“Seek feedback from disagreeable people. Find a few people who are critical and skeptical by nature, and ask them to tear your idea apart. The tough love will be valuable.”
– Adam Grant
I’m not sure why I ask for the bad news first whenever someone says they have good news and bad news to tell me.
Maybe it was my upbringing (when I tended to be a bit more pessimistic); or maybe it’s my need to “save the best for last”; or maybe it’s my desire to always improve whenever possible.
I’m hoping it’s the need to improve angle.
I think I want the bad news first because that is the news (especially when it is in the form of advice and feedback) that I can act on.
While I love good news as much as anyone, people telling me how great things are is more about getting a quick, short-lived rush of happiness; while hearing how to improve will have more impact for the long term.
Another way to frame it:
The more “bad news” I can get (and work on), the more good news there will be in the future.
That’s why I love the Adam Grant quote above.
For those of you who don’t know Grant, he is the author of Give and Take, an incredibly important book (and philosophy) that I wrote about in my post, “How to keep your right arm” and I will expand upon it even further in my new book.
Grant’s quote above is another spin on what it means to be a true giver to those you love and care about. He emphasizes that you need to give the right way without being taken advantage of; but you also need to give in a way that is honest and helpful, not just saying what the other person wants to hear.
If you take inventory right now of the people you call your “best friends,” are they people who always tell you the truth?
If they are your best friends, they are hopefully not “disagreeable by nature” (at least to you) but will they always be there to give you any “bad news” you might have a blind spot about?
And give you that news without love ever leaving the room?
That’s the definition of a best friend.
And if you have too many friends who only tell you how great you are all the time (and how wonderful everything is with them), you may not need to get new friends but you may need to attract more folks into your inner circle who disagree with you a lot more, and who are skeptical by nature.
You need to make sure your best ideas aren’t only the best in your own mind.
I have to admit that surrounding myself with disagreeable people is not my first choice (as Grant suggests)…I believe that you can surround yourself with people who can disagree with you without being disagreeable.
Regardless, you need mechanisms in your life to make sure that you are not the only one falling in love with every idea you have and that you have honest sounding boards who can tell you the truth, even if it sounds like it is bad news, so you can adjust and make meaningful changes.
And however you hear the “bad news,” you must be able to take it in without anything you hear being taken personally.
I can’t think of anywhere where having these mechanisms in place is more valuable than in marketing and creative.
Throughout my career I always had consultants “on the payroll” who, believe it or not, were not paid to agree with all of my brilliant ideas.
They were paid (and therefore invaluable) to do something far more important:
They always told the truth rather than tell me what I wanted to hear.
I know I have saved myself from so many lame ideas for new products or promotions because I had smart skeptics on my team all the time.
On the creative front, every great copywriter I have ever known or worked with has an inner circle of other copywriters to read and review what they write.
These are reciprocal arrangements that are not a mutual admiration society but a way to make their copy sing at the highest level with input and constructive criticism from an outside perspective (and expert) they trust.
So I have good news and bad news for you:
The bad news is that there is around a 100% chance that every awesome idea you have ever had may not be as awesome as you think.
But the good news is that there is always someone who can save you from your own brilliance and remind you that there might be another way to go.
Find those people and remember that they are truly your best friends.
P.S. I love studying this idea of running your best ideas past skeptics and critics you trust…and given the egos of most of the copywriters I have ever known, if they do it, so can we.
Two writers in particular who had the healthiest of egos (and for good reason) were Gene Schwartz and Bill Jayme.
But the reason why they were both heroes and mentors to thousands went way beyond how impressed they were with their own work.
It was their humility and their willingness to hear opposite viewpoints combined with their healthy egos that was the winning formula.
They certainly dismissed their critics on certain things…but they were always tweaking and re-considering based on the tough love they sought from anyone they considered a master like themselves.
It’s no accident that I promote books and swipes from these two greats. Success leaves clues.
If you missed previous posts about Gene Schwartz and Bill Jayme, here are links to what I wrote about them:
Schwartz and Jayme prove that a healthy ego with an open mind (and a willingness to get multiple opinions) leads to more success than simply doing it on your own.
While I know they both agree that “writing copy by committee” is impossible, they also understood that running their best stuff through others who have seen lots of best stuff in the past is never a bad idea.