Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Art of Self-assessment

Self-assessment is an art, and knowing precisely who we are, where we’re at, and what we offer is an essential component to business management. Looking inward can be cathartic, it can be eye opening, and it can even be shocking. But no matter what, it has to be revealing and it has to be authentic. In the process of assessing ourselves, if the truth does not surface, even if it’s a hard truth to face, your business could soon find itself in peril. Of course, it’s hard, even seemingly impossible, to be incredible – to always be ahead of the business game and driving the market forward – but it should always be an ideal to strive toward. Most of the time every business out there is just trying to stay relevant and stay in the game – we want to find a niche, grab a slice, and build a life. A credible business that stays true to itself and that feels solid from sunrise to sunset is where the lion’s share of us to look to invest our time and energy - it’s how we earn our living; it’s how we eat. Done properly, a thorough self-assessment can be the difference between being a credible business and being an incredible business. On the other hand, an inauthentic self-assessment can be the difference between being credible and being eaten alive.

Leave your ego at the door

The story of how the artist suffered through countless years of having their work overlooked and receiving rejection after rejection before they eventually had their big breakthrough is so mainstream that it’s become cliché. Typically, the reason even some of the greatest artists, musicians, and writers suffered for so long isn’t because the world wasn’t ready, or that their work just hadn’t reached its audience, it’s because their work probably wasn’t very good. Inventors also go through hundreds of designs that fail miserably before they hit on the one that works, goes public, and then viral.

The roadblock that proves so difficult for these artists and inventors to overcome is their own conceptions of their real, or perceived, talent. In much the same way that a mother always believes her child is the most beautiful baby ever born, so an artist believes that their work is brilliant. It’s too crushing to the psyche to admit that what came from the most intimate part of us is ugly or worthless, so we end up living in denial instead of taking the positive out of negative criticism.

Harness the force of negative feedback

Anyone who has studied the ancient Chinese martial art of judo understands that the key to subduing your opponent is to use their own weight, and their own force, against them. This is how we have to begin to understand self-assessment from a business standpoint. If our work, or our product, is receiving negative feedback it’s important to make the distinction that it’s not as much about our clients pointing out our inadequacies, as it is about responding to what our clients are telling us they want. Every piece of negative feedback, whether about your product or service, or your competitors, is a window into what customers in your market are looking for. Isn’t business, after all, about meeting that demand?

The seldom-told story

Whereas the story of the struggling artist has become almost trite, there is another story that you don’t really ever hear about. It’s the story about the artist who after years and years of rejection eventually just gave up and was never heard of, ever. It’s not a story many people like telling, but the unfortunate reality is that it is by far the more common. Conventional wisdom tells us that what separates the successful artist from the one that got out of the game was a result of their superior talent. But in art, as in business, Darwinian principles rule where it is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the one most responsive to change. The successful artist, like a successful business, is able to tap into what their clientele is looking for by successfully internalizing the criticism they receive. After an objective self-assessment whose focus is on growth, one can then use any criticism to make positive strides forward and leap from being edible to credible, or even credible to incredible.