Here at the Feedback Loop, we want to start celebrating round numerical milestones in review-writing. These are like anniversaries, but they are tied directly to the hard work that these judges put in to providing quality feedback to other judges. To kick this off, we wanted to start by highlighting a well known Level 3 from the United States, currently residing in Alexandria, Virginia, Abraham (Abe) Corson, who has hit the impressive milestone of writing 100 reviews.
Abe’s first ever review was of Brian Schenck, back in June of 2007. Hitting his halfway mark with Review 50 in October of 2012, Abe reviewed Min Moldover.Finally, the review that Abe wrote to reach this milestone came in June of 2015. This review wasn’t any ordinary review, though. It was one of Abe’s 9 Level 2 Advancement reviews.
Abe has written at least one review every year since 2007, which is nothing to shake a stick at! Here is a breakdown of his reviews per year:
|2015||8 Reviews *|
* – As of July 5th, 2015
All in all, Abe has entered 21 reviews recommending someone for advancement out of 24 interviews, an impressive rate that speaks to his thoroughness as a mentor. That means that as of this milestone, he has written 76 Evaluation reviews, providing insight on ways that his peers can improve their judging capabilities. Of his 100 reviews, 21 of them referenced a Grand Prix event, with the remaining 79 referencing actions observed at a variety of other events, from 10Ks to PPTQs, Regionals to Prereleases. The city that appeared most often in his list of reviews written, however, is Richmond, Virginia.
We asked Abe to sit down and talk with us about this milestone, how he felt about reaching this achievement, and about reviews in general. Here is what he had to say.
Riki: What do reviews mean to you in general? Why do you write them?
Abe: Well, on the surface, reviews are all about giving feedback and helping people get better. But to me, I guess it’s more fundamentally about communication. I realized a long time ago that I’m generally more comfortable speaking in the written form than I am the verbal. The simple fact is that I usually do better when given a little time to organize and edit my thoughts rather than having to rely on “doing it live,” so to speak. Reviews are a chance for me to express myself without stumbling over my speech or failing to quickly come up with the right word. These are real issues which seem to come and go for me.
“Why do you write [reviews]?” Ok, why do you blog? I think writing a review probably scratches that same kind of itch that posting an update to YMMV must. [I haven’t scratched this itch lately. -Riki] The only difference is that the readership is a heck of a lot smaller. Basically just the subject and… well, you. Stop reading my reviews! 😛
I write reviews because I have something to say. Usually, this means I have some ideas about how somebody can get better, but I have also been known to go on and on about awesome qualities and behaviors, as well. My reviews are usually some mixture of the two.
Riki: What does this milestone mean to you personally?
Abe: It reminds me that I need to write more reviews! 100 may seem like a large number to some, but in actuality, I’ve been certified for a good long time now- almost 13 years. If you average it all out, the number more closely represents shamefully low per-month effort for somebody that you’d allow to speak on your blog. I’m certainly no Riki Hayashi.
My time is somewhat short these days, having to balance family, judging, work, and more judging, so the number of reviews I’ve written in more recent years just doesn’t stack up to some of my more long-winded periods. Still, what I may lack in numbers I feel that I make up for in length- I’d bet that my total word count is right up there with the best of them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that my colleagues never seem to mind and even usually appreciate lengthy feedback about themselves. It’s part of the human condition that people tend to be their own favorite subjects.
Riki: In 2012 you wrote 34 reviews, which is twice as many as you’ve written in any other year. You mentioned that this was because you attended fewer events. Can you elaborate on this?
Abe: I think that 2012 was the year I got serious about advancing to level 3. At that point, I had already been a level 2 judge for a long time. And, I had taken some serious steps toward quitting the judge program altogether in 2011, but ended up deciding to stick with it, after all. Part of this was taking on a very principled stance toward review-writing, and I recall forcing myself to write two reviews for every event I attended for a long stretch, there.
However, the only reason I had any hope of keeping up with this pace was that I just wasn’t as active as I am now. 2012 was before the increase in number of US GPs, so there weren’t as many entire-weekend-consuming things for me to get sucked into. There was at the same time fewer experiences about which to write and more leftover time for me to do it.
Riki: Joe Hughto and Joshua Feingold are two judges who you have reviewed multiple times. Both of them have been promoted to Level 3. Coincidence? (Non-snark: Tell us about your relationship with these two judges and how you’ve used reviews to help them on their journey to L3.)
Abe: Ah yes. Well, no, not a coincidence, because I wrote level 3 recommendations for both Josh Feingold and Joe Hughto. If somebody asks me for a recommendation, and I don’t feel quite prepared to write it for him or her, I usually make plans to work with him or her for a while to see where the candidate is, provide feedback, and then set a time to re-evaluate. Observe, assess, and then plan. Then repeat. And keep it up until the candidate is ready for a recommendation. In other words, I usually don’t just say “no.”
I think it can be helpful for there to be a record of a candidate’s development if for nothing else than perspective and posterity. When the time comes to write the next review in the series, it’s useful to refer back to the previous one for comparison to both draw some conclusions and extrapolate expected improvement. It’s like fitting a curve to data points on a graph. And that’s what I did with both Joe and Josh.
Furthermore, I think an important yet often overlooked principle of effective reviews is the so-called narrative aspect. The experience of judging with somebody is often times an interesting story all by itself and one worth putting down on paper. Working with a subject on a series of reviews is also a lot like telling a larger story, sort of like adding chapters to an unfinished book.
Riki: You’ve written 15 reviews for events in the city of Richmond, Virginia. What’s your special relationship with that city?
