It can be hard to push away from the desk, look to another person, and ask, “How do you think this could be better?” It can be humbling, to admit you’ve taken something as far as you can take it, or that you’re unsure of the direction you’re going.
If you’re a chef, having other people taste a new dish can help refine a recipe. Software developers rely on usability experts for design input to ensure customers have a good experience with a new app. Business owners often hire consultants to see how processes could be made more efficient.
I’m not saying you need to call together a focus group for everything. Having too many perspectives can be just as bad as going it alone. But sharing your work with someone you trust and respect can help you get the best out of yourself.
Here are a few attributes to consider when looking for someone to provide another perspective.
1) Someone who balances your weaknesses
Our perspectives are limited by our personalities. We all have natural blind spots based on how we view things. I tend to think higher level, drawing connections and trying to cover as many angles as possible. But that usually means I write these sprawling first drafts that have to be culled down into something where trains of thought can be followed and that, you know, has a point.
Others might spend too much time on to-do lists, and not pay enough attention to how each to-do affects the overall program. Having someone to balance out your weak points results in a stronger, more well-rounded final product, whether a blog post, a potato soup recipe, or a marketing strategy.
2) Someone with a stake in your work
A former editor of mine always said, “I don’t succeed unless you succeed. The better you look, the better I look.” That maybe sounds self-serving, and I suppose it is to an extent. More so, he wanted us to know in no uncertain terms that he recognized himself as a partner, not just a boss. He pushed us to produce better work because if his employees succeeded, then he succeeded, and the company as a whole was better for it.
3) Someone outside your field
Having someone in the same field offering critique can help; for example, another chef can speak specifically to whether a dish is unbalanced or maybe suggest another method of preparation.
Sometimes though, it can be better for a chef to ask her doctor friend who loves Indian food to taste test her new boti kabaab recipe. Her doctor friend will have a whole different set of criteria regarding her enjoyment of the dish, criteria that aligns more with the standard customer who would be ordering the kabaab.
4) Someone you trust to be honest
I learned early on that I wasn’t going to learn anything about how my writing could be improved from my grandma. Everything I wrote was wonderful. Pulling punches on critique doesn’t help your work get any better.
This is where it gets scariest. No matter how often I put my work out there, I’m still human. I’m still invested in what I do. I still want to impress people. And, what’s more impressive than doing it all on your own and getting it right the first time?
It’s also unrealistic. Your friends shouldn’t just be there to help you get by; they should be there to help you get better. And that can only happen if they are honest with you.