Feedback, Dissonance & Self-Justification

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Especially in the tough startupworld it is very important to ask for feedback. But not every sort of feedback is good for your forecoming, so choose wisely what you are taking out of it. It is for your own good.

All startups look for feedback from as many people as possible. It’s said that sometimes feedback is more valuable than money, since it puts you on the right track. There’s a problem though with spotting which feedback puts you on the right track and which takes you even further away from your goals.

Properly taking into account all the feedback you get is tough. There is no easy way to do that because it always depends on who the person is, what your product does, what your vision is and so forth.

There’s a tendency for founders to very much agree with positive feedback and find reasons why the criticism does not apply to them or their startup. It may not be obvious at first why it is like that. Founders and early employees of a startup are very passionate about what they do and are putting their heart and soul into it. Most people can only do that if they are certain that what they are working on will achieve success. Negative feedback creates cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is defined as the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Negative feedback from someone trustworthy brings forth the possibility that what you poured your heart and soul into won’t make it.

As a human, you will want to reduce this dissonance between your belief that you worked hard for what you think will be ‘the next big thing’ and the recent information that your product offers much less value than you thought and your time might have been wasted. The common reaction is to reduce dissonance by dismissing the criticism as unfounded. The other way of reducing dissonance is to take a step back and carefully analyze the possibility that you were wrong.

Dissonance can also be caused by actions we take and how they relate to our own image of ourselves. For this reason, you see some smart people take questionable actions. In the startup world, these actions are usually throwing in good money (and time). The phenomenon is present in all areas of life. A great read on dissonance and self-justification is a book called “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)”, by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson.

Reading the book will make you realize how many flaws your brain actually has and it will make you much more aware of the possibility of being wrong. In the fast paced startup world, it’s very important to be able to figure out when you can trust your judgment and when it might be negatively influenced by other factors.



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