Start with someone else’s work

A simple approach to learning how to solicit and receive feedback: Begin by showing a well-meaning peer someone else’s novel, painting, design or business plan…

You might discover that when you show it to a friend (“here’s a chapter from a novel I’m writing” or “Here’s the logo my firm is considering”) you get harsh, direct criticism, filled with certainty and warning.

It’s easier to hear, because it’s not your work. They’re busy criticizing a chapter that JK Rowling wrote, or a logo that the late Milton Glaser created.

“Oh,” you’ll realize, “this isn’t about the work, it’s about me, it’s about someone trying to help me avoid heartache later.”

It turns out that most people are unpracticed and unprofessional at giving useful feedback. Learning to differentiate well-meaning fear-on-your-behalf from actually useful insight is a great first step in understanding who to ask when it really matters.

We don’t need unwarranted criticism or simple reassurance. In fact, we need someone who understands genre and has the insight to share what they know in a way we can use.