Facing Critics? Consider The Source
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
As a social entrepreneur you are likely to face a criticism. In fact, if you are a person who does anything—or nothing—you will face critics.
One of the great lessons I’ve learned in the last few years as I’ve embarked on a new career in the second half of my life, is that your friends won’t tell you the truth you need to hear—they’ll praise your effort when you stink and flatter you when you are mediocre. Strangers provide an invaluable service in appraising our work honestly, allowing us to see what actually needs to be improved.
To that lesson, however, must be added the corollary. Some critics are idiots.
You must ponder every piece of honest criticism to make your own judgment about its worth to you. The information you need to fix your process, refine your device, polish your delivery or otherwise perfect your product may be found in honest feedback.
On the other hand, if you spend all of your time practicing your pitch, you’ll never actually do anything. Some advice must simply be ignored.
Consider the following Amazon.com reviews. All of the following are copied verbatim, spelling and grammatical errors included. Every review is for a book that is hugely popular and/or widely considered a classic. Most reviewers used pseudonyms, which I have linked to the original review on Amazon.
various e-book readers. From right to left iPad (Apple、2010) kindle DX (Amazon、2009) kindle 2 (Amazon、2009) kindle 1 (Amazon、2007) PRS-505 (Sony、2007) PRS-500 (Sony、2006). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Maybe I am just a partially effective person.”
“This was not helpful for me. Maybe I am just a partially effective person. Not sure. I may go back and skim the book periodically, just to be proactive, but probably not, because I don’t want to bring my iPad into the bathroom.” J. Unger on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, with 15 million copies sold.
“The guy babbles on…”
“This Book Was A Waste Of Time. The guy babbles on about a ‘secret’ that he says he will not name, but instead will give you a bunch of stories of people using the “secret” to succeed. The ‘secret’ this book is based on is ‘determination’ and truely believing you can acomplish something. so if you’ve ever read the definition of determination in a dictionary, you can skip reading this book.” Bookworm Danny on Think and Grow Rich, one of the bestselling books of all time.
A sucking piece of crap
“It sucks! I thought that this book was the worst peace of literature to be put out on the book stands. it was a piece of crap!” Russian_24@hotmail.com on All the President’s Men, which Time called “perhaps the most influential piece of journalism in history.”
“Ended up playing solitaire”
“I tried and tried to read this book but ended up playing solitaire every time. Unless you are into extreme running and the anthropology of an obscure Mexican tribe, skip this book.” Diverse Interests on Born to Run, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for four months and is listed among Amazon’s 100 must reads.
“This is a terrible book. I read this for a leadership class I was in and it was one of the most unteresting books I have ever read.” Paul Miller on Man’s Search for Meaning, which is today one of the 100 bestselling books at Amazon.com almost 60 years after it was first published.
“Boring” and “rambling”
“I don’t know why this book is supposedly literary genius because I found it to be very boring. Most of the book was rambling rather than anything to do with the plot.” Boring on The Great Gatsby, a book that has been described as “The Great American Novel.”
Not factual enough
“This was not a book. It was nothing more than a long newspaper article. Not only was it a surface most brief coverage of the topic, it was suspect in some of its ‘facts’ Total rip off!!!” Bo on The Hunger Games, an extraordinarily popular work of fiction that led to a similarly popular movie.
“I cannot believe this book is a best seller. Max, the protagonist, is a wild, rude, annoying, little snot-nosed monster. The last thing I want is for my child to model her behavior after him! My daughter received this as a gift and it is now in the trash because I could not bring myself to give it away to another child.” A Customer on Where The Wild Things Are, the classic children’s book included on Amazon’s list of 100 favorite books.
“We should try to get this book banned”
“Ugh! This book if full of horrible, contradicting stories! The people in this book are very degrading to women and seem to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want. And women are the property of men? Gag me. And this God character is supposed to be loving and kind and forgiving, but he makes those two bears rip apart all those children in a bloody massacre – just because they made fun of some bald guy?? What happened to forgiveness and turning the other cheek? This is a horrible book full of immoral stories and atrocious “teachings”. We should try to get this book banned from all libraries!” E. Taylor on The Holy Bible.
Of course, almost everyone who reads this article will agree with one or more of these reviews. That’s fine. You—and they—are entitled to your opinions. The books have been fabulously successful despite the criticism, fair or not. The point here is not to debate literature, but to recognize that if you are trying to do something—especially if you are trying to do something good—you must be prepared to receive criticism and then move on. Your success and the impact you seek to have in the world depends, in basketball terms, on your ability to pivot when necessary and shoot when you can. As Michael Jordan said, “you miss every shot you don’t take.”