Elon Musk on Corrective Feedback Loops

In one of his latest Interviews at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elon Musk got asked the question of what his biggest challenge in life was. Elon took some seconds to rank and filter all his challenges and then responded:

“One of the biggest challenges I think is making sure you have a corrective feedback loop, and then maintaining that corrective feedback loop over time even when people want to tell you exactly what you want to hear…” – Elon Musk

Corrective feedback just means that something or someone tells us if/how/why we mess up, and if we are lucky, how we can fix it. In our childhood, our feedback comes mainly from our parents, later in life, we get more and more sources of feedback.

Elon is referring to people, the nuanced sources of feedback. There are other types of corrective feedback like a computer for instance. It is easy to learn to program from home because the computer tells you instantly if your code is wrong. But it is hard to become a medical doctor from home because you need more types of and more nuanced feedback from other experts.

The problem with human feedback is that it is often not sincere. Our friends and family will likely not give us completely objective feedback. Instead, they will tell us what we want to hear. The same happens with employees. They might be tempted to tell the boss what he wants to hear, instead of the truth. Hence Elon’s answer.

Similarly, a computer programmer can fix a compilation error much faster if he gets an error message like “there is an error on line 456, column 13 of your code!” instead of “compilation error.”

In conclusion: Better quality feedback means faster learning.

Also published on Medium.