Don’t Be Afraid to Look Stupid

I’ve always believed that feedback is a gift. However, in this post, I want to push that idea and think about the need sometimes to be willing to look stupid to test an idea. Although we all probably agree that getting constructive feedback is excellent, it’s actually a lot harder to get it from people especially if it seems that you’re doing everything “by the book.” I’ve realized that people struggle to give constructive feedback for ideas that look too polished or too predictable.

I think that the solution to this problem is to be willing to put an idea out there that might make you look stupid because you obviously won’t have an answer for many of its flaws. However, that’s exactly what you want right? You want as much high-quality feedback as possible, and the way to do that isn’t by presenting an idea with little room for new thought. Instead, new ideas that seem a little obscure or wack might give people a little bit more to chew on.

I know this is a hard thought to articulate without a specific example so think about two startups pitching their ideas. Startup A tells you that it’s building a scooter service but for Europe. Although this idea might be great and you might ask about the public policy implications or the competition that the startup will face, there is no feedback that you can give this startup that will fundamentally allow them to build a better product. That’s actually fine because the model has already been tested. For most investors, it is something obvious to do in 2018. However, if you want to build something fundamentally new and not derivative I feel that you will have to get harsh feedback as users try to understand your product.

Now take Startup B, which is building a tool to help people break down any goal that they might have. This actually seems like a shitty idea. It’s not clear right away what is this tool or how is it different to the dozens of goal-tracking apps that are out there. However, the idea of breaking down any goal into small steps is quite exciting and different to anything else out there. People might be curious to figure out what exactly can this tool do for them. They might tell you (or show you) that they won’t really use it but that instead their real problem is X. My point is that putting an idea out there that is new and different might make you look stupid but looking stupid is the first step towards knowledge.