Why feedback can be just so much noise

Should managers be giving more frequent performance appraisals? Do “customer feedback” questionnaires serve any useful purpose? The answers are not obvious. A feedback-free environment is not conducive to learning new skills, but then again, feedback itself can be confusing or demoralising.

I suffered from both too little and too much feedback in my last year of school. That was when I decided to stop going to piano lessons, having been coasting lazily at a mediocre level for years. My piano teacher, who had maintained a tactful silence, wistfully remarked that I had a beautiful touch on the keyboard – better than any of her hard-working, virtuosic prodigies. I was not impressed. Had she said that five years earlier, I might have worked harder. (Or so I told myself.)

It was also the year that I decided to spend less time with my A-level Further Maths exercises and more time with my girlfriend. I judged that my modest mathematical skills would not deliver a grade I needed to get into university, which would have to come from some other subject. Getting a C was no more useful than getting an E. So I stopped working, duly got the E, and did indeed get into university by other means.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.