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The Feedback Collection - 0001
Collect is a verb
Surprise! One last note before launch.
The below is an excerpt from my book Entrepreneurial Creativity that I believe is an important call out before we begin this journey in earnest on Monday. If you haven’t yet, please consider subscribing.
From Chapter 8 …
A normal trap for creatives is to assume that feedback is happening to us, rather than because of us. We treat it this way because the easiest thing to do after publicly unveiling our work is to take a defensive posture. We create wanting others to see, hear, or participate in our work, but forget the exposed feeling that comes when we introduce it to our audience until that moment is already upon us. There are few minds more vulnerable than one introducing something new to the world. A defensive reaction is natural for anyone who feels exposed. Suddenly the decision between fight or flight overwhelms, and we forget the critical component in effectively utilizing feedback in the creative process: it’s on us.
It’s on us. Three simple words form an idea that serve persistently throughout the creative process, but are most vital as we finish a project and look to the next. If we are merely bracing for impact we are going to wind up getting run over time and time again. This defensive posture is more likely to cause us to bend or break with each new gust of wind than if we proactively worked through the breeze. The first step away from defensiveness is knowing that listening and being open to critique is not a passive endeavor, it is an activity. I have been creating content consistently since I was 12 years old. You would think that after the 117th time of receiving feedback that I didn’t ask for, I would have learned that whether I am proactive or not: it is coming. It may have been after the 342nd time, but I do think I have finally wised up; by being proactive, feedback will no longer happen to us, but through us. This simple shift in our mental approach to feedback makes it much more difficult to be defensive, and inherently puts the onus on us as the creator to do the digging.
We have all heard the verb “collect” used alongside feedback, but have likely not taken the time to step back and understand the connotations of using this specific verb. Whether we collect stamps, coins, Pokemon cards, NFTs or feedback we are going to have some items that stand out, and plenty of others that are best categorized as “well, they exist.” Again, by making this part of the creative process an action, we are taking ownership of what is useful and what merely “exists.” A collector has both rare gems and common jewels. They do not throw out one because they have the other, but they do properly label them.
We want to collect as much feedback as possible because it increases the possibilities of discovering something invaluable. The most common mistake made by someone just starting to be an active participant in the feedback gathering process, is that they go to their comfort zone first, second, third and fourth. They have decided to collect feedback, but “forgot” to carbon copy a few people who have provided direct or harsh feedback historically. When it comes to collecting, if we are serious about it, we must cast a wide net.
Now imagine for a moment that we are baseball card collectors and about to open a pack of cards. We know it is improbable that we are going to discover a signed 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card that sold for $5.2 million in 2021. Yet, the possibility of what lies inside that metallic wrapper is a thrill. This is the same approach we should be taking with feedback. Excitement about what is possible with other’s input is central to the creative mind. That excitement is curiosity. Opening up to feedback, like opening up a pack of baseball cards to the good and the bad, is the heart of the creative’s spirit. It’s important to note that over time a collector learns where to go for the most valuable sources in adding to their collection, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t value to be found elsewhere.
Once we begin to understand that collecting feedback is an active pursuit, the second step in filtering the wheat from the chaff is pattern recognition. Our tendency is to overcomplicate this, but it is as straightforward as it sounds. Feedback we receive is often convoluted, but how we filter it is not. There are a ton of great ideas about this topic, but I have found that none are more practical or beneficial than thinking critically about the patterns you see or hear in the feedback you collect.
We could use the trust quotient, a formula on how humans give and receive trust, to identify people worth hearing out over others - but that approach can easily lead to unintended blind spots. You could rely solely on subject matter experts, but again, it can lead to missing information (does what you are producing make sense to the non-experts, for example). Another reason I am imploring that we claim pattern recognition as our feedback filter is not because it is immune to missing information but because it is yet another way to take personal responsibility in the process. Yes, we could still be missing something but it’s better if the dependency is ourselves and not for a lack of listening.
Pattern recognition works both in the immediate nature of a project - sifting through what we have collected on something we have produced, and the long term. As we collect feedback on various projects, we can start to identify who is more likely to add a keen insight that leads to better work or a trivial bashing that leads nowhere. With ourselves as the driver, collector, and sorter of inputs - we can then see what is working best for us individually. Put simply, some people draw out the best in other people, but they might not do so with us - and that is perfectly fine.
