The Gift You Need To Want

“Feedback is a Gift”

One of the most enlightened leaders I’ve had the privilege to work for often said this. As I went on to grow professionally (and personally), I have grown to increasingly appreciate the wisdom contained in this simple statement. Rather than being obvious or trite, effective feedback is quite elusive – and therefore precious – for a few reasons.

Deliverers of effective feedback need to be willing to face conflict, and to take some time and effort to point out specifics to make the feedback valuable as well as communicate it clearly.

And yet, regardless of how its delivered, recipients tend to react defensively (see “the 3 Ds“), or simply ignore it altogether.

Which is a huge loss. Even if the feedback comes from a “biased” or self-interested perspective and is delivered terribly, there are always nuggets that provide important learning – if only because “perception is reality”: the wake you leave on others will effect your own life in various ways that you may be aware of or not.

So when I saw a crazy-a** email inquiry come into our mailbox at WebFWD, my biggest takeaway was not how lame it was (details on that part at this blog post); rather, it was how valuable the actual response was that my colleague provided.

For convenience, here’s the original email (sent to BCC):


I have a great idea that’s working and I have customers and revenue.  I need advice for experienced angels/ investors/ mentors in order to scale it

Several questions if I may:

1.       When are you accepting applications?

2.       What do you offer?

3.       What equity stake do you request?

4.       What are the best mentors/ angels are you firm?

5.       What differentiates you from all the other incubators?

6.       When I visit you (I’m coming from london uk), where should I stay accommodation wise, please recommend me some places

Thank you and I look forward to your reply.


…but, again, rather than reeling in my aghastness, what has stuck with me was Pascal‘s reply:

Hi <first name of sender>,

I can’t tell if you sent this email to me personally or to WebFWD (judging from your questions I assume the later – so I copied my colleagues on this response).
Don’t get me wrong – but this email is probably the worst possible way to ask for help. You obviously sent this email to a bunch of people at the same time; didn’t take the time to personalize your email; don’t tell me what it is that you’re doing (a hair saloon? a new web browser? a cure for cancer?); clearly haven’t done any homework (the answers to your questions are all on the WebFWD website – if you happen to mean WebFWD – which I still can’t tell).
If you really look for help and genuinely mean it – I suggest you treat the people you ask for help with a bit more respect. That way your chance that someone will actually help you increase significantly.
This is so good, for so many reasons, including:
  • It sets up the feedback being delivered as being in the best interest of the sender: all of the input is intended to help the sender get the help she is allegedly seeking.
  • It provides 4 specific examples as to why the inquiry is so ineffective.
  • It shares the basic direction of the feedback straight away, as opposed to the proverbial “shit sandwich” approach that many afraid to provide constructive feedback hide behind, obscuring the ‘meat’ of the feedback in between a few fluffy bits of niceties that on their own would not merit any feedback.
  • It clearly took time and effort to craft, but if received with any degree of openness, will clearly help the sender.
Blessed are those who are not only open to feedback, but who get it in such thoughtful, concrete ways. Here’s to a year of growth, through constructive, actionable feedback!



Da Art of Storytellin’

Not many would argue that publicists/PR types/communications professionals are all about storytelling: weaving together the right angles, sound-bites and talking points to advance their agenda in the media and influence spheres of their choosing.

What many people don’t realize is that the to be effective, these professionals often have to tell a parallel internal story as a precursor to telling that external story. For example, consider the inside sale that has to happen when a bunch of….

  • Harvard PhDs want to start a dating site and need “a marketing person.” That marketing person – likely intrinsically far more fun than the algorithm-coding founders – has to somehow *convey* fun to them in order to bring it to the rest of the world.
  • Enterprise software boys who never use half the social media tools themselves suddenly learn that there’s money in “being social” and want to talk that up.

The marketer must translate the levity of dating to geeks….and the organic, peer-to-peer elements of social to hierarchical, conventional thinkers, in order to bring the message back to ROW. This isn’t simply telling the external story to them first for approval. It’s repackaging it into what matters to them: convincing the geeks that your message leads to quantifiable things like user acquisition, and convincing the enterprise dudes that your messages will lead to cash.

So next time you see a really good message, remember: there were probably some other stories that had to happen first.