Whether you are a designer, marketer, coder, or anyone else who is expected to have creative ideas – you probable know this feeling. Staring at your screen, sheet of paper, scribble on a memo and liking what you see. Your idea seems to make sense, you’ve got all angles covered, no question about it – this is your best idea yet.
Then this nagging voice in the back of your head creeps up on you. Will others like it just as much as you do? Will they see the sheer brilliance of your idea – can everyone appreciate your creative outburst or is your intellectual input refined enough. Time for some feedback…
You turn to the person next to you and ask: “Be honest, do you like this idea?”.
Of course, you already know the answer. Naturally they will say they do. They see that sparkle in your eyes, the satisfied smile on your face and the work of art that took you the last hour to create. The problem is – this has absolutely nothing to do with feedback: the process of making a serious attempt at improving your idea. And even worse – you could be missing out on an excellent opportunity to make a great idea even better.
Good feedback is about asking for trouble. Trouble to help you expose (and fix) the problems of your idea. Therefore, consider feedback to be an integral process of ideation and creation, not an afterthought (!). Getting great feedback to really improve your idea isn’t a complicated process, but it does require some awareness of your methods and intentions of asking for constructive criticism.
Who are you asking?
The first part of getting great constructive feedback is knowing who to ask. Or knowing about the context of your request for input. Consider the following persons with their advantages and disadvantages:
Someone close to you - The obvious person to approach for feedback is someone you feel comfortable talking to. Especially if it’s the first time someone gets to hear you idea you like it to ‘land softly’. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get some encouragement from this person – you know or at least suspect they will like it, point out the good things and tell you it’s a great idea. However, remember this is not the kind of feedback that will actually help you improve the idea.
An outsider - Depending on your type of idea, someone with no prior knowledge of you, or the context of the idea might be able to give some honest objective feedback. However, if this feedback is not constructive enough because he or she lacks inside ‘know-how’ an outsider will have a hard time convincing you of the alternatives. Obviously there are times when you want to know what ‘outsiders’ think. In end-user testing or market research for instance.
A fellow professional - Asking someone you respect for his or her skill in your field of work is the next obvious choice. You are likely to get some good pointers, and alternatives, but be aware of creative differences. Professionals (especially skilled ones) have developed their own vision and ‘comfort zone’ (certain assumptions they feel are safe) and you should too. A great method to evaluate the value of professional feedback is to get a 2nd opinion on your idea and the alternative offered in the feedback without disclosing what the original was.
Your boss – Anyone up in the hierarchy of your company (or school or taskforce) might not be the best person to ask for feedback. Of course your team leader or manager should be involved in the process, but approach with care in the early stages of ideation. Their ideas and criticism may be valid and constructive, you run the risk of getting a ‘to-do’ list instead of a ‘to-consider’ list because of the authority difference.
Your business/project partner – Generally a good place to for great feedback is someone with shared interest in doing it right. He or she knows the situation, but maybe not the details of your profession. A partner in a project might feel more comfortable with criticizing your idea and will have alternatives to consider.
Ask for trouble
Ask your feedbacker to point out the flaws instead of how they like it. Pointing out flaws is not passing judgment on the entire idea, just small parts of it so they’d feel less pressured into just telling you what they like to hear.
Secondly be honest about your idea. Don’t oversell the concept with hypothetical situations. Getting feedback is not a marketing pitch. Stay as objective as possible. Indicating beforehand what you think is great/weak will influence your feedback and make it less reliable.
List the problems and ask for alternative solutions. Don’t defend your choices until you’ve competed your list. This will help you keep the feedback process objective instead of getting into the differences straight away and possibly affecting feedback (he or she might feel intimidated, holding back and other comments, or perhaps feel you are not serious in getting genuine input if you thwart his or her input right away).
The list of problems and alternatives is now your ‘to be considered’ list. Evaluate them as objectively as possible with, and without the person who provided the feedback. It’s okay to be stubborn sometimes. Remember you can’t please everyone but always consider the possibility the alternative is actually better.
Most of all, don’t take feedback on your ideas as a professional personal. I know this is easy to say, and sometimes hard to do. Ideas are your brainchilds. Especially in the first moments after you’ve crystallized your idea and feel ready to share it with the world, you will feel protective of it.
The best thing to do is just wait – give it a day or two, sleep it over, and then consider asking for real feedback. You will probably notice things you hadn’t considered at the time of having the idea yourself, and you’ll be able to appreciate the input of others on how to approach these problems.
So, can you point out the flaws in this article? I’d greatly appreciate it!