The Secret Sauce to Growth — whether in product, design or any other form

Definitely not a winner.

About a month ago, the company I work for sent their product to a famous YouTube-r who promoted products on his personal page. He was hardly a novice, with all that practice in scooping out every detail of the hardware and software products delivered to him daily.

A week after, the marketing department received a reply email from him saying that he couldn’t yet post a video review of this product on his website because he didn’t test beta products. Instead, here was an 8-page long product critique detailing the good and the bad of our company’s products.

The marketing department sent it out to the rest of the team with a tone of worry. Why was this guy so critical about the product we had worked so hard for? What does this mean about the future of our company? Did our product suck enough to deserve an 8-page long critique?

When I heard this story, I was surprised. Not at the fact that he had submitted the critique, but that the marketing department had such a negative reaction. If I received this, I would be so excited — so much feedback to improve the product with! From training as a design thinker and a writer, I’ve developed a mindset of embracing feedback — in fact sometimes craving it so I can make my work better.

For sure, there was a time when I was in the shoes of the people in the marketing department, not as embracing to feedback or critique as I am now. Probably before reading books like Lean Startup and Creative Confidence, design and entrepreneurial books that shape the way I now think.

Rose, Thorn, Bud = a technique to receive feedback through good things (roses), things for improvement (thorns) and new ideas (buds)

The 3 Hindering Fears

I think my former un-embracing of critique mindset was carried by three fears:

The fear of delivering something imperfect.

No one likes to see an ugly prototype, I thought. They want something full and flawless and usable. But as I learned, that isn’t practical or realistic, because there’s always something to improve on in every product. Better to send something that’s a quick draft, so you won’t keep spending wasted time on something people don’t actually use. Get that validation early!

The fear of the negative implications of critique.

Critique shouldn’t be a bad thing! It only means the outcome can get better from there. Maybe feedback is a softer word, but should not be seen as negative nonetheless.

The fear of looking unprofessional or stupid.

In transitioning into college, discussion-based classes terrified me. I had a hard time speaking out because I was afraid of what people thought if I said something stupid. But it’s important to learn that there isn’t a stupid question — with all people’s perspectives and ways of looking things, asking something novice should not be looked down upon. I like to think I’m better at speaking away at my thoughts (in moderate amounts!)

Look at those young ones.

The Marshmallow Challenge

One of my favorite activities that showcases the importance of getting validation early before finishing a task is the Marshmallow Challenge.

The activity is simple: using spaghetti sticks and tape, build the tallest tower! The catch? A marshmallow has to go on top of it.

What demographic won the challenge most often? Not the adults who carefully calculated their every move and ended up putting their marshmallow right at the very end, only to realize that their structure was too unstable for it. But the younglings, who tried time and again to their marshmallow up to see if it worked, and iterated based on that information.

It’s important to test your ideas out as early, as quickly and as rapidly as you can, similar to receiving feedback early.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett

Don’t be scared!

Feedback works in my favor (and in yours, too!)

  1. I can only get better from there. Sure the product has a faulty button. Sure it has horrible UI mapping. Perfect! Now I know what I can fix.
  2. The feedback-giver sees the potential in the product and wants to improve it. They aren’t out to get you. The fact that they were willing to go through your product step by step and give detailed observations shows they want your product to improve — they wouldn’t care otherwise.
  3. I don’t spend any more effort creating a product that others won’t use. With vast competition in all areas of product, it’s important to stay relevant to the changing personas and cultures around you.

Maybe it’s all the entrepreneurial and design books I’ve read, but asking for feedback, creating not totally perfect minimum viable products, pushing prototypes before they’re ready — all these are necessary to create something astonishing. So make that draft, build that prototype and send it out early, before you end up creating something no one desires.