An excerpt from “Love the TruthTellers and Naysayers” from The Launch Book: Motivational Stories to Launch Your Idea, Business or Next Career (c) 2017 by Sanyin Siang. Appears with the permission of LID Publishing. All rights reserved.
“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.’” –Dan Rather
If you are like me, you may tend to procrastinate on launches. Why?
An idea in the abstract can be as perfect as you imagine it. But, when starting the process and in clashing with reality, you encounter feed-back–cringe-worthy feedback that may be counter to your imagined perfection. You may also encounter those who tell you ‘no,’ who tell you that it’s impossible and then proceed to list all the reasons why.
What can you do with these truth tellers and naysayers? While your gut might tell you to dismiss them or run away, you should embrace them instead. They can be among your most powerful allies for a successful launch.
First, truth tellers help to eliminate blind spots. Everyone’s psychologically predisposed to having blind spots. Your experiences and beliefs inform you on how you see the world. Just like blinders placed on horses in busy city streets, blind spots can keep you focused, less reactive to distractions and help you make sense of the huge influx of data your brain receives each day. But a lack of awareness about your blind spots can keep you from vital information that opens up opportunities or prevents threats.1
There is a series of social psychology principles at work here.
People tend to overweigh information that confirms what they already believe, this results in ‘confirmation’ bias. If you have an entrenched belief, that belief can blind you to potential counterpoints. You now have access to so much information that you can always find something to confirm your beliefs. But what information are you not seeing?
‘Availability’ bias is a tendency to give greater credence to information that is commonly held by a greater number of people in a group, even when the information is all from a single source. Much has been made of the circulation of false news on social media sites. If people see a few shares of the same piece of news by those in their immediate circles, they are more predisposed to believing that news is true, regardless of its validity.
‘Desensitization’ bias is a tendency to project own experiences onto others when predicting their feelings; this can also create blind spots. When you encounter someone with an experience that you’ve never had, you tend to discount those experiences as less valid, or not true.
And then there’s ‘attention gap’ bias. This keeps your brain focused on one thing so you can complete a task but, in doing so, can prevent you from seeing other things that may be happening. Another term for this is ‘tunnel vision.’
The consequence of the above natural biases prevents you from absorbing relevant data and validating new information. This keeps you complacently reliant on information from others in your social groups.
Just as physical blind spots can be dangerous, psychological blind spots can cause a failure of imagination with dire consequences in launches. They can keep you from seeing broader possibilities, or serious challenges to your dreams that you need to address.
To overcome blind spots, you need friends with gritty courage to tell you the truth. You need to be open to feedback and put your listening ears on.
First, it requires a mindset, a recognition that truth is a good thing. Jeff Jones, shared a story from one of the toughest times in his previous job. He had joined Target as Chief Marketing Officer. The company’s culture was strong and it was also adored by customers. However, its traditions had created a fear of failure that became a major impediment to innovation and to quickly addressing crisis.
Then, crisis hit. Target encountered a credit card scandal that tested customers’ trust and, overnight, its CEO resigned. In that moment of crisis, Jeff wrote to his employees (which he later published in a LinkedIn post titled, ‘The Truth Hurts’).2
“The reality is that our team members speaking with honesty is a gift. Because much of what they are saying is true. While we would have preferred to have a conversation like this with the team member directly, speaking openly and honestly, and challenging norms is exactly what we need to be doing today and every day going forward.
Yes, the truth hurts. But it will also set you free.
Our job now is to create a new truth and that is exactly what we are doing.”
That crisis, and bold confrontation of truth and creating an open channel for which problems and issues could be discussed, led Target to survive crisis and launch into a more adaptive and innovative chapter.
How you create an environment that puts you in direct engagement with those who are your naysayers can enhance your chance of success. For example, Matthew Szulik, former CEO of Red Hat, is not an engineer by training. However, when he took the helm of a tech open source company, he needed to build credibility, trust and knowledge transfer with his engineering team. And there were many of the company’s engineers who were not keen on him.
So, instead of the usual posh office associated with C-suite executives, he set up shop in a small office with no door, located right across from the free soda machine. By doing so, he created a natural pathway for engaging with every engineer, understanding the key issues the company faced, and creating a sense of shared ownership in the direction of the company.
In any launch process, it’s critical to surround yourself with cheerleaders and encouragers. But if you don’t also engage the truth tellers and the naysayers, you may let your blindspots get the better of you and miss an opportunity at creating powerful advocates. And that’s the truth.
1. Excerpted from “Why We Fail to See What’s In Plain Sight,” by Sanyin Siang Forbes Nov 21, 2016.
2 “The Truth Hurts,” by Jeff Jones, LinkedIn May 13, 2014.