Experiment: Family Feedback

The past few years I’ve been trying something with my wife. We have family 360 feedback sessions, very similar to those you might have done at work.

What Is a 360 Review

The idea came from work in fact. I really liked the format of 360 feedback sessions. For those not familiar, with 360 reviews, when a review cycle comes around, HR helps facilitate collecting feedback on an individual employee from their manager, reports, peers, and the employee themselves.

The feedback is then synthesized to help the manager and HR get a good perspective into how the employee is doing – where they excel and where they can improve. The idea is that more data points leads to a better evaluation.

How It Started

When we had been married for about a year, I thought it would be great to do something like this. Feedback is something that should be continuous, but having a regular process is a failsafe of sorts. Marriage is tough work and poor communication is one of the leading reasons relationships break down.

We stared off with a process that was pretty heavy. We each did a review of ourselves and the other. It was all on a sheet of notebook paper folded in half. One side had the reviews of me, the husband, both my self-review and her review. The other side has her self-review and my review.

That first year we included three things

  1. The three most important things expected of them in this relationship and how they lived up to that during last year on a scale of 0 to 10
  2. Three ways they excelled this year. With specific examples.
  3. Three ways they underperformed, and could improve. With specific examples.

We then talked about them for a while. It was obviously a pretty serious and somewhat emotional conversation. Lots of good things, but lots of tough things too. The whole process took a few hours. The plan was that the next year we start off by looking at the areas to grow from the year before, rating those and then starting the process over.

What We Learned

The first year, we did it on New Years Eve along side our predictions. We were flying then and happened to be in the United lounge of Dulles airport. Nothing surprising, but that is not the best spot to have a serious multi-hour conversation.

Key Learning: Don’t do this in an airport.

After that we sealed them away in an envelope to review the next year. That meant that once a few months had passed we had forgotten exactly what we had written. We never got around to finding and opening that envelope, so the next time we saw them was the next year on New Years.

Key Learning: Don’t seal them in an envelope – keep them somewhere easily accessible

I think most people will look at a process like this and think it is a bit overkill. I sort of figured there wouldn’t be much new that became apparent from it since we talk a lot. What I learned however was that there are often topics that a person might not bring up during regular living, but given a chance to write three items, will include. This becomes especially true once you have kids and time to talk as a couple gets dramatically reduced.

Even just the act of prioritizing is really important. I know there are lots of things my wife expects from me, but by her making a list of the three most important to her, I can know where to focus my energy.

Key Learning: A little process can draw out things that would otherwise slip through the cracks

How We’ve Improved It

By the second year, we had a new item to add, we had our first child and figured that should affect the family feedback. He is too young to participate right now, but I look forward to when he can. In the meantime Suzanne and I took some time to talk about his development and evaluate where we think he is doing well and where we need to focus more.

In this third iteration, we made the process a bit lighter. We removed the first category, ‘what is expected…’, since it has been the same the previous two years. Perhaps we’ll add it back in the future, but we wanted to try a year without it. We also removed the part where we fill in the sheet ourselves and went straight to talking – taking notes as we did.

What Is Next

Our intent for this year is to review these more throughout the year, perhaps quarterly. It is kind of hard to improve at something if you’ve forgotten what was on the list.

The idea is, of course, that this yearly review is a tool to assist with regular feedback – it will not be the only source of feedback. We will continue our normal communication channels, but these yearly lists and quarterly check-ins should help us focus our attention and hone our skills at communicating feedback.

I’m curious if anyone else does or has done something formal like this in their family. I’ve heard jokes of things like family court or ‘airing of grievances’, but I think those could actually be really healthy systems for a family to ensure regular communication.

Experiment: Watch Donnie Darko Every October 1st for 10 Years – Results

Today is October 1st which means tonight I will be watching Donnie Darko for the 11th time. It is something I have been doing on October 1st every year – the tradition dates back to 2004.

donnie-darko-dvd

Why watch a movie every year? Why Donnie Darko? This experiment wasn’t designed with as much intention as you would hope – but it has turned out to be awesome nonetheless.

The Mirror of Repeat Viewings

See, the movie hasn’t changed in the past 10 years, but I have. With each viewing I see something different and I now realize how that tells more about who I am than anything about the movie itself. I stumbled upon a benchmark for measuring the pace of change in my life.

Below I will detail my experience over the years.

