One of the things I have been working a lot on lately is learning how to get my actions to lead to my indended results. If this sounds confusing, I’m not suprised.. It’s a bit hard to explain. But I’d like to try, so here goes:

Have you ever been in a situation where you want something, so you act in a way to get the thing you want, but the result is that you cause more trouble than you thought?

I will give a specific example.. We all know the story of “the boy who cried wolf” right? Kid keeps calling wolf when there isn’t one there, pissing off the villiagers until one day a wolf shows up, he calls “wolf” and nobody appears to help him.

Why do you think he kept crying wolf? Was it to get eaten? No, probably not.. It was probably to try and get some attention. He was bored, lonely, and pobably never expected that people wouldn’t actually come if a real wolf was there. So his intention–have some fun, get some attention, etc–caused some unintended consequences.. It caused the villiagers to think he was a git who didn’t deserve their attention. Thus, he got munched. Oops.

What does this have to do with animation? Well, every day we work with a number of people.. Animators, coordinators, directors, producers, etc. Everything you do, say, act, etc has some sort of consequence. For example, let’s say you are showing your shot in dailies an the director asks for a change. You think “huh.. Okay.. That goes against what I was thinking.. But.. Whatever..”. So it’s not a big deal, but it’s a bit of a tweak. I means the shot will take an extra 3 hours to complete. You let out a little sigh, make your note, and say “okay.”. Then you get up, and walk out of the room.

What do you suppose your intention is here? Probably to just go back to your desk, make the fix, and be done.

How do you think you are perceived by the producer who just heard the sigh?

Right.. Probably not like someone who has to just make a little tweak, but more like someone who is a little bit frustrated.. Maybe a little stressed. Maybe the change is a bigger deal than they thought? Maybe you are overworked? Maybe this shot will push past it’s scheduled date? Maybe they should pull the shot and give it to someone else if you can’t handle it? Man, maybe you can’t handle these types of shots at all.. You seem like the kind of animator that need serious care and hand holding.. Not going to be their go-to guy, that’s for sure..

See what I mean? Your action caused a totally unintended and inaccurate response.

This kind of thing happens all the time.. We do it to others, they do it to us, it’s amazing how easy it can happen.

You can break down the cycle this way:

Intent -> action -> result

You have an intention or desire. You perform an act to try and achieve a result.

Now here is the tricky thing.. You are aware of your intent.. It’s yours, you know what you intend to do. You pick the action and perform it.. You are aware of that aspect of the equation.

But here is the kicker. The response is whatever it is. You don’t have direct control over it. You may see some of the response.. But there may be some hidden part you are unaware of.

Quick example. You are at work and you need to fax something quickly. You go to the macine and see that there is a 10 page outbound fax in front of you and the person faxing it isn’t there. You make a note of the number, cancel the fax, fax your document which takes 5 minutes, and then resubmit the other persons fax. No harm no foul, right? You had a desire-to fax, you performed an act-canceling the other fax, and the result was that you got your fax done first.

So what do you think some unintended conseques might be?

Well, the first thing to do is put yourself in the shoes of the person who put the fax there in the first place. Why do you think they were faxing something from work? Why would they start it and then leave it to finish? What reason could there be to such a large fax? There are probably hundreds of answers to these questions, but none of them came up when you cancelled their fax and sent your own.

What if they were running late for a meeting and had to send off this time sensitive fax to secure a loan for their house, and by postponing it for ten minutes they missed their application window and now won’t get their dream house?

Maybe that is a little far fetched, but it’s a possibility, and you get the idea.. That was an unintended consequence of your action.

So, again with the diagram:

Intent-> action -> result

You control an influence the intent and the action, but can’t control or even sometimes see the result.

So here’s the big question.. How do you stop getting unintended results?

If you can’t control the result, you have to change something you CAN control.. Your intent or your action. Obviously changing the intent isn’t what we want to do.. After all, you are trying to achieve something specific. You have to change the ACTION. You must change the thing you do to achieve the intent.

But how do you know how to change your actions to get the result you want?

The answers is so simple it’ll kill you. Seriously.. I wish I had thought of it. Here is the magic formula… You ready?

You ask.

Yep, that’s it. You ask the person if your action was the right way to get the result you desire.

I know. Crazy, right? But it works! Just ask! You will learn quickly if your actions are correct, or if you are headed down the wrong path.

It’s called feedback.. And we can all use it to make sure our desired intentions are realized.

So… Here goes! I am posting all this stuff for two reasons.. One is because it helps me learn it. Two is that I feel like it can help other animators learn these things we don’t often get a chance to learn.

Is it working? Are you finding these posts useful, or am I coming across like a giant gassbag? πŸ™‚

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4 Responses to Feedback loop

  1. davidbernal says:

    oooh! Jason!! am LOVING these posts!!! definitely learning πŸ™‚ and also enjoy your writing style/how you break it up.

  2. melanie says:

    ha ha..
    I felt like you were talking to me when you used the example of the animator sighing. Damn! How many times have I done this? A zillion. πŸ˜€

    The trick though.. is being aware that you might be causing crazy consequences, no? While I think what you are saying is true and good to remember, I’m not sure how you can be aware of your actions and intent and how others are taking it.. 100 percent of the time. If you are constantly watching what you say and how you say it (or what you do and how you do it) then how are you not going to become a basket case constantly worrying about how people are reacting to you?

    And yes.. these posts are helpful. At least, to me. It’s always awesome to think about this stuff.

  3. jason says:

    that’s a great question, mel! I think that trying to make sure you are true to yourself while still not getting unintended consequences is something that us a long term project.. It’s tough! πŸ™‚

    One thing that is helping me figure it out though is the book I recommended in my other post about self deception.. If you can put yourself in the other persons shoes, it starts to become easier. I guess it is a but like starting any habit.. It takes a while before it becomes second nature.

    Kind of like remembering to follow the principles of animation. At first you don’t think aboutthem so animation doesn’t seem that tough.. Then you learn about them andnsuddenly it’s daunting.. Then with practice they become second nature. πŸ™‚

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