Don’t Feed Soda to the Bean Plant (or “The Scientific Way to Get Feedback”)

In my grade eight science class we were charged with designing and executing an experiment. My partner and I decided to test the effects of different beverages on bean plants; one would get tap water, one would get bottled water, and one would get green tea. So, for example, all the plants were kept on the same window ledge, got the same amount of light, were watered at the same time every day, and with the same amount of liquid. It was important to control all other variables so we would know the only factor affecting the plants differently would be the type of beverage each was taking in. This analogy is going somewhere, bear with me.

I think when we receive feedback on something we’re working on, the instinct is to act on it immediately. For example, if your mentor suggests that the image might be stronger if you cropped in tighter; you’ll probably do it before showing anyone else, right? Wait! No! If you plan to show the piece to, say, three mentors to get feedback, I suggest showing them all the exact same thing to be able to properly assess their advice. If we’d all of a sudden fed the green-tea bean plant soda for a few days, we wouldn’t know if its super growth was a result of the tea, or because of the shock of the soda. Maybe your second mentor would have different feedback if you hadn’t already cropped the image.

A perfect example of this was when I participated in the CONTACT portfolio reviews. I took one book with two different sets of prints in it; a sample of my general work in the front, and some images from a personal project I was working on at the back. My first reviewer told me she didn’t understand the personal project, and she felt it shouldn’t be included. I wanted to “fix” the book before my next review but there wasn’t time. My second reviewer told me that she loved the personal project, and that she felt it should be moved to the front of the book! If I had taken it out between sessions, the second reviewer wouldn’t have seen the personal project, and would have only been able to give me feedback on the general work.

So if you’re asking more than one party for any kind of review, make sure they’re all seeing the same thing. If there’s time and/or it’s appropriate, you can always send everyone a revised version later. I’d say this goes for just about anything; resumes, grant applications, portfolios, work in progress, you name it.


(If you’re interested, the result of the bean experiment was that the plants thrived on green tea.  Also, I seem to recall that all the plants were named after PGA golfers…thanks, Grade Eight Science Partner.)

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