Why Donne Darko?

Is Donnie Darko the only movie this can be done with? I don’t believe it is. But I do suspect the number is fairly low and I might have accidentally stumbled upon one of the best. A few that come to mind as possible alternatives include: Inception, Primer, The Matrix & Mulholland Drive.

I don’t think movies are the only medium that can be used either. A story in any form could probably be used.

The key element is the room for interpretation the story leaves. When the director, Richard Kelly, made the movie, he sought to make it complex.

“But first and foremost, I wanted the film to be a piece of social satire that needs to be experienced and digested several times.” -Director, Richard Kelly

The plot intentionally leaves a lot of blank space for the viewer to fill in. There isn’t necessarily a right answer to everything. This creates the need to think, something rare in contemporary cinema. Because of that required thought process, some parts of the viewer will be projected onto the movie.

Stop

Before reading on, some of this won’t make sense if you’ve never seen Donnie Darko. So if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and go watch it and then come back. Shoot, even if you’ve seen it, might as well watch it again, today is October 1st after all. (Available for rent via Amazon – this link helps support this blog.)

My Donnie Darko Journey

First Viewing – Tuesday, October ?, 2004

I was a freshman in college, living away from home for the first time. I watched Donnie Darko with a few guys from my dorm and it blew my mind. Having grown up on blockbuster action films and comedies, I had never seen a movie like that.

A giant rabbit. Time travel. Eerie soundtrack. 80’s awesomeness. Patrick Swayze.

donnie-darko-trippy

I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning reading synopses and extra content that had been produced with the movie.

To be honest, it wasn’t October 1st that first year. I don’t even remember the exact date except for that it was a Tuesday.

Second Viewing – Saturday, October 1, 2005

I was on the bus on a way home from a cross country meet. Headphones in, hunched over my laptop in the back of the bus, Donnie Darko made a lot more sense on second viewing.

In 2005 I idealized the counter cultural aspect of Donnie. He was, along with other counter cultural figures, a hero of mine. It wasn’t a complete coincidence that I had died my hair jet black in our dorm bathroom just a few weeks earlier.

This was a point in my life where I cared a lot about breaking away from conventions. I was 18. I was swollen with the realization that I didn’t have to subscribe to traditional goals, values or desires. Instead of top 40 pop songs I listened to Indie albums recorded in garages. Instead of blockbuster action movies I watched film school projects and foreign films. The more obscure the better. I wanted nothing to with the mainstream. If there was a big budget, a brand logo or a popular following – it was not for me.

I was not yet mature enough in my realizations to implement them inconspicuously and I was not yet confident enough in them to unbiasedly appreciate the positive aspects of things main stream.

twenty-eight-days-six-hours

It was during this viewing that I realized that the movie took place in the month of October. The notorious time stamp Donnie scrawls on his arm dates to October second, but the movie actually kicks off on October 1st in the fictitious timeline. Since it was October 1st, I decided to revisit the movie one year later, again on October 1st.

Third Viewing – Sunday, October 1, 2006

I lived in Ireland in October 2006. I was studying abroad.

I don’t really remember much about this viewing. I can’t recall that anything stood out particularly to me that year. I do remember trying to find a skeleton outfit to wear under my hoodie for Haloween though.donnie-darko

Fourth Viewing – Monday, October 1, 2007

By this point I had fallen in love with the soundtrack. Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears, The Church, Joy Division & of course the Michael Andrews + Gary Jules cover of Mad World.

Fifth Viewing – Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Through circumstances that deserve telling elsewhere, in October 2008 I was living outside of Boston at a place called L’Abri. It could be quickly described as a mix between a hippy commune and a Christian retreat center.

Though we were there by choice, our daily activities were guided by pretty strict principles. For two months I spent half of my day doing physical labor, mostly scraping old paint off of the fourth story of an old mansion, and half of my day studying. Thursdays were the exception – on Thursdays we could go into town to use the computer at the library and access email or even set up the projector & watch a movie.

October 1st wasn’t on a Thursday that year and being in Boston, I didn’t have the movie with me. In September I had given up on the idea of seeing the movie this year.

But as October approached, by some coincidence the DVD showed up at the local library and I checked it out the prior Thursday. I then convinced everyone to do a special movie night – which I was able to do by agreeing to host a discussion afterwards about the philosophy of the movie. This is the sort of thing one does at L’Abri.

