Feedback Loops and School Lunches

I have been making school lunches for my kids for most of the school year and only recently started getting clear feedback.  The daunting task of figuring out what from the fridge or pantry will satisfy and nourish my kids is no easy task.  As is common in most kids, they are picky eaters based on texture, inappropriate color (apples turning brown), or smell.  There is no guarantee what something will end up like after several hours in a lunch box.  Additionally, our kids have food allergies so we are further limited in food choices and there is NO sharing or alternate options at school.  Some days the kids would be famished by the time dinner rolled around and probably persuaded us to provide mid-day snacks.

My wife would often clean out the lunch boxes.  She or the kids would occasionally mention to me what they did or did not like.  It wasn’t until I cleaned out the lunch boxes myself did I really see what worked and didn’t explicitly.  Then I would ask the kids what they liked or didn’t and why.  The conversations and the evidence of the lunch box was enough to create a full feedback loop so I could make changes in the future.  Needless to say, improvements were then made.

UPDATE: I also started showing them what their lunch was going to look like in the morning.  That way I could get feedback beforehand and make changes as required.  Also, I am setting expectations of what is to come so they build their interest for lunch.  Nothing wrong with some surprises though from time to time.

mostly eaten school lunch

mostly eaten school lunch

Having a mind for experiments

I was impressed with what I stumbled upon in my kids’ elementary school.  These simple images of how to run through experiments to question, gather information, and find proofs.  I often talk with my teams about “running experiments” to question the status quo and test your hypotheses.  By doing this we can continue to move forward, even if slowly, on progress.

Visibility and information radiators

I strongly believe that anything worth doing, must be seen easily and frequently. This is a belief of many others that practice all forms of agile that I have come to adopt. Like other mentions on this blog, I have brought to home and personal life what I have learned in the work atmosphere. I can feel like a geek at times but when I find there is value to myself and others, I want to find a way to leverage it.

Information radiators can be anything to convey pushing or reminders of information. It could be a single message like a goal or multiple tasks showing priority. Another attribute is that it can be Self-serve without much explanation for those that need to rely on it or stumble upon it.

The information itself should encourage conversations can can also fight ambiguity. It should be readily updated otherwise it becomes stale and dies. It should embody the concept of change and experiment with what works. Try new ideas, new visuals, new ways to conveying priorities.

We have a story board in the office that shows who is working on what and what state those efforts are in. Also on the board are stated priorities, team mottos/manifestos, reports to show historical progress, and current blockers.

At home, I have sticky notes with prioritized tasks, our family’s menu board, and chore charts. The impact of showing information to our kids does things that I never even expected. It not only eliminates answering some of the same questions but allows them to help prepare and empowers them to help. Maybe they have ideas for shopping lists or efforts to set the table and are influenced by our dinner plan. Before they could read we used pictures of chores and colors to denote assignment or priority.

I am always trying to experiment with information shared and find new ways of showing what was previously only in my head. The book Personal Kanban has secured my belief in this and a good place to start for those that want to visually show the chaos in their heads. Please pick up the book if you want somewhere to start.

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Power of questions

After attending recent agile training and conferences, I was reminded of the power of asking questions and especially well worded ones.

In business situations, starting with WHY can be received as being critical and produce a defensive response. However, if using WHAT and HOW then you can probe more innocently.  Here are some examples:

  • Is there value in making it more visible?
  • How long is it taking?
  • Where is it in the lifecycle?
  • Are you satisfied with outcome of delivery?
  • How would the team answer these same questions?
  • What do we do when blocked?

I have also been testing this out on my kids where I practice creativity in the question. In those situations, the WHY questions are often the best ones to ask so you can dig deeper to understand inside kids’ heads. I am often amazed at either the answers they genuinely have or creativity in what they believe.  Here is an article I noticed recently about how to ask kids about their seemingly routine day at school: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-evans/25-ways-to-ask-your-kids-so-how-was-school-today-without-asking-them-so-how-was-school-today_b_5738338.html

So, prep sufficiently with your questions and have them work for you when doing the all-important, interaction with others.

Using all of your senses

Sometimes I forget that I have 5 unique senses to use in the vast world around me.  When I fully use them I can feel like an awakened superhero because of the information I can gather or memories that are unlocked.  It isn’t just about awareness for self but also how to engage with others.  There are many different kinds of learners (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.).    When senses are deprived, even just one of them, it can be considered torture as sensory deprivation.  I will review each of the senses and see if there are ways that you may not have realized how embedded these are in our use and language.  Please add more ideas in the comments below.

Sight– This is the most obvious one but should not be taken for granted or “overlooked”.  🙂  There are many non-verbal clues that people can provide that are often more indicative of their emotional state or sense of agreement.  Here is one site I found (http://lifehacker.com/5901468/use-this-body-language-cheat-sheet-to-decode-common-non-verbal-cues) but many more exist or YouTube videos.  All of the variations of color, shape, and texture have been eye opening to me when considering everything from furnishings to clothing to PowerPoint presentations.

Touch – There is a reason that “look and feel” is a widely used term since is combines two of our powerful senses.  While you cannot feel a website, it still engaged our sense and even more so with touch screens and interactive activities.  I think of a kid’s science museum and the depth they try to engage through many senses including touch.  If sitting in a hard chair you are more likely to be stubborn and in a soft chair, more agreeable.  When learning sports at an early age, I was encouraged to practice enough to engage muscle memory which makes the swing/stroke/movement more automatic.  The habit formed around this is valuable in many life-long endeavors.

Hearing – The obvious one here is listening to tone of voice and the smaller sounds around us.  Again, being aware of your surroundings and taking in the smallest clues and nuances.  I am familiar with the phrase, “it isn’t what you said, it was HOW you said it.”  Empathy is genuinely recognized from tone and body language.

Smelling and Taste – I’ll put these together since they are similar but still have lots of value on their own.  Supposedly our sense of smell is our most diverse sense.  The average human can recognize 1 TRILLION smells compared to 10 Million colors.  Smell also generates very vivid memories due its connection with the limbic system which houses memories in the brain.  Yet, I am not sure that the oPhone device (http://www.onotes.com) will make it in the market which sends smells.  Also, since you can often smell a problem (stinky diaper, smoke before seeing fire, spoiled food, etc.) it can be a leading sense.  In business, there is a phrase of “a process smell” which is when you respond with your gut to sense if something is right or wrong.  Like smell, taste can generate emotions and memories.  People often socialize around food events or gravitate toward the free snacks in the break room.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of a special made or purchased treat.

So, keep aware and sense as much as you can to learn, engage with others, and build memories of the world around you.