Avoiding Masterchef style feedback

Her eyes widened and her mouth fell agape. I suspect the ticking clock suddenly stood still and the taste buds, that had become her all powerful ally, dried up as fast as an unwatched pan of pasta. Her idea had been derailed.

Wherever I look I see processes of critique and feedback. It is unquestionably an integral process for learners. However it is also a process that binds and carries the progress of many other professions and creative endeavours, as well as almost everything else in between.

That is why when watching the TV show Masterchef, the amateur cooking competition, the impact of feedback was all too present and obvious.

Masterchef style feedback refers to providing feedback at a point when it is creatively inappropriate as well as emotionally challenging to hear.

Now if you have never seen Masterchef let me share the scenario. The contestant I describe had begun a challenge in which they were in a small group of other contestants, but cooking independently. They were given a time limit, like 30 minutes, to cook a particular style of dish or create something unique.

I recognise that the pace of the creative process (generating original ideas for a dish) on show here is very high along with the intensity of the environment, time, expectation and competition. This can be a block to creativity.

In this intensity the contestants are immediately generating ideas as they hear the challenge ahead of them, even before the basket wielding supermarket sweep for ingredients begins. They are all drawing upon a history of cooking, a longer line of experience using the ingredients they have and a range of ideas and principles of cooking that have been tried and tested before.

The action usually commences with everyone rushing off to a pantry filled with a plethora of fresh ingredients and cupboard essentials. The ideas for their dish begin to swirl as they are confronted by the swathe of stock laden shelves in the pantry. There are those that pluck what they need, decision made and those that are still developing something, waiting for inspiration to strike, lost momentarily in the various types of vinegar on offer.

With baskets crammed the cooks rush to their work benches and stove tops to begin cooking. Stakes are high (fill in your own pun) as they compete with each other, the clock, their own nerves and the judgement of professional chefs and food critics. Suffice it to say that emotionally the environment is highly charged for those involved.

And then comes the first moment of feedback.

Photo by Nick Karvounis

Who knows really how much time has passed due to the editing process for television. However typically a trio of judges saunter across to a contestant to try and learn what dish is being made and observe the progress towards that goal. Comments both positive and negative are typically shared with the contestant at this point. This is a moment when really contestants are implementing their idea for the dish, they have committed to it and are pushing on. Feedback which is anything but affirmation is derailing.

So every now and then you see idea derailment in the eyes of the contestant. The widened eyes of an inner struggle to assimilate the expert advice with their emotional and technical commitment to an idea. “How can I possibly change my dish now?!” The contestant has invested in their idea and fast tracked to implementing it. They are no longer making major decisions about what to do but are now amongst the intricacies of making it happen. Their mindset is no longer in a divergent state, but is now one of convergence towards a more and more fixed goal.

It is this style of feedback which I think we have to seek to avoid. After all the cooking on Masterchef, however much a show for TV, is still a microcosm of a creative process. This is similar in so many ways to when we ask the learners in our classes to create something, think high stakes, time, judgement.

To avoid Masterchef feedback or idea derailment we simply have to provide more feedback earlier on in the creative process.

In the case of Masterchef the time in the pantry, as the contestants jostle for ideas, inspiration and ingredients, would have been good time to speak with people to offer ideas and feedback. Sometimes on a show you see those stranded in the pantry getting a pep talk from a judge as they share and develop ideas together. That early feedback and dialogue is much more developmental and appropriate than derailing ideas already on their way.

In the classroom we might build in earlier checkins with learners as they begin the process of generating ideas for their writing, painting, modelling etc. The longer you leave that early check in the more committed to their ideas students will become and there is a higher chance of idea derailment if you offer critique. Plan for feedback to occur early and frequently to catch our young thinkers whilst their mindset is still divergent and open to ideas.

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