How to learn from feedback

How to learn from feedback

Raymond Smithberger
May 23, 2019

Last week, I was in Columbus, Ohio, meeting with several business owners and nonprofit leaders. They were all great conversations. Each had a specific objective, and in every case, we achieved more than we anticipated.

But there was one moment when I asked myself, “Do I really know what I am doing?” It came about during a meeting with a person who interacts with many entrepreneurs and startups. Toward the end of our discussion, he said, “All first-time founders have the same problems you have right now.” I immediately thought, “What problems is he talking about? Do I really have problems? How did I not know this?” I found myself being a little defensive – OK, a lot defensive.

A quick refresher: I spent more than 20 years in the corporate world. I led global teams and multimillion-dollar businesses, and I specialized in large-scale transformations. In that process, I constantly tried to keep myself close to the front line where the real action takes place. I would go to customer service centers and listen to telephone calls, sit with people and ask what could be better — you know, all the stuff good leaders do. I felt like I had a good handle on what was happening.

Now, I am a month into being an entrepreneur and stretching myself way beyond my comfort zone. In some cases, I don’t know what I am doing. The good news is that I am not the first person to be in this situation, so I can learn from others.

Last week was a good level set to help me understand a few things.

I am not trying to make mistakes. I don’t think any of us wake up in the morning and say, “Today I want to mess up as much as possible!” We all have good intentions to do our best. So I need to give myself some reprieve from my worst critic —myself.

I do make mistakes.The reality is I do not, and will never, get it all right. I took a chance leaving the corporate world to do something different. Trial and error are part of the process. Mistakes are how we learn and get better faster. Now that I think about it, and contrary to my first point, maybe I should be trying to “unintentionally”make more mistakes.

Thanks for the feedback. When I walked into a room in my corporate job, my title came with me, and so did a sense of credibility. Now, people have no idea about my former career, nor do they care. People are more interested in the future, big ideas and new possibilities. I am walking into these meetings needing to learn and be open to what the person on the other side of the table is saying. To be more successful, I need to hear things that I may not want to hear. I love my ideas, but sometimes that love also blinds my perspective or makes me protective of it. I need to continuously remind myself that feedback is a gift. What I chose to do with that gift will determine if I move forward or backward.

Back to the meeting last week: he was right; my startup has some problems. What startup doesn’t? I appreciate his candor; it’s what I needed to hear to pause, adjust and accelerate. We’ve spent time iterating, testing and evolving the product with pilots and clients, but we’ve only just begun marketing it. The messaging needs to be refined. We need more discipline in how we share our story. These are all good problems to have, and they offer more opportunity to get feedback from others.

Now this is where I could use your assistance.

1 – Want to share some feedback with me? Send me a note at I would be happy to show you what we have developed and hear what you think. I won’t get defensive!

2 – Can you help us share? We are trying to solicit as many perspectives as possible. Share this blog with your friends. I would appreciate hearing what they think as well.

3  – Do you know a local business or nonprofit that wants to differentiate based on the good they do? Send them to me. I would love to talk to them about what we are doing and get their feedback.

With that, I am off to a busy couple of weeks putting all this great feedback to use. Take care.

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