calculating what to pay attention to.


The Artificial Intelligence Index Report for 2023 is out

It is produced by the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. Here are its top ten takeaways:

  1. Industry races ahead of academia.
  2. Performance saturation on traditional benchmarks.
  3. AI is both helping and harming the environment.
  4. The world’s best new scientist… Al?
  5. The number of incidents concerning the misuse of Al is rapidly rising
  6. The demand for Al-related professional skills is increasing across virtually every American industrial sector.
  7. For the first time in the last decade, year-over-year private investment in Al decreased.
  8. While the proportion of companies adopting Al has plateaued, thecompanies that have adopted AI continue to pull ahead.
  9. Policymaker interest in AI is on the rise.
  10. Chinese citizens are among those who feel the most positively about AI products and services. Americans … not so much.


Words: Luddite

Ted Chiang in The New Yorker:

People who criticize new technologies are sometimes called Luddites, but it’s helpful to clarify what the Luddites actually wanted. The main thing they were protesting was the fact that their wages were falling at the same time that factory owners’ profits were increasing, along with food prices. They were also protesting unsafe working conditions, the use of child labor, and the sale of shoddy goods that discredited the entire textile industry.

The Luddites did not indiscriminately destroy machines; if a machine’s owner paid his workers well, they left it alone. The Luddites were not anti-technology; what they wanted was economic justice. They destroyed machinery as a way to get factory owners’ attention. The fact that the word “Luddite” is now used as an insult, a way of calling someone irrational and ignorant, is a result of a smear campaign by the forces of capital.

Whenever anyone accuses anyone else of being a Luddite, it’s worth asking, is the person being accused actually against technology? Or are they in favor of economic justice? And is the person making the accusation actually in favor of improving people’s lives? Or are they just trying to increase the private accumulation of capital?

Today, we find ourselves in a situation in which technology has become conflated with capitalism, which has in turn become conflated with the very notion of progress. If you try to criticize capitalism, you are accused of opposing both technology and progress. But what does progress even mean, if it doesn’t include better lives for people who work? What is the point of greater efficiency, if the money being saved isn’t going anywhere except into shareholders’ bank accounts?

We should all strive to be Luddites, because we should all be more concerned with economic justice than with increasing the private accumulation of capital. We need to be able to criticize harmful uses of technology—and those include uses that benefit shareholders over workers—without being described as opponents of technology.



Michael Ignatieff in The Walrus:

From the classroom to the engineering lab to the national security conclave to the geostrategic risk business, our future depends on our capacity to think anew. While thinking in a group can help, groupthink is the enemy of integrity and innovation. A truly new thought begins in a single insurgent mind.

Do we live in societies where such people are allowed to flourish? Do any of us actually still know what it means to think for ourselves? Or are we all just recycling opinions on our hectoring devices?


The birth of Brainstorming

Historian Samuel Franklin reminds us of its format:

Once everyone was comfortable and relaxed, an appointed “chairman” would pose the problem and ask the group to call out as many ideas as they could think up, rapid fire. (“Brain-storming” was meant to invoke the way troops might storm a beach).

For the duration of the session, the normal hierarchy was suspended—“all are equal”—but rules were strictly enforced:

  1. criticism or second-guessing was strictly forbidden,
  2. “freewheeling” encouraged—no idea was too silly or ambitious—and
  3. participants were encouraged to build off of or recombine the ideas of others.

Above all, brainstorming was about quantity.

I formatted the quote for the rules to be clear. #1 is the most difficult to uphold. Too often participants will comment on an idea (“no budget”, “we’ve tried that before”, “it’ll never work”, etc.).

So someone jots down ideas and then passes the list on to an executive who did not participate in the session. That person would, “in the light of a new day, sort the good from the bad.”

The next line reveals the premise of the brainstorming practice.

Osborn believed the mind, like the advertising agency itself, was made up of a “creative” or “imaginative” half and a “rational” or “judicial” half. Both were necessary but needed to get out of each other’s way to do their jobs. The modern workplace, like the modern mind, had overdeveloped the judgmental half to the detriment of the creative, and brainstorming was just one way to compensate.

Not unlike the hemispheres of the brain (science has evolved a bit from this dichotomy) that we sometimes discuss in management development programs using, for instance, the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI).



  • 50 percent of mothers report having no retirement savings at all compared to 32 percent of fathers.
  • Two large retirement plan administrators, Fidelity and Vanguard, have observed increases in hardship withdrawals from 401k accounts, i.e. “a withdrawal from a participant’s elective deferral account made because of an immediate and heavy financial need”, as per the IRS.


[1] The image is from Composite Images From NASA’s Most Powerful Telescopes Reveal Mind-Boggling Details of the Cosmos.

Combining data from some of NASA’s most powerful instruments, four new composites highlight the enormity of the cosmos in unprecedented detail. Imagery from the Chandra Observatory and the James Webb and Hubble telescopes—plus infrared information from the Spitzer telescope’s final missions—mesh together to generate mesmerizing views of iconic nebulae and galaxies.