Understand That Feedback Is Dangerous
Feedback has a 10th degree black belt in the art of derailing progress. Be very careful with feedback.
I’ve always been fascinated by the music industry. Not necessarily the labels, insane deals, and celebrity status but more the process of how a new album or song is created.
See, for the most part, musicians create their songs and albums in relative isolation. It’s not uncommon to have an artist drop off the map for a year or two, then out of nowhere come out with a chart-topping album garnering multiple hits, copious amounts of radio play, and appearances galore. But the really interesting thing about this process is that we—as consumers of music—rarely ever see any iteration or minimum viable versions of a musician’s product.
We only ever see the final product.
When an album is finished, it’s finished. All of the years of writing, recording, working with producers, management, and labels culminates in a single release. And despite any issues they have with how the process turned out, there’s no way of actually changing or updating any of the music they’ve created. Other than a re-release down the line, once an album is out, the artist moves into a purely promotional stage of their business.
In a lot of ways, this is the opposite of the current methodologies that people preach on creating businesses—specifically online products and services.
Creating in isolation
Despite all the preaching about sharing your work, seeing how the music industry works has made me wonder if there aren’t benefits to working in isolation. Can letting people into your work and process too early on be detrimental to your end product?
I think the main difference between music and online business can be boiled down to one key fact: Music is art. And the majority of art is created without feedback and unsolicited criticism. It’s up to the artist (and their close circle of confidants and collaborators) to decide what unique product they’re going to create and put out into the world.
On the other hand, online businesses rely heavily on feedback from the very beginning, iterating their idea as they go along.
Now, while the right kind of feedback can help shape your company and push you in the right direction, where feedback becomes incredibly dangerous is when an artist (musician or business owner) takes criticism from the wrong person or at the wrong time.
But how do you know when you’re ready for feedback? And who you should seek out for the most beneficial criticism?
Do you want to get feedback from your ideal customers? Absolutely.
Do you want to get feedback from someone who has created something similar to what you’re building? Yes, that could definitely be helpful.
Do you want to get feedback from a friend, family member, or acquaintance on social media who have no experience with what you’re building and won’t be your potential customer? No. That is dangerous feedback.
When to ignore your closest critics
You’ll never hear a musician’s work before it’s finished. Once you hear it, it’s been through all the feedback and criticism that matters to get it to a completed (and promotable) state.
But for those of us building a business or creating something online, we’ll often go to a friend, family member, or acquaintance on social media first. While the intentions of those people are in the right place, unfortunately the outcome of the feedback they give can be disastrous.
Here’s an example…
When I was starting my IWearYourShirt business back in 2008, I individually emailed a list of about 100 personal contacts. My business was merely an idea with a website. It didn’t even have a single paying customer at the time. In the emails I sent, I was asking people for feedback and for potential introductions to customers who might be interested in the unique social media marketing services I was offering.
The feedback from the people closest to me was something along the lines of, “Jason, are you sure you want to do this crazy idea? It sounds really out there.” Or, “I don’t think this idea can work nowadays.” Or, “Stay with the job you have right now, it’s doing well.”
These comments came directly from family members, close friends, and acquaintances I trusted, BUT (and this is a huge but) these people were not my potential customers or people who had experience building unique businesses.
To take their feedback to heart would have derailed my new idea. Luckily, I was keenly aware of this and was able to take their feedback with a grain of salt and not let it demotivate me. Had I taken their feedback honestly and in high regard I never would have built a $1M business that garnered worldwide attention.
Unfortunately, for every story like my own, I’m sure there are a lot of people in the online (and small) business space who are taking feedback from the wrong people and it’s setting them up for failure. There’s even a term for this condition that the authors of the book Think Like A Freak helped promote: ultracrepidarianism.
Ultracrepidarianism is the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge.
I hadn’t heard this term before reading their book and I’m going to assume the majority of you haven’t either. Ironically, although we don’t know the term, we’re all too aware of people who fit the description.
How to get the best feedback possible
So how can you, if you’re creating a product or service of your own, avoid taking the wrong feedback from the ultracrepidarians of the world?
When receiving any feedback, look at it through this very important lens, which we can frame as a couple questions:
- Is this person my potential (or existing) customer?
- Does this person have experience in my industry and should I trust their opinion?
- Is the product or service I’m sharing actually ready for feedback?
Feedback has a 10th degree black belt in the art of derailing progress.
Feedback doesn’t come in one, singular form. Feedback could be the thoughts and opinions of the people around you, but it can also be a vehicle for avoiding doing the actual work. I know there have been many times in my career when I had a huge task ahead of me, and because it was daunting, I’d instead share work I’d already done with friends to get positive reinforcement.
For many creators and entrepreneurs, that singular moment could be the roundhouse kick that completely stops a project in its tracks. They don’t get the support they were searching for and instead get criticized.
Early stages of building and creating can be very vulnerable. You don’t have thick enough mental armor to block the attacks of feedback. Especially from non-credible sources.
When a musician is working on their music, they take advice from experienced writers, producers, and fellow musicians. They certainly aren’t asking someone who’s never heard their music or has zero experience in their industry for feedback.
We should follow this same advice for our businesses. Take feedback from sources that have experience in what we are trying to do or build. Seek those people out first. Build a trust circle. Finish creating something without the thoughts and comments of ultracrepidarians.
The next time you get feedback—whether you asked for it or not—ask yourself the questions above. If the feedback doesn’t fit, then don’t waste a single moment with it. If it does, apply it (using your own good judgment, of course) and keep working on whatever new project you’re building.
// This article was originally written for the Crew Blog.