Seek early feedback
November 20, 2022
This is the Too Many Trees newsletter, where I share what I’ve been writing and reading in the realm of leadership and personal development. My executive coaching practice is centered around the idea that we are more effective in moving towards our goals when we become more conscious and intentional in focusing our time and attention, and learn how our unconscious patterns are holding us back. If you know somebody that could benefit from my perspective, please forward this to them or let them know they can set up a free intro chat with me.
I’ve been making slow but steady progress on writing my book this month, trying to write 30-60 minutes each day. If you’re interested in giving early feedback, here are rough drafts of the intro chapter and chapter 1.
I posted the intro chapter on LinkedIn for such early feedback last week. I was inspired by Write Useful Books, which suggested that it’s better to get early feedback to find out if you’re writing something useful, rather than spend months writing in solitude before discovering that nobody cares about what you’re writing.
And the vast majority of the feedback I got was positive, which was encouraging because if the principles I offer in the intro chapter didn’t resonate, there would be no point in continuing writing to expand each principle out into its own chapter.
I also got one feedback comment from Jennie Nash, the book coach whose exercises I’ve been using from her Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book. And she challenged me to get more specific with my ideal reader and speak more directly to them, because she did not hear my authentic voice in the initial draft I posted.
That feedback stung, as I had spent several hours refining my understanding of my ideal reader, and several hours writing that draft trying to find that authentic voice. In fact, you can see my first comment response to her was very defensive, even though I had explicitly asked for feedback and should have been thrilled I was getting free advice from a book coach. My friend reminded me of that, and after sleeping on it, I was able to read her feedback more constructively and incorporate some of what I think she meant in my revised draft linked above.
Now imagine if I had spent hundreds of hours writing my book in private over several months before sharing anything with the world. My defensiveness would have been off the charts, as I would have put too much of my ego and identity into my writing to absorb or respond to critical feedback. I’m glad I got the advice to put early drafts out for feedback, as the book will be better for it.
Of course, I’m sharing this experience because this advice does not just apply to writing. If you are working on a major project at work, I recommend getting early feedback from stakeholders with appropriate framing of “What do you think of the direction this is heading?” If you are in a relationship, ask your partner for explicit feedback, so that you are not dependent on mind reading to stay aligned and avoid the building of resentment.
There are cases where early feedback may be a detriment, especially if you are doing something truly creative and new, or something that will push cultural boundaries, as traditional gatekeepers will be invested in blocking you regardless of the quality of your work. But even that can be a good signal if you are resonating with your intended audience, and angering those who are explicitly not your audience, because that shows you are saying something meaningful.
Reid Hoffman once said “If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late”. The advantage of launching early is that if your product is solving a genuine problem, people will find their way to you no matter how clunky the interface. If it is not solving a genuine problem, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into polishing and optimizing - the core product is not viable.
I am hoping that by launching my writing early and possibly embarrassingly, I will learn whether this book is solving a genuine problem. I think it is, because it’s a problem I faced in my own life and career, and one many of my clients have faced as well. What do you think?
And now for the normal personal development content…
LinkedIn: These are ideas that have helped my clients (or myself), and that I share via LinkedIn to help a wider audience.
Starve drama by ignoring it. George Bernard Shaw once said “Never wrestle with a pig because you'll both get dirty and the pig likes it." Similarly, people who love drama are generally starved for attention. Giving them attention, even negative attention, is giving them what they want, so walk away instead.
Personal development is product development. In your career, you are the product, and investing significantly in "product development" is essential for the long-term viability of your career, and your ability to adapt to changing conditions.
You can’t make everyone happy. If you try to appeal to everybody, you put your energy into that appeasement effort rather than something more meaningful. Instead, you can make a different choice to authentically speak up for what you believe in. Yes, that choice might drive some people away...and that's okay, because they weren't your people anyway.
Articles and resources I’ve found interesting:
The Emotional Labor of Being a Leader, by Dina Denham Smith and Alicia A. Grandey in HBR. Many of my clients don’t recognize how emotionally exhausting the work of leadership is, as their jobs shift from technical problems to people problems. This is why they often fall back into doing the technical work that brought them previous success, and stall their leadership growth as a result.
Reboot podcast on being a woman leader. Quoting the episode description, “Sally Helgesen and Ali Schultz explore the tendencies and habits that often contribute to women feeling stuck in their leadership roles. Sally describes how women leaders have a different perception, or way of being and seeing, that can make for a markedly different leadership style and offers models of what leadership can become when guided by feminine principles.”
The Knowledge Project podcast interview with Alan Mulally. In 2011, Larry Page got obsessed with Mulally after reading American Icon, the book describing how Mulally turned Ford around, and had Mulally join Google's board. I read the book at the time and was impressed as well. It was interesting to hear his leadership philosophy in his own words, as he shared clear principles in how his teams worked together (and how his family functioned). His first principle is "People First! Love 'em up!", which might not be what you’d expect from an engineer leader from Boeing and Ford.
Thanks for reading! See you in a couple weeks!