Critics that matter

If you invent or launch or market (and you're human) it's likely that you have the voice of the critic in the back of your head. It's natural to fear what they'll say, and if you're not careful, you'll end up redesigning your product to please them before you even launch it.

Imagine the restaurant chef who changes the interior of the restaurant to please the Michelin critic (they insist on a certain quality of cutlery in order to award a three star review). It might be your boss who is the critic. Or consider the B2B manufacturer who alters the product specs in order to meet the standards of the GAO so he can sell to the US Government…

Some critics matter. (Your biggest customer, for example). Some are merely loud. Others are just difficult.

Janet Maslin at the New York Times is a cranky hack. She reviews popular fiction and non-fiction, and as best I can tell, she likes neither very much. She's taken authors to task for questionable copy editing and devoted entire reviews to pointless rants about trivia. Here's the thing: she doesn't matter. Janet's reviews appear to have no impact at all on whether or not a book sells. Her voice is not in my head.

Robert Morris, on the other hand, is a useful guide for people in search of good books. He's reviewed nearly 2,000 books and received almost 25,000 helpful votes for his reviews on Amazon. If he likes your book, you're going to sell more copies–not because he liked it, but because his thorough review lets other people decide if they want to buy it or not.

The challenge is in figuring out which kind of critic is worth paying attention to as you create your product or service. In a business to business setting, pleasing the gatekeeper and the bill payer is essential. On the other hand, pleasing an angry blogger might not matter at all.

In our desire to please everyone, it's very easy to end up being invisible or mediocre. Far better to please the right people.