Awesome You Be


Andy reflecting 

How to Get Realistic Feedback from Friends and Yourself

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

When you want feedback on an idea, particularly an idea about life change, there is a bad way to ask for feedback and a good way. The good way is not obvious, but surprisingly effective. First, let us look at the obvious, but bad way, to ask for feedback.

Let me tell you a story. A while back, I got fed up with my work and fantasised about a dream of my much younger days: being an artist. In those days, I wanted to be the greatest sculptor who ever lived and perhaps it was the realisation, that I lacked the wherewithal to achieve the greatness aspect of the dream, that led to my doing a course to teach English as a foreign language and moving to Lisbon instead of pursuing sculpting; but this is another story all together. Since then, I have done a lot of things in a lot of places, but I have never really been an artist.

A couple of years ago, I thought I might be able to scrape together a living − or at least a partial living − doing slightly abstracted portraits and other commissions in my unique painting style.

I asked friends what they thought and they all said it was a brilliant idea. A high income expat community in Brussels would surely be a lucrative market. "Go for it!" they pretty much universally exclaimed. So, I went for it, albeit cautiously. I put out a few adverts in local media. I put up some info on my web site and the result was...

...very nearly nothing. No interest. Phhhhhtt!

I should not have been surprised. I've often asked for feedback on my ideas and I've often got positive feedback that felt good but bore little relation to reality.

Fortunately, I did not dump my existing work on innovation consulting, speaking and training, because becoming an artist was not going to pay the mortgage. Not even close. In the end, I had only lost some time and a little money promoting a new activity. I also got some painting done, which was a positive thing. However, had I given up everything to pursue art, I probably would have been screwed. That kind of thing is fine for a single person in his or her 20s, but dangerous for a somewhat older single father with a mortgage.

The good way to get feedback

The thing is, when you ask friends for feedback on ideas, they are likely to be overly optimistic. The like you. They know you want the idea to work. They know that even if you ask for honest feedback, deep down in your heart, you really want encouragement. And, most importantly, they do not have the distance to disconnect your idea from your passion.

So, if you want useful, honest feedback, give them that distance. Instead of making the idea be about you, make it be about someone else. Instead of telling friends I wanted to be an artist, I should have told them I had met a guy who was thinking about giving up his corporate work in order to paint portraits of expats in Brussels. I could even say that I thought it was a cool idea. In effect, I am asking for feedback on the same idea. But as it is no longer about me, friends will look more at the viability of the idea itself rather than try to please me.

The first person to askCartoon - woman asking self for advice

But before you ask your friends for feedback, ask yourself. Make the idea be about someone else. Imagine this other person wants to start a business like yours, or make a big career change like you do, or sell her house and travel the world for five years as you dream of doing. How would you respond? What feedback would you give this person? What would you suggest she watch out for? You will find that you can look at very personal ideas much more pragmatically when you make those ideas be about someone else.

And you will also find your friends give more useful advice if they think it is someone else's dream about which you ask for feedback.





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