The Remarkable Power of Negative Feedback

The Remarkable Power of Negative Feedback

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

The most effective innovators—entrepreneurs, scientists, new product developers, and advocates of social change—are adept at seeking feedback. But not just any feedback. They look for a particular type of feedback that may surprise you. They actively seek negative feedback, feedback that tells them when they’re wrong.

That probably sounds counterintuitive. Who goes around wanting to fail? The whole field of positive psychology has convinced many of us that to be successful, we need confidence and plenty of positive reinforcement. There’s some truth to that. Entrepreneurs understandably want their businesses to be successful. Scientists don’t win many awards for failed theories.

But deficits matter. One crucial flaw can torpedo the best of ideas. In the real world there are always many things that can go wrong. Figuring out what those shortcomings are can save you a lot of time and wasted effort. Negative feedback tells you when the strategy you’ve chosen isn’t working, so you can adjust, either by overcoming some obstacle, or adopting a different strategy.

Seeking only positive feedback predisposes you to confirmation bias, when you tend to see what you expect, or hope will happen. It feels good, but it may not be telling you what you most need to know, to be at your best. Savvy investors—and my own research—have found that those innovators and entrepreneurs who most actively seek negative feedback, create by far the greatest value.

Almost any feedback is better than none. You need feedback to get a clear take on the realities you face, so you can respond effectively. But only seeking positive feedback ultimately fosters false-confidence and insecurities. It’s always looking for validation and simply wanting to be right.

Negative feedback can be humbling, but you can build confidence in your ability to respond to setbacks and failures, rather than pretending they aren’t there. Accomplished innovators can handle the bad news because they’ve done it many times before. When you’re trying to bring change, it comes with the territory—and it’s always an opportunity to practice being creative and resourceful.

The next time you face some challenge, hoping for success is understandable, but the best way to make sure that success is real is to look for indications that what you’re doing isn’t working. 

That’s the fastest way to make sure it is working.

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