“On Feedback” Wiser Next Week for Business #2

Wiser Next Week for Business is a follow up to the original Wiser Next Week. Similar to its predecessor, it takes the knowledge of many and condenses it into one categorized book. This time, rather than focusing on the reader’s personal life, the matters of work and career are discussed in greater detail.

Wiser Next Week for Business will be released chapter by chapter.

“Why did God give me two ears and one mouth? So that I will hear more and talk less.” -Leo Rosten

Why it Matters: As you put purposeful and deliberate intent into what you are practicing, you will do some things very well and others that need improvement on. Friends, family, peers, superiors and subordinates will be available to give you pointers on how to improve. As no great feat was ever achieved by any one individual person, it is important to get the most out of the feedback you receive.

If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Know

In order to receive feedback, you must ask, whether it be family, friends or business associates. The worst part about avoiding feedback and ignoring the truth is that you will be the only one left in the dark and “not in on the secret.” Other people have already noticed the truth, and maybe those people have already told their friends, their family, their mentors, their business associates what they are dissatisfied with. You can either turn a blind eye to it, or you can face the truth.1 Either way, it is you and only you that stands to gain from receiving feedback.

When getting feedback of any type, positive or negative, accept it from a neutral place and say, “Thank you.” If you don’t reply with a judgmental comment, you can’t get into an argument. Hearing people out does not make you dumber. So listen and say thank you.2

All professional athletes have coaches, all professional musicians have teachers, and all professional businessmen (and women) should have a mentor. your mentor should be an informal relationship, not a formal one, in other words, find a mentor, but make sure they are your friend. There’s plenty of paid mentorship programs, but informal mentorship yields better results than formal mentorship, specifically because mentors are more invested in helping their mentees through struggling times when they feel personally connected to them. Paying someone to tell you what to do can help some of the time, but when a true friend commits to helping you get up to his or her level, that’s the kind of mentorship that’ll show the biggest results.3

Improving Your Offer

Getting useful feedback from your potential customers is the core of the Iteration Cycle. Useful feedback from real prospects helps you understand how well your offer meets their needs before development is complete, which allows you to make changes before you start selling. Think of it as preventative maintenance, before you invest a ton of time, energy and resources towards your venture, you want to make sure that it is something people actually want. Here are some key takeaways when asking for feedback:

  • Get feedback from real potential customers rather than from friends and family. Your loved ones typically want you to succeed and want to maintain a good relationship with you, so it’s likely that they’ll unintentionally sugarcoat their feedback. Seek individuals that will be objective in their feedback. Look to colleagues, experts in your field and individuals that fit your target market.
  • Ask open-ended questions, then shut up. Talk and ask just enough questions to keep the conversation going, but listen more than you talk. Encourage them to do most of the talking because when you are talking you’re not listening and when you’re not listening you’re not learning. And throughout the conversation, stay steady and calm. Be objective in your analysis and don’t get defensive. The truth may be bitter just like vegetables aren’t the most enjoyable thing to eat. Both however are good for you.  
  • The truth might be brutal, but that isn’t the worst feedback you can get. Just because people tell you something you don’t want to hear doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world, see it as a challenge to get from where you now are to where your prospects want you to be. The worst type of feedback is total apathy. If no one seems to care about what you’ve created, you don’t have a viable business idea.
  • Give potential customers the opportunity to pre-order. One of the most important pieces of feedback you can receive during the iteration process is the other person’s willingness to actually purchase what you’re creating. It’s one thing for a person to say that they’d buy something and quite another for them to be willing to pull out their wallet or credit card and place a real order. Remember that people can give false courtesies by saying how great they think your product is when they don’t even mean it, but an entirely different story when people are willing to put their money where their mouth is. You can do this even if the offer isn’t ready yet—a tactic called Shadow Testing. If no one is willing to pre-order, you know you have more work to do before you have a viable offer—by asking why they’re not willing to purchase right now, you’ll discover what’s holding them back.4

We all have a why and while finding it isn’t always easy, it’s only the first step. After all, you want to live your why, not just know it. This is where your how’s are factored in. They are the attitudes and behaviors that enable you to do your best work. Your how’s include both very specific habits and more general points of view. For example, whether you are an introvert or extrovert belongs in the first category, while being good at marketing goes into the second. Knowing the former helps you move towards a job or style of work that supports those habits. The latter helps you make important decisions.5 Say for instance that you have always had always preferred learning in a real-life setting designing and experimenting with models rather than sitting in a classroom taking notes, and you also happen to have a strong grasp of hard sciences such as math. Knowing that you like to tinker with things points you towards professions where day-to-day tasks include hands on activities rather than sitting in front of a computer all day. Knowing that you’re good at math will help you in deciding career paths that lean towards being numbers focused. In this example, being a civil engineer that builds bridges can be a viable option.

