“Objectivity is Relative”

Reading a debate in LinkedIn on the subject of the usefulness of “objective” feedback on creative ideas, I was struck by a comment that Alex Goslar, a creative executive with whom I worked at Leo Burnett, made. He said that there is no such thing as objective, validating feedback because

“Objectivity is relative, and so is feedback.”

Huh. Hit me like the boot that fell off the shelf and knocked me in the head last week. The statement is profoundly true, I think, and one that reaches the core of what I do professionally. When I interview, I tell my subjects that I can listen objectively, because I don’t have an agenda or a point to prove. When I report my findings, I tell my clients that I am reporting and analyzing objectively what people told me. I’m very careful to divorce findings from conclusions. It is only in conclusions that I lose my objectivity, bringing in the weight of my own experience and perspective. All of that is true, and good about what I do.

And yet. Alex’s comment is a reminder that how any of us – from consumers to respondents to clients to researchers – perceive anything depends on where we stand, and what we bring to the view. Which is why sample composition for any research we do is important, and important to consider when you think about the findings – not just something to gloss over in a report. And that’s why anyone’s opinion, judgment and evaluation must always be considered within the context of where they’re coming from.

I’m 5’2”. The top shelf in our kitchen cupboard is high. I might even say “too high.” My husband is 6’1”. The top shelf is neither high nor too high. “Objectively” speaking.

My very same husband asks me to get his brown sweater for him. I search throughout the house. There’s no brown sweater. Frustrated, he finds it himself and shows me… his grey sweater. His brown is my grey. What I see and what he sees are different.

Through the lenses of color blindness, white privilege, male privilege, female intuition, western, first world perspective, our various individual backgrounds and upbringings and orientations, there is less that is objective than most of us expect. And from where I sit, part of the beauty of life – and my work – is to be open to seeing things through others’ perspectives. It’s how we learn and grow.

The relativity of objectivity does not render feedback necessarily  invalid or unhelpful. It can be eye opening and insightful. With thoughtful consideration.


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