There’s a really interesting video of an interview with pop singer-songwriter, John Mayer, where he talks about his relationship with Steve Jobs. You can watch it here (it’s 9.5 minutes long). Mayer draws a few very important conclusions from his relationship with Jobs in his talk, but I wanted to focus on one today. He shares the following story about an interaction with Steve Jobs:
We’re standing backstage of Mac World and I said: “Okay, Steve. What about a vintage computer, with vintage aesthetics, like an old, G3 Pismo PowerBook from 1999”, which I loved (it's still the best-looking PowerBook, right - looks like Batman's PowerBook). I said, I was very excited too, right, I said, “What about an old G3 Pismo PowerBook, with all new guts inside of it. Why can't you make that?”, and he just said like this: “Because we'd sell 14 of them.”
And I went, wow, okay.
Now imagine that you had been working on that question for a year-and-a-half. Imagine that you had drawings: line drawings, AutoCAD, you had, like, 3D-printed models of things, and you said tomorrow's the big meeting with Steve, here we go, ba-ba-bap!
He'd still say to you, we're only going to sell 14 of these.
…and you realize how emotional it can be to present an idea to somebody.
John Mayer is an artist. He writes and performs music for a living. The things he writes about come from his heart. And so, when someone criticizes the ‘product’ that he produces, it’s always a deeply emotional thing for him. He talks about that in the video as well.
But, presuming we don’t distance ourselves emotionally from the work we do, we all struggle with the same reality. If you’re solution, your idea, your recommendation, is something that you’re proud of, and would put money behind, and someone comes along and rejects that idea, how do you respond? It’s really easy/natural for that response to be driven by emotional entrenchment.
I work in an industry where we trade in ideas. The value we bring is thinking through our customer’s communications problems and suggesting solutions, whether it be through design, video, text, websites, print materials, or a billboard - our value is our ideas. But they don’t all make it to production, and that’s tough.
It’s something that I know I need to work on.
It’s something that I think you need to work on too.
Because as much as I’ve seen myself respond viscerally to critique and not taken it at the face-value that it deserves - appreciating and understanding the value of that feedback - I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds of other people do it too. In some of the worst cases, I’ve seen them come to us, an idea consultancy, with their own ideas of how the problem should be addressed. In the words of Alanis Morrisette: “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”
I know I need to get better finding the balance between fighting for something that I know will work, and bringing helpful feedback to bear on my idea. I need to practice walking that line and knowing when it’s time to retreat, or if it’s time to entrench by re-presenting or re-packaging the idea.
The key is, that the entrenchment can’t be driven by emotion.