You know business books which spend 300 pages explaining something that is easily laid out in a few sentences? I’m looking at you, Millionaire Next Door (to be a millionaire, buy a used Toyota and cheap vodka – there, I summarized it for you).

Well, here are my golden rules of feedback:

  1. About 1-in-10 people ask for feedback on things
  2. About 1-in-10 of those will try to action the feedback

Some multiplication will tell you that only about 1% of people are able to both ask for and use feedback. If you think about it, that about explains the 1% of people who’re successful at whatever they’re trying to do.

Feedback sucks.

For whatever reason, we don’t like being wrong. It feels bad.

Most people want to feel good, and someone pointing out their mistakes doesn’t tend to induce that special unicorns-and-puppies feeling.

Here’s how most people approach feedback:

  1. Don’t ask for feedback at all

Things are much safer that way, in the same way that a ship is safe in a harbor. But they’re meant to be sailed.

Today, I got an email from a company asking for feedback. This is a great start.

Underneath the summary text, the huge logo and then two paragraphs of text I was invited to click a link to give feedback. Clicking the link lead to this:

feedback1Now – this is how you don’t ask for feedback.

But lets back up. Why should we want feedback?

You need feedback because you have no idea if what you’re doing is correct. You have made some guesses, perhaps even educated guesses. But you need the humility to figure out if you’re wrong. Should the widget you made be blue or red? The quicker and cheaper you can find out, the better.

It’s very easy for us to think we’re right, but we usually aren’t. The cost of being wrong if we’re talking about who’ll win Superbowl 100 isn’t super high. But where money, life and business are concerned it can be very painful.

So although most people, maybe 80%, don’t ask for feedback at all there is another 10%-20% who ask but are just really bad at it. It usually goes like this:

  1. Grudgingly ask for feedback
  2. Figure out how to disagree with it and do whatever I want anyway

I see this all the time. Like in that example above, let’s see it again:


What’s wrong with this is varied, but it comes down to wasting my time. I had to:

  1. Open the email
  2. Read it
  3. Click the link
  4. Wait for it to load
  5. Answer some number of questions, starting with the most dumb question of all. Dumb, because you’re asking me if I’m a customer when I obviously am.

Each of those steps throws out potential responses. The number of people sent the email might start at a 1,000 or so, but then that gets cut down to perhaps 5 or 10 responses if we’re lucky. This is because every step will lose people. Fewer steps are better.

Here’s all you need to ask –

What one thing would you change with [Product/Service/Thing]?

That’s all you need to ask. And you can do that in the email without sending people to a website.

Most people are more than happy to tell you the one thing. Then you collate all the responses together and crucially you actually try the thing.

If the customers say it should be red but you like blue, all you need to do is try it. Maybe they’re wrong. But if so, the costs are trying some red for a while. If they’re right then the upside can be huge because you’ve learnt something and applied it.

That’s what we call an asymmetric payoff, and it’s what I help people figure out all the time. If you want some help, give me a call.