By Ruby Quince
A confusion of Mentors
A ‘confusion’ is a group of weasels, but I think that it could also fit an assembled herd of SCA mentors. We’ve come to understand that feedback at SCA is both incredibly valuable and, occasionally, utterly perplexing. It’s part of the course we have to navigate on our journey to being agency-ready operators. I suspect it’s one of the most important lessons we learn.
We’re fortunate to have a cast of mentors with decades of experience in industry, many of these leading teams and managing multiple projects. We look to them for guidance and direction. Occasionally it’s an act of desperation, clutching for inspiration, or ideas on the worst days. With the greatest respect, they’re facilities for us to master. Learning about the act of feedback is part of that.
I can only imagine how hard it is to grapple with 20+ half-baked ideas, probably poorly described, and be expected get to the heart of the problem in minutes.
In my experience, you tend to leave feedback sessions with one of three outcomes: A) you’re excited by the input to the idea and the fresh perspective, B) dismayed at the reality of having to go back to the drawing board or C), somewhere between the two. Outcome C is easily the worst. I suspect more often than not it’s our own fault for either not letting go of an idea or not asking the right questions. Sometimes the feedback just isn’t helpful, but that’s life and that’s part of the lesson to learn.
Seeing more than a few mentors in the early stages is a recipe for disaster. We’re encouraged to ‘lean in’ to mentors that we feel suit us, but I find that all of them have particular special powers and perform magic at specific parts of the process. Some are to be avoided at all costs at specific parts. It’s probably not the same for everyone, and sometimes I’m proved completely wrong about where I think a particular mentor will add value. It’s part of the unique beauty of SCA.
It’s completely right that we should be challenged. Kicking the tires isn’t enough: Our ideas should be able to withstand a sledgehammer to the engine. If the idea can’t get back on the road it was only going to burst into flames on the motorway anyway. You get to know which weapon a mentor will use to examine your ideas and when to watch out for a banana up the exhaust pipe.
We’re learning to present ourselves properly when we’re with a mentor. We could learn a lot from the animal kingdom. Try to make our intentions clear. Be willing and receptive, but know when to stand firm. Know when to push back – some don’t like it – or when to follow along even when you you’re not buying it at first. It usually ends up helpful. Playing possum isn’t an option, though.
As much as there’s an art to giving constructive feedback, we need to master receiving it. Listening properly is clearly the key. Always weigh up advice with context and knowing what to filter. Of course, criticism is never personal.
Most of what I’ve read on giving and receiving feedback stems from workplace situations and is controlled, impersonal and a bit sterile. I’m thankful that this isn’t how things are done at SCA. The place is jam-packed with personality and a combination of subjective, personal perspective and passion rightly rules the roost. I believe that there’s a genuine desire for finding truth. I have a feeling that there’s no better way of getting there than harnessing the power of perspective.