On Accepting Feedback

As designers, we are often put in situations that require us to ask peers and clients and mentors for feedback. Sometimes it’s because we don’t trust ourselves, other times it’s because we genuinely have a creative dilemma.

Most people will gladly give you feedback or advice or suggestions because it’s easy. They don’t have to deal with the repercussions of that feedback not delivering what it promised.

Like it or not, it’s tough to not get feedback, especially the one that doesn’t count. Very few people will put thought, consideration and understanding in what they might want to tell you.

It’s important to remember, even in times when you don’t know what to do and feel like you genuinely have to ask for guidance that it’s not your job to accept the feedback that is given to you, just as it’s not your job to take into consideration every advice or suggestion.

You already have a job- and that is to solve the problem that you had been entrusted to solve to the best of your abilities. It is up to you to tweak (and judge) the levels of the external white noise.

Letting Go of What Doesn’t Suit You

There are tons of hot discussion about dealing with “bad” clients or getting out of a “boring” job or letting go of a “toxic” person. Most of the times, the discussion is being carried on by someone who had an experience that did not suit them.

Don’t get me wrong. Some clients are bad, some jobs are boring and some people are toxic. But the reality is that most times, someone’s “bad” clients are someone else’s goldmine because they know exactly how to manage them. Someone’s “boring” job is someone else’s dream job because they have all the personality traits that will make them the best at that job.

You get the point.

From a young age, we are being taught to fit in, to never disagree with those that “know” what’s best for us, even though the paths laid out by parents and teachers don’t suit us.

Someone who had discovered that a client was bad for her or a job was boring just realized that the experience did not suit her. Letting go of what doesn’t suit us is not cheating ourselves out of what does suit us.

The Catalog of Shoulds

Everyone has a catalog of shoulds that keeps getting bigger and bigger as years pass by.

“I should improve my portfolio.”

“I should talk to that girl.”

“I should get in touch with my friend.”

“I should stop drinking.”

The catalog of shoulds is useless and drags you down. The more shoulds you pile up the list, the harder it will be to pick one of those and execute. The overwhelming number of shoulds will scare you and you will stress out, searching for alternatives.

Don’t do that. Instead, imagine if you had a catalog of let’s’.

“Let’s improve one portfolio item until it makes me proud.”

“Let’s talk to one girl.”

“Let’s message one friend I didn’t talk to in a while.”

The shoulds scare you because deep down, you don’t want to do them. The let’s’ help you see possibilities of reframing the problem and imagine ways to tackle them.

Freelancing as an Expert

To get to the summit of expertise, you have to climb the mountain of ignorance.

The problem is that the mountain of ignorance is mostly made by people, and some of those people become champions. When you are a champion of ignorance, the expertise never matters. What matters is always to follow the rules. To update your profile, validate your payment, pay for some tests so that a client can acknowledge you as someone she can outsource work to, but never as an expert.

Freelancers have the advantage of picking their clients; you can pick clients that want to work with an expert or clients that want to outsource some busy work that doesn’t really matter to anyone.

The idea of expertise is an interesting one. We’ve been taught to always wait for the credentials to come in to call ourselves experts. We’ve been taught to wait for the test grade before being generous with our knowledge.

What if we simply claimed we were an expert before even taking the test, and then try to perform to match the expectations we set for ourselves?

What if we (as freelancers) stopped competing in the mountain of ignorance and took a real shot for the summit of expertise? There is no test. There is no grade. There might be bad-mouthers and people that scream at you for never getting a degree, but they don’t matter. They compete in the mountain of ignorance.

Fear and Regret

Fear is the addiction to comfort zone before leaping into the unknown.

Regret is the addiction to comfort zone after leaping into the unknown.

In business, relationships, and art there is always going to be a tingle of the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. This is going to drive a ton of leaping into the unknown, whether it’s actually good or not.

And we will make tons of rationalizations post and after the leap, when in fact, it doesn’t matter whether we fear the future or regret the past. What matters is to defeat the addiction to comfort zone before it overwhelms our decision making and cannot leap anymore.

Art is Creativity plus Subtraction

The difference between a good piece of art and a mediocre piece of art is not what you see on the canvas or screen or hear on the record; but what the artist or designer chose to left out before sharing the piece with the world.

This is subtraction.

When we try to ideate and come up with some idea to fulfill our artistic impulse or solve the problem at hand we are using our creative powers- we generate, brainstorm, use weird mind-mapping techniques and draw lots of lines and circles.

This is an unbounded process; the more, the better, because the more you have, the easier it is to remove what is clearly not working and arrive at something suitable.

But after spending your time to gather the few concepts that matter, and you need to refine them, we lose sight of the big picture and refine everything. And then what we set out to make look awesome becomes another brick in the creative wall.

The difference is always made by what you choose to let out because it doesn’t make sense for the big picture.

The Right Idea is Often the First Idea

The best idea is often the first idea.

There are several reasons for this. First, your brain doesn’t have the baggage and pressures from any previous ideas. You don’t have to produce something better than what you don’t have.

Second, it’s pure creativity- often the first idea is the one that arises out of nothing. You just “get” it, and if you are diligent enough, you catch it.

Third, it’s the most original one you will come up with because it took observation and originality to recognize the opportunity to use it. Most of what you will create after the first idea is just experiments around the first idea or direct copy-cats because you feel stressed out about finding a better idea, so you push the observation part away and switch into monkey mode.

When you don’t like the first idea, it’s often because it’s rough and unrefined. You lack the skills to make it look good so you push it aside to find something easier to make look good. It’s your inner imposter syndrome that’s throwing away your first idea- not you.

To push yourself and become better, stop finding alternatives to the first idea. Just take it and make it look the best you can.

Try it for a month. See what happens.

Think for Yourself.

The online marketplace thrives on people’s attention. The biggest problem right now for some is how to pay attention to more things at the same time so that they can “get more traction” and be “more efficient”.

Don’t do that.

Most of those that build online machines that put out daily content don’t care about the utility of what they put out. It’s simple mathematics: the best way to be able to pump out a lot of content in a short period of time is to take a big topic, build opinions around it (sometimes tested, sometimes not), then divide it into small parts that you can share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Your problem is that the message is cluttered, disconnected and contradictory to what others put out.

That makes sense because the owners behind the machines want their content to beĀ different, not better.

Your best bet is to stop consuming altogether and think for yourself. It’s amazing how much you understand about business after months of not consuming daily business content from four different vendors.