No matter who you are, where you live or what you do, if you really
want to learn something about your work, your ideas or a particular
product, you only have to ask. Of course, asking for feedback can feel
embarrassing and even frightening. Still, listening to other's consul
and opinion is one of the most important ways that we learn to improve
our own ideas.
The idea for this column came to me as I was watching a presentation
at BarCampLA-3 (http://barcampla.org/), an un-conference here in Los
Angeles that runs about every 6 months. One of the first sessions was
Susie from SuperViva.com, a goal-tracking web site. I was impressed
with the site, but I was even more impressed with Susie. She demonstrated
the site and then asked everyone in attendance for their comments,
questions and ideas. That takes guts! It also provided her with a wealth
of information on what new features people might want and how to modify
the site to better meet the members' needs. Susie clearly thought her
site was ready for review and knew she needed input from a wide variety
of people, so BarCampLA offered her a great opportunity.
Now, you don't have to go as far as presenting your work in a public
forum, at least not yet, but there is a variety of ways to put the
power of "asking" behind any of your projects, personal or
professional. Start small and then grow into more public environments
and larger groups of people as your project matures.
The first step in getting feedback on your ideas or projects is to
collect a trusted and smart group of friends. Once you feel you have
your idea in some basic form, take the idea to them and ask them
what they think. This initial discussion can, and should, alter
idea, adding features, removing others and getting you to the next
You start with a small group so you can acclimate yourself to the
fear that all of us feel when we ask others about our ideas. We
others will hate the idea or even worse, want to change the idea
so much that it no longer feels like our own. This fear is real
It is also the one thing that can keep you from learning and growing,
so it must be overcome at all costs. Some of us can dismiss it through
our own willpower. Others, like myself, will have to use tricks or
rewards or otherwise force us beyond the fear. Whatever method you
find best, you must move beyond the fear.
After your initial round of feedback, and any tweaks you have made
to your idea or project, it is time to implement the first version.
This version doesn't have to be complete, but it should offer some
clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Now it's time to
expand your feedback group. From the very beginning, everyone should
to provide feedback on your idea or project.
Nothing can replace this
hands on "usability" testing that the only the real world
can provide. You will quickly notice issues and you should work just
as quickly to resolve them. Sometimes, you might change one feature,
only to realize that the initial idea was better. Change it back. Do
whatever it takes to meet your user's needs. I can guarantee that you
will be learning something important every day.
Now that you have your idea or project in some basic shape, you repeat
the process with an even larger group. This new group will bring different
needs, thoughts and experiences to your project and help to refine
it even more. Their ideas might contradict the concerns of earlier
users, but you might find that this is simply a sign that a feature
doesn't work as well for 1,000 people as it did for 100. Again, you
tweak and change, add and remove features and continue refining your
At this point, you have probably started to communicate your idea to
the world at large, but this certainly doesn't mean you stop taking
input from those around you. In fact, this process should continue
for the life of your product or service. If you don't make a concerted
effort to continually receive and act on feedback, you are stunting
the growth of your ideas and business..
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