But how do you identify your how’s? Just like past stories help you identify your purpose; past behavior can give you a good idea of how you should best go about living it. Take some time to think about how you work, write down the daily routines as well as the specific situations that allowed you to perform best in the past and which high level skills you’ve accumulated so far.6 Going back to the example of the engineer, let’s say in your current situation there is a precession of meetings every Monday which quite literally puts you to sleep. As the week continues, you’ve noticed that Fridays are consistently the week where you are the most productive. The next step is to find out why this is the case. What makes your Fridays so special? Is it because on Friday you can come into the office whenever you like as long as things get done? Perhaps you are more productive during the evenings. Is it because your higher-ups take off for a long weekend? Maybe having more autonomy leads you to greater productivity.

Numbers Don’t Lie

When it comes to creating a company, data is really just all vital, numerical information that describes your business. Every business collects and amasses hundreds of kinds of data in its lifetime. These are called metrics and for each metric you in turn gain thousands of specific values (data points) over time,

     Without data, any good entrepreneur will lie to themselves about how good their business really is, their opinions after all, are subject to the whims of emotions. If this self-belief turns into delusion, that’s no good. Take for instance a hypothetical new men’s clothing company, the owner of the company thinks he has created a revolutionary new shirt design. The shirt has a zipper hidden within the placket as well as a foldable tail. The zipper prevents skin from being exposed when there are “placket bumps” whenever the wearer is moving about, and the foldable tail allows the shirt length to be adjustable so that the shirt can be worn tucked or untucked. The owner thinks it’s a brilliant idea and believes he’s well on his way to selling hundreds than thousands of shirts. So, he opened up his online marketplace, and crickets. “No problem!” the owner thinks, “I just have to get noticed.” So, he drops hundreds of dollars on his Google and Facebook ads campaign, not to make a sale, just to direct people to a landing page where they can leave their email to stay informed on the shirt prototype’s progress. He collects a grand total of two emails. Still not deterred, he starts a blog, believing that he needs one in order to build authority in the men’s fashion industry. Do you see where this is going?

Successfully building a company comes down to finding the middle ground between believing in your dream and building something the world actually needs. Said another way, data is the objective means of measuring whether the world cares about what you have to offer.7 There is a reason why the back-end of a business heavily emphasizes financial statements as it provides a quick snapshot of a company. One of the most highly emphasized of course is net profit. Net profit answers the question everyone wants to know, is the operation bringing in money? Of course, there are many other important factors but the point is that the numbers are what they are no matter how people feel about them. And that is what makes historic based numbers especially so insightful. Forecasts and expectations are based on logically deducing the information available at the present moment. As a result, there are no guarantees of its accuracy. Historical data is based on what is already said and done, there are practically no opinions or speculations, just facts. And facts are the foundation on which the best possible decisions can be made right now.  

Takeaway: You may think that your idea is great, but ultimately the most important thing is that other people think your idea is great. Hearing the thoughts and opinions of mentors and customers serves as a reality check that snaps you out of any potential delusions you may fall under. Keep your mouth shut and just listen, it’s not about what you think is great for other people, it’s what other people expect from your offer. As you keep improving, numbers will play a huge role in indicating your progress, the numbers don’t lie, if more and more people are voting for you with their wallets, that’s an indicator that you’re doing it right. 

  1. “The Success Principles for Teens” Healy Kent and Jack Canfield
  2. “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There” Marshall Goldsmith
  3. “Smartcuts” Shane Snow
  4. “The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education” Josh Kaufman
  5. 6. “Find Your Why” Simon Sinek

 7“Lean Analytics” Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz

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