At the time I was fascinated with the idea of making movies for a living.  I had been, in my free time, studying about setting up camera shots and telling stories visually.

That year the cinematography stood out to me in ways it never had before. The montage on the first day of school became my favorite scene of the movie. The beautiful slow-motion exposition of town set to Tears for Fears. Man, that is epic.  If only that had done it as a single shot, it would probably be my favorite scene in all of cinema – even still to this day.

donnie-darko-school-bus

Sixth Viewing – Thursday, October 1, 2009

It was after work this year that I realized I didn’t have a copy of the movie and couldn’t find a version to stream online. In a mad panic at around 9PM I rushed to a used DVD store in Newport Beach, CA. They had one copy.

Later that month I decided to also watch the recently released semi-sequel, S. Darko. I haven’t watched it again and doubt I ever will. It is not nearly as well made or interesting.

Seventh Viewing – Friday, October 1, 2010

This year I watched the director’s cut for the first time. It is a slightly different version of the movie that spends a bit more time with a few character and fills in some of the gaps that were previously open to interpretation.

I’m not sure that I prefer it.

As I watched, the characters of Karen Pomeroy & Professor Kenneth Monnitoff stood out to me. There is this scene where Karen looks at Kenneth and says “Donnie Darko”, and they both laugh. I felt like I more so understood those characters and the investment they were trying to make into the students.

donnie-darko-teachers

That year I had started volunteering with a group of High School aged boys. I was investing a lot of me in to them. That sort of thing became more apparent to me after that point.

Eighth Viewing – Saturday, October 1, 2011

Earlier in the year I had started dating a girl that I had been friends with for a long time. She happened to be visiting me from out of town that weekend.

The conversation in which you explain to your girlfriend that on Saturday night you’re going to have to watch this movie about a giant rabbit & time travel is an awkward one. Thankfully she is understanding and wanted to watch it with me.

donnie-darko-theater

I think that year the relationship between Donnie & Gretchen stood out to me. It was the first time I had watched the movie while in a serious relationship.

Watching it with her also made me think a bit about the character of Kitty Farmer. She mentioned that the movie was pretty unfair to that character who probably had good intentions.

Ninth Viewing – Monday, October 1, 2012

I was less than a month away from getting married to girl I mentioned above.

As I watched this year I got to thinking about there scene where fear and love are contradicted. It seemed a bit similar to a philosophy I had been contemplating in which action were either driven by selfishness or selflessness.

donnie-darko-fear-love

Donnie of course rudely handles the situation, complaining about how there is a whole spectrum of human emotion. Something he hasn’t really shown much understanding for thus far in the film. I started to realize that Donnie is pretty self centered and spends a good bit of the movie complaining. He really isn’t doing anything to help others and can hardly express any emotion other than angst.

What happened to the old Donnie, the one that used to be my hero. This one was so immature. He’d changed.

But he hadn’t. I had.

Tenth Viewing – Tuesday, October 1, 2013

As I watched in 2013 I was 26 years old. The same age as director Richard Kelly was when the film was created.

I played the movie, but I wouldn’t say I watched it. I was busy that year, my mind was in a lot of places. I had a lot going on at work and my wife wasn’t feeling well, now in her second trimester.

I might have gotten all that I could out of this film. I went through the motions, but I wasn’t engaged.

Eleventh Viewing – Wednesday October 1st, 2014

Will update later tonight after my 11th viewing.

UPDATE:

In appropriate form for this year, my viewing for 2014 was from a trainer bike where I maintained an average heart rate of 125 beets per minute. If I ever get bored I might try to sync my speed increases with the scenes of the movie.

I can’t say much new stood out to me this year. Maybe I paid more attention to Donnie’s bike.

It sort of seemed like a victory lap. I’m going to put this tradition to rest for a while.

donnie-darko-screening-2014

Where to Go From Here

I’m not sure if I’ll keep up the tradition. Maybe I’ll drop to an every 5 year deal for a while. It might be fun if I could turn it into an event and get a few people together – almost like a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening. Sing along anyone?

I’m also interested to hear if anyone has similar experiences. Are there any stories you revisit periodically, only to realize you get something different out of it?

Experiment: I’m Ditching My Desk – Results

This post is the conclusion to an experiment about having no desk at work. After a month of not having a permanent desk I want to reflect on the experiment. Here is how my hypothesis stacked up.

