There’s a really interesting video of an interview with 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 your solution, idea or 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 for that response to be driven by emotional entrenchment.
I work in an industry that trades in ideas. The value we bring is thinking through our clients’ communications problems and offering up solutions — whether it be through design, video, digital marketing, websites, print materials or a billboard. Of course, not every idea makes it to production, and that can be tough.
It’s something that I know I need to work on.
It’s something that you probably need to work on, too.
Because as much as I’ve seen myself respond viscerally to critique, let alone 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 a problem should be addressed, seemingly unaware that the best ideas are often formed in the crucible of collaboration.
I know I need to get better at finding the balance between fighting for something that I know will work and allowing my ideas to be influenced and reshaped by the helpful feedback I’ve received. I need to practice walking that line between knowing when it’s time to retreatand let go and when it’s time to double down on my idea.
In either case, the key is not to let my feelings run the show. If an idea is a good one, it will only get better if I remain open to what others have to say, even if what they have to say is difficult for me to hear.