Thoughts on Criticism

There are two moments of criticism I remember very clearly:

  1. The first time I released an app on the App Store
  2. The first time I tried public speaking

I publicly released my first mobile app on June 24th, 2012. It was an exciting moment for me! I received my first customer feedback the very next day. I was excited to open his email (or so I thought)…

“Your app SUCKS. I want my dollar back”
Sent from my iPhone

Ouch. That hurt. So many negative emotions went through my mind:

  • The Chrome version of this app has thousands of weekly users; the app can’t be too bad (Pride).
  • This customer has no idea how long I worked on this app (Anger).
  • The app is admittedly simple but what more does he expect (Frustration).
  • Maybe he is right. Maybe it does suck. (Self-doubt).
  • What if he leaves a one-star review? Maybe I should remove the app from the store (Embarrassment).

My first experience with public speaking was not much different. There was a quarterly meeting between ODOT Central Office and District staff. It was a relatively small audience — around 30 people. But still, my first opportunity to try and professional speak in front of a crowd! I tried to compare work zone plan reviews to pregnancy. (I cringe writing this but my wife was pregnant at the time so cut me a little slack). Big shocker, the initial feedback was rough. My boss cut me off and finished the presentation. I felt super embarrassed. The initial feelings were all negative. Shame. Anger. Self-pity. You name it.

In both of these situations I felt a strong urge to give up.

  • To remove the app from the App Store and quit making apps.
  • To never try public speaking again.

These felt like reasonable reactions at the time.

But, after cooling down a bit, I realized I had another option: to try and understand the criticism as feedback. Even though it hurt — at least I was getting feedback. So, I let my emotions cool and asked for more specifics.

Regarding the angry email from the guy who hated my app: I ended up responding with a nice email. I explained my limited experience in creating and marketing apps and I asked a few questions about his expectations. He was generous enough to engage in a more fruitful conversation with plenty of good feedback. I took a lot of his suggestions and built them into future app updates. The app eventually became my most successful App Store product for years — generating tens of thousands of dollars in sales.

Quick aside:

I finally had to stop supporting this app a couple of months ago. Before completely shutting it down I helped a few loyal customers transition to other solutions. The last customer feedback I received for the app was more encouraging than my first customer email:

“Thank you so much! I appreciate the help! Definitely gonna miss your app! It was amazing!”

A similar story unfolded with public speaking. I privately asked for feedback on how I could improve. I started to learn about better preparing for presentations and knowing my audience. And, thankfully, I was given more opportunities to try again. Over time I was asked to speak at more and more conferences and fine-tuned my speaking abilities. A handful of years later I was asked to give a presentation as a fill-in for the ODOT Director to other executive-level staff. And this presentation ended with an engaged audience asking relevant questions, not me getting cut off for poor performance.

Neither improvement would have taken place if I let the initial criticism cripple me. Within each criticism was a nugget of truth. Small lessons to be learned. Compared to future versions of my apps, the first version did fall short. And, my initial public speaking attempts were awkward. Had I let the natural instinct to resist criticism take over, I may never have uncovered these growth opportunities.

Yes, criticism can sting! But, if you allow it, criticism can also improve your craft.

About The Author

John MacAdam is a Professional Transportation Engineer and IT Consultant from Columbus, Ohio. He runs his own business helping companies deliver and understand technology.

He is currently writing about living with less and running a side business. Follow him on LinkedIn for monthly articles.

Originally published at https://macadam.blog/criticism

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John MacAdam

John MacAdam

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Professional Transportation Engineer and IT Consultant from Columbus, Ohio. Helping companies deliver and understand technology.