We ought to take Martin Scorcese for example. Scorcese is undoubtedly one of the best filmmakers of all time. Any filmmaker then, should certainly rank any feedback from Scorcese high on the priority list of things to consider. Except, he is also known to loathe the super hero genre of film, going so far as to say these movies “aren’t cinema.” This presents the next great Batman director seeking feedback with a difficult dilemma. Fortunately, I believe Scorcese unintentionally solved this quandary for us in an opinion piece addressing the topic in the New York Times.
“The fact that the (super hero) films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament.” Scorcese sandwiches this essential line in the middle of what is a large and pointed piece of feedback aimed at the film industry. It’s easy to lose sight of this caveat as it is surrounded by a thoughtful and visceral teardown of what he believes production studios have become. Yet he must admit that it is his take, not nature’s law, in order to keep up the appearances of objectivity. If I were fortunate enough to actually receive feedback from the owner of 24 Oscars (and counting) about a super hero film I was trying to make, it would be smart to hone in on asking and hearing him on the things for which he cares deeply about like the “aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation” (or lack thereof) in my movie. This fictitious scenario is laughable, but poignant, and the practicality of feedback being ours to drive, collect, and sort becomes clearer through it. Focusing on the elements that the critic or friend are experts in or passionate about, rather than their words about our form of expression can be vital notes to include in either our revisions or the next project.
The experienced creative sees feedback through their own lens so that others may eventually see what they see. I’m sure many who immediately (scoffed at this newsletter’s simple premise) and are no longer reading are likely to side with Scorcese in the debate about cinema. To that, both the next director of Batman and I should be perfectly fine with their assessments, and also perfectly happy to hear them out. We must be okay with not making everyone happy, but rather, focused on what is going to make our work better. It is helpful to take advice or input in areas one has common ground with the critic. An interpretive dancer might not want to listen to the storyteller who dislikes interpretive dance, but they may share a common ground in telling a story. It would be wise though, for the dancer to listen to the storyteller’s feedback on their narrative but probably better to ignore the commentary on his art form overall. This book’s intended audience is anyone looking to create, and as that includes most of the population, it should be unsurprising that I might find people whose “personal taste and temperament” disagree. Similarly, the next Marvel film is aimed at a general audience and it should be expected for Scorcese not to be at the premiere.
If there is any doubt remaining, I care deeply about practicality in creative pursuits which is why I will share the rather embarrassing detail that it took two years of being given feedback that I was too practical before actually noticing the pattern and acting on it. “Yeah, but that’s why I get all of this other stuff done,” was my internal response - pointing for no one to see at the rest of the feedback littered with praise. This “you’re too practical” feedback was alluding me in practice because I thought it was what made me good at what I was doing. This is the biggest barrier to recognizing the patterns in the feedback we receive on full display. It’s there, whether it has been vocalized or in an email, or the YouTube comment section, but we miss it through creative caveating and blind justification. After all, the feedback allowed for a canned response if I were ever asked the cliché job interview question, “What is your biggest weakness?” The answer would be easy, “I can be too practical, but ...”
The true “but” for me was: if not but for my longtime manager, colleague, and friend Stacy Minero spelling it out clearly to me, “You have to understand perception is reality,” that everything fell into place. Stacy is well regarded for her ability to invent new phrases and command a stage, but oddly enough it was her use of an old familiar saying in the right moment that helped me turn a new leaf. I was able to recognize what the repeated feedback meant I had to do to improve. After all, as someone who craves practicality, a practical framing was tremendously helpful. The incredible part of this feedback as the pieces fell into place for me, was that what I had been viewing as negative or unfair was actually people trying to express that I had more potential than someone who simply executes others’ ideas. I can confidently say that there is a less than zero percent chance I would be writing these words without finally having understood the pattern that was staring me in the face. My practicality was inhibiting my ability to see through wider lenses and if left unchecked, would lead to stunting the creative opportunities that lay outside my narrow focus.
Driving, collecting, and sorting - all verbs - are the creators responsibility in any feedback setting. The more we learn to operate with rigor even after a project is complete, the better we are at refining and growing our creative work. When reflecting on all of the feedback we have received throughout our lives, we should be able to apply this thinking and see if we either A) already did this at least once or B) if things could have gone better with this new approach. It’s true, the feedback comes from elsewhere, but ultimately the resulting work? It’s on us.
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