Day 10 - Dealing with Fearless Feedback

David VogeleerDec 22 · 4 min read

During the month of December, Buddy will highlight, the Twelve Days of Fearlessness. Whether it is getting up the nerve to lace up your old ice skates with your five-year-old or conquering a halfpipe like your teenage days, fearlessness is not just situational for all- for some, it is a way of life.

Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash
Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash

Have you ever worked on an idea with tremendous passion, dedication, and late night sessions? Have you ever poured so much of yourself into that idea that you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when you showed the world, they would feel the same way about it that you do? Have you ever had the world, or more specifically your boss, tell you your idea is dead before it even had a chance to live? If you answered "no" to any of the above, then you've likely never worked in creative services.

Before starting Buddy, I worked in advertising at a nationally ranked ad agency as a "creative" (what they call the people who come up with and craft the ideas into the ads you see). The job is not for everyone. Even though I've had awesome ideas go on to be produced and even win international awards, I've had probably 100 times more ideas end up on the floor and in the trashcan. Good creative directors will at least tell you why your idea didn't cut it, so you can learn and make even better ideas next time. Some might call this "fearless feedback", but it's essentially criticism, and hearing criticism over and over again can really take a toll on people, especially if it's new to them.

After a decade of slowly getting used to dealing with "fearless feedback" I decided to write down a few tips and best practices to help you get through it as well.

  • Your idea is not your baby. No matter how much time, effort, and your actual soul you put in an idea, once you show it to the world, it's out there. You can't protect it anymore. That isn't to say you should never show the ideas you love most to people, but actually you should show them to people even earlier. The more time you spend with the idea, the more it feels like it's yours, and that relationship with an idea will not only make it feel worse if the idea is killed, but it will limit it's potential for others to invest in it.
  • You are not your idea. Did the critic say "you" aren't a great idea, or rather "it" is not great idea? If you're worth giving feedback to, it's because that person believes in your creative ability. Listen to what they are saying about the idea, and do not translate it into thinking they are talking about you and not the idea.
  • There is no "the one". As humans, we like to build things up bigger and bigger in our mind, especially if they are our own ideas. This can be dangerous, because it might have you thinking that your latest idea is truly the greatest idea that has ever existed in all of history and that you'll never have as great of an idea again. This is fundamentally not true. Ideas are the easy part, even it feels hard sometimes to come up with them. Execution is where things get tricky. This is true both for advertising and startups. To avoid this pitfall, never present just one idea. Even if the other ideas feel smaller in comparison, having them there will show contrast and give a wider opportunity for feedback. You never know, you might have a diamond in the rough that someone else spots and points out to you.
  • Be critical of your own ideas. When I'm brainstorming different things, I will write down a whole bunch of thoughts as bullet points, then I will leave them for the night. The next morning, I will look over the bullet points and try to poke holes in them. This helps me understand if the idea is worth taking the next step or not. In the moment of the idea, it's hard to get that perspective.
  • Give good feedback. If you want to learn how to handle criticism better, learn to give criticism really well. Be specific about the idea, don't use general times. Notice the other person's reaction, and take it into consideration as you go through your feedback. Offer to be more specific in a follow up conversation or email. Sometimes getting lots of criticism all at once can feel like "piling on" in the moment.
  • Ask questions, don't argue. If you disagree with some of the feedback, ask about specific parts to get further clarification, or to bring a part of the idea to the forefront. Don't argue or dig in. Sometimes the person giving feedback is doing it because it's their job, but other times, you've asked for feedback, from friends or mentors. Respect what they have to say, there is usually a reason they are giving feedback.

Hopefully the thoughts above will help even the most seasoned people who don't like getting criticism deal with it a little better. Either way, never stop coming up with great ideas. Even Walt Disney was fired when he was 22 because he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas," according to the person who fired him. So take all feedback with a grain of salt.

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