Analysis & Conclusions

Hypothesis One: I will have less drop-ins

I was able to get enough data on this to prove my pointIn total I sat in 12 different places during the 23 working days of the experiment. Of those places, the most common was a couch in the corner of the office that I sat at on seven different days.

My average daily drop-ins was 0.78. However, when I started to develop a favorite, people began to know where to find me and the drop-in rate climbed to 1.43. Graphically, here are we can see the number of days I had each count of drop-ins. The highest counts were only achieved on days where I was sitting in a spot people knew I was often in.Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.43.21 AMAdditionally, I asked people what the first method they would use to get a hold of me was & what they thought the most effective method was. I then grouped those responses into two categories; desirable and non-desirable. The desirable ones were asynchronous – chat, email, text & carrier pigeon. The non-desirable ones were synchronous – in person, drop-in, turn & chat, smoke signal, etc.

The control responses showed that the method they would use to first get a hold of me were the methods to my liking only 54.5% of the time. The methods they recognized as the best way to get a hold of me were to my liking 91% of the time. Basically, people knew how to get a hold of me effectively and they knew that my preferred methods were the most effective – despite that, they still dropped-in.

After the experiment, the responses showed that people’s selected first attempts lined up with my desirable methods 71.4% of the time. Basically, they already knew how to get a hold of me, but the experiment helped force an implementation of that.

Conclusion

Accepted. As I moved around, I had less drop-ins. I haven’t yet compared this to a base line, but I am confident based on what I saw. The easiest way to prevent drops ins is to continually change up where you are found.

Hypothesis Two: I will not settle into a location

As stated above, during the 23 working days of the experiment I sat in 12 different places. I sat in the most popular spot 7 times.The top two spots actually account for 50% of the days. I clearly started to settle in some.I think this reflects my nature – I tend to look for efficient pathways and develop patterns around them.Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.55.33 AMI did notice however that those patterns started to change over time. In the short time frame of this experiment it was hard to detect that. Anecdotally, I noticed that as new desks were put near my favorite spot, I started to favor it less. This leads me to believe that even though there were patterns, those patterns were more fluid than a permanent desk location where I might have stayed put.Not having a permanent home meant that I was flexible, even if sometimes that flexibility appeared to be a pattern.One thing I did notice though is that I skewed back towards a desk as opposed to other forms of work station. In the first half of the experiment I only sat in a desk twice. During the second half I sat in a desk seven times.

Conclusion

Accepted. Though the data shows I tended towards a few spots, the pattern of sitting in those spots was not one of slowly settling in. Towards the end, as the office layout changed a bit with a few new hires coming on, I rapidly adjusted.

Hypothesis Three: I will not become less available to coworkers that need me

I used a survey to measure this. I asked the question “On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with how often Greg is available to answer questions”My control resulted in a satisfaction level of 8.9.The result for the time of the experiment was 8.66. Based on the sample size & the population of people I interact with on a daily basis, this does not reflect a significant drop. Essentially these are indistinguishable responses.Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.11.17 AM

Conclusion

Accepted. My co-workers did not feel that I became less available during the survey.

Hypothesis Four: I will be happier having more variety of workstation

This hypothesis is subject to a highly subjective analysis. Let me start my listing out the pros and cons I’ve noticed during my experiment.Pros:

  • Get to change who I sit near and can adapt my work station for the day to my mood, workload & projects
  • I am harder to find so people tend to chat me more rather than swing by my desk
  • Was referred to as a ‘nomad’
  • More seamless experience, because I force myself to be mobile even when in the office, I don’t lose any productivity when working remotely

Cons:

  • Earbud headphones – I didn’t feel like carrying around my big headphones in my backpack
  • I sometimes forget where I put my backpack & lost my water bottle for a few days at one point
  • Have to pick a different spot to sit every day – introduces an element of discomfort
  • A co-worker got me a poster of Chewbacca with a surfboard and I have no place to hang it
Conclusion

Accepted. I think in general I tend to be happier not having a permanent workstation.

Experiment Conclusion

I am going to stick with not having a desk. It doesn’t have a measurable negative affect on my performance or availability to co-workers and allows me a bit more flexible. I have noticed that I am tending towards desks more than couches, which I think is fine, I will probably continue to do so. There are currently a few open desks in our office, so I am going to keep rotating.