When you’re young, you have little control over the ideas that enter your mind.
Your parents, your friends, your teachers, the media, and celebrities all have shares of stock in your brain. As you grow up, society, politics, your adult friends, and your life partner start to occupy more space in your skull.
All of these external ideas have an influence on your actions and beliefs.
If you let them, those external thoughts become indistinguishable from your internal voice.
When this happens, you have to close your internal Feedback Loop.
How to get in trouble by neglecting the Feedback Loop
Agile methods heavily emphasize feedback, whether it’s Scrum, Lean, or any kind of iterative, incremental form of development.
The emphasis on frequent feedback in Agile came about because of a problem with traditional business methods. The customer, client, or person who owned the product at the end of the development process would often be dissatisfied.
The product wouldn’t match what the end user wanted.
Why did this happen?
After an initial burst of communication, the company would lose touch with the end user. The company would go off and build what they thought they heard the end user wanted. Or what the end user said he wanted 6 months ago, which had since changed.
The company had an idea of what the customer wanted and quickly went to work building the product in their heads. But the company wouldn’t check back in with the customer. They didn’t get feedback until right at the end, after it was too late. They spent all that time, money, and energy into building something that no one wanted.
Agilists saw the problem and took action.
A few of the principles of the original Agile Manifesto addressed this Feedback Loop problem head-on:
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
By delivering working software more frequently, working closely with the customer throughout, and welcoming changing requirements, agile software developers could solve the problem of traditionally managed software development.
Namely, the lack of feedback except for the very beginning and the very end.
The magic of agile methodology is that end users become critical, creative participants in the design of the tools that they will ultimately use.
But how does this apply to you and your life?
Closing your internal Feedback Loop
I struggled with how to implement this concept of soliciting frequent, targeted feedback into agile lifestyle design.
After all, it’s your life. There is no customer who you’re supposed to satisfy, no client to win over with your elegant design. How do you implement a collaborative process with only one person?
And then it struck me.
It was so obvious.
But like most obvious ideas, it also felt deeply profound:
You are the end user of your life.
Lifestyle design is about fulfilling you as the ultimate customer/client/end user of your life.
That means we can apply agile processes to the design of your lifestyle, the same way we would if we were designing a website for a client or an app for an end user.
The problem is most people have become disconnected from their own desires, hopes, and ambitions.
We’ve forgotten to ask ourselves questions. We cede so much control to others through cultural scripts and external life plans that we forget to close the Feedback Loop within ourselves.
It’s all right to ask yourself for Feedback
As human beings, we are always looking to external sources for validation. We want our boss to approve our project. We want our parents to approve of our decisions. We want our friends to be impressed by the status objects we own. We want our lovers to validate us as human beings worthy of affection.
All of this external validation comes at the expense of the most important judge of your lifestyle design.
You are simultaneously the designer of your lifestyle and the end user of its results.
You are the one who gets to live your life. You are the one who has to live with the decisions you make.
Yet we are incredibly passive about the lives we lead.
How else do you explain the midlife crisis?
The midlife crisis is not about getting the sports car or the trophy wife. These are merely the ways these anxieties manifest themselves.
The midlife crisis is about coasting for forty or fifty years of your life, never asking yourself the tough questions, never looking inward for feedback about how you really feel. And then waking up one day and realizing the life you’ve been leading has been designed without your input, by everybody except you.
The way to overcome this is simple.
Ask yourself for feedback:
- What did I accomplish today?
- Am I happy with what I accomplished?
- Did accomplishing it get me any closer to achieving my dreams?
- If not, why am I still doing this?
You can have a bias towards action. You can use the 80/20 Rule to spend more time doing the things that matter. You can tighten the Feedback Loop within yourself. And you can improve and course-correct your life along the way.
You can achieve this by living agile.
“One more thing…”
In his classic Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs put it this way:
For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change some thing.
Steve Jobs is no longer with us, and the world is poorer for it. But his genius remains. And this incredible innovator made time every single day to ask himself for feedback.
Maybe you should too.
Image Thomas Wolf.