Abe: It’s hard to answer this question without delving deep into subjects unrelated to reviews! However, let’s just say that many of my events as an experienced level 1 and newer level 2 took place in Richmond. That’s because Richmond was the city from which SCG largely operated in the early and mid-2000s, there hosting prereleases, PTQs, 1Ks, and the like. Some reading may be aware of my heavy involvement with the SCG Open Series circuit today, but the truth is that my relationship with SCG predates that of every other active judge in the program. As a matter of fact, I still remember the day they hired Jared. Please don’t tell him I said that.
I’m already on record as having said that some early SCG-employed mentors like Nicholas Sabin and Chad Daniels taught me everything I know about judging today. This is true, but it was primarily SCG-run events in Richmond that was where I actually did the learning.
Finally, the first level 1 judges I certified after gaining the ability to do so were from Richmond. Both Christopher Hickman and Nic Turk are activate today and are just as awesome as ever.
After talking with Abe about his thoughts on reviews, and how beneficial they are to the program, we felt it would help to hear from the other side of the review loop. We asked Joe Hughto and Joshua Feingold if they had any thoughts on their mentor and friend. Here’s what they had to say.
Joe HughtoSo far, Abe has written more non-advancement reviews of me than any other judge. In fact, over 10% of the reviews I’ve received have been from him. To say that these have had an impact on my development as a judge would be quite the understatement.
The first time I met and worked with Abe was when he was the head judge of the SCG Open at the Invitational in Somerset, NJ in July 2013. That also happened to be my first event after I moved to the Northeast region and I was excited to get to know the people I would be judging with in the future. I was rather in awe of Abe at the time because he head judged an 11-round Open and did so rather well from my perspective.
After working with him there and also on the Missed Trigger Guide project, I started to develop a deep respect for him and the feedback he provided for others. It became one of my goals to get him to write a review of me. That goal was met at the SCG Open in Providence in November 2013. He wrote a 1500-word review of me going quite in depth on how things went and how things could have gone better. This event was the first time I had been a team lead at an Open and I did my best to prepare. I did a good job with the tasks of the event, but ended up falling a little short on the team building aspect of being a team lead. Abe explained to me how I could have improved there but also why it was important and why certain things would help. I’m very much the sort of person who needs to know reasons behind actions so this made it much easier for me to begin to integrate this new focus into my judge career. This review also ended with one of my favorite closings to ever be in a review of me: “Keep up the good work, Joe- you’re one of the good ones.” This still makes me feel good.
I worked with Abe numerous times after that and he was also my L3 shadow for when I went for my day 2 Team Lead recommendation as part of my L3 checklist. The review after this event was nearly double in length of the first one he wrote of me. As I’d come to expect, Abe did a great job explaining the things that went well and the things that didn’t, as well as explaining all of the reasons behind it. Overall, I did a good job that day and received my recommendation, but there still were some serious things that I needed to work on. Abe talked about those details directly and in a very constructive way.
The last time Abe reviewed me as of this writing was to write me an L3 recommendation. At this point, it had become quite clear that we worked well together and also understood each other quite well. I am the sort of person that is very introspective and compare many other people to my own experiences. I try to think about how I would react in a given situation and then compare that to how the other person reacted. This L3 recommendation from Abe showed much of the same introspection and comparison. Many times in this review, Abe compared me to himself, often quite favorably. Abe has a deep understanding of his own motivations, so it was especially useful for me to see my own work compared to his in this way.
I think that the opening to his recommendation does a great job describing the relationship that we’ve built: “Upon reflection, I’d have to admit that the development of Dr. Joe Hughto has been a focus of mine over the last 18 months. Thinking back on it, I have to honestly say I’ve personally invested the time and effort into guiding, coaching, and mentoring him throughout his transition from a rookie judge to the friend, peer, and colleague that I know today. Interestingly, I don’t recall ever making this a conscious decision- it’s just that he and I have seemed to naturally gravitate toward each other, each having been made better for the experience.“
Abe and I have become very close in the couple years since we met and I can’t begin to describe the pleasure that brings me. I think it’s fair to say that Abe has influenced my judging life more than anyone else thus far in the program and I think that I’m much better off for it. My favorite part about all of this is that I’m pretty sure that I am not alone in saying that; Abe has a long history of personal and constructive feedback and it’s hard to imagine that many of us would be where we are today without his help.
Joshua FeingoldAbe has been a fixture of my experience in the judge program basically since day one. He certified the judge who certified me. I met him at my first large event. And since that time, he has represented to me what I could achieve if I worked hard and set my mind to it, first as an L2, then as an L3.
To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with Abe at an event and failed to learn something from him. He has a vast knowledge of both policy and rules, and he is always willing not only to give you an answer to a question, but to guide you through the process of discovering the answer for yourself. I have shamelessly coopted things I learned from him in mentoring and giving feedback to other judges.
Most importantly for my own development, Abe doesn’t hesitate to deliver feedback with rich, detailed Areas for Improvement. It was precisely the depth and incisiveness of the Areas for Improvement (AFI) section of his first review of me that cemented in my mind the notion that he was the L3 from whom I wanted my second L3 Recommendation. If Abe was willing to give me the stamp of approval, that seemed like a pretty good indicator that I actually deserved it. In fact, I believe that the two reviews I’ve received with the longest AFI sections both came from Abe. Not coincidentally, each of those reviews is among the handful that I would point to as giving me the impetus and direction to accomplish my goals in the program.
Both through his direct feedback and by his example, Abe has guided me (and gauging by his recent 100 review milestone, many others) to be a better judge every time we’ve walked into an event hall together.
Thanks to Abe Corson for all of his hard work over the years in proving quality feedback to his fellow judges. From the stories that Joe Hughto and Joshua Feingold shared (thanks to those two as well!), it’s clear that Abe had a profound influence on them. If Abe has helped your judging with feedback, feel free to post in the comments below, or thank him in person the next time you see him.