Joe’s Journal: Feedback Through the Ages

“Whenever a Jesuit priest or a Calvinist pastor does anything of significance (for instance, making a key decision), he is expected to write down what results he anticipates. Nine months later, he then feeds back from the actual results to these anticipations. . . . I have followed this method myself, now for 50 years. It brings out what one’s strengths are—and this is the most important thing an individual can know about himself or herself. It brings out where improvement is needed and what kind of improvement is needed. Finally, it brings out what an individual cannot do and therefore should not even try to do. To know one’s strengths, to know how to improve them, and to know what one cannot do—they are the keys to continuous learning.”

—Peter F. Drucker.  

I am convinced that knowing one’s strengths it is indeed “the most important thing an individual can know about himself or herself.”

Peter Drucker believed that the Jesuits, a Catholic Order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the Calvinist’s, a Protestant Reform movement founded by John Calvin, both in the mid-16th century, developed a very valuable technique called “Feedback Analysis” to help their priests and ministers find their strengths and grow into what they were called to be. The global impact of both orders is at least partially the result of priests and ministers applying this technique to manage themselves.

Drucker applied Feedback Analysis to his own life and work. I witnessed this during the time I overlapped with him at Claremont Graduate University. Initially, for example, I did not understand why Drucker rarely served on committees. Once I heard his explanation it made perfect sense to me. He had an incredible ability to focus on certain topics, and he made deep commitments of his time and energy to select people and organizations. Why? It was those topics, people and organizations where his strengths allowed him to make the biggest contribution.  Feedback Analysis helped him to allocate his time and to abandon those opportunities where he was likely to be less effective. He simply concluded that most committee work did not fit his strengths and calling. This is a lesson for each of us.

There are many good books to help us find our strengths. But none provides any better advice than applying Feedback Analysis. Moreover, I learned that Drucker had little interest in the psychological analysis that many of these books suggest.  It’s not that he did not believe they were helpful; he did. Still, they’re not as effective as the kind of Feedback Analysis this passage recommends.

As you can tell, I am enthusiastic about the advice Drucker offered here. I am using this technique myself, and I am trying to make adjustments in my work and life all of the time. I commend Feedback Analysis to you, as well. It is backed up by the wisdom of the ages.