We all have blind spots that are a result of our own worldview, experience, and expertise. When we’re in the weeds on a project, we’re inside it — often unable to see the forest for the trees. We use jargon that only people within our industry can understand, create work that speaks to people just like us and sometimes fails to account for the perspective and needs of the audience or users of our work.
Bring in fresh eyes — early and often. It is a great defense against these kinds of blind spots.
How a Project Benefits When We Bring in Fresh Eyes
I see this most clearly in my work as an editor. When a writer (myself included) is working on a piece of writing, they are often so consumed by the high-level thinking, that they miss what appears, to the fresh eyes of an editor, as pretty obvious typos. This is not a reflection on the writer’s abilities, or on their knowledge of proper spelling and grammar — it’s just part of the writing process.
For the most part, the writers that I work with are grateful for my ability to spot errors and help them frame their arguments. However, now and then, I sense resistance. It hurts to know that you worked really hard on something, and tried to make it perfect the first time, only to find out that a few errors slipped in. When people feel over-protective, or even possessive of their work, pointing out an error or problem feels like a challenge to their abilities.
To overcome these pitfalls, invite feedback from people who aren’t deep in the work. It can be scary to share work that isn’t completely polished. I get it. We don’t want our flaws exposed — especially if we’ve only ever seen the finished products of the people we need to submit our work too. When a writer submits their work to me, their only familiarity with my work is often the finished pieces I publish. They don’t know that I’ve passed several “shitty first drafts” back and forth with my manager, rarely seeing the glaring typos I let stand until the very last pass of fine edits. And they certainly weren’t privy to the internal dialogue I’ve had with myself while in the shower or getting groceries about how to restructure a piece.
We all need to be pushed, challenged, and supported to create our best work.Tweet
The truth is, working in drafts can be essential for the creative process. An iterative approach to working, with plenty of revisions, time for feedback, and scrapping whole sections/ideas from the final project, is essential for finishing strong.
If you want to finish, you have to start.
Start with a minimum viable product. What’s the simplest and earliest version of a project that you can share? Reach out to others in your organization for feedback.
For example, there’s a classic tension that occurs between sales and marketing. Marketers (usually) want to support the sales team — but rarely reach out to those on the front lines of sales for feedback on a work in progress to ensure that it will meet their needs. Then they get frustrated when the beautiful piece of collateral doesn’t actually get used. This tension can be alleviated by sharing a first draft or outline with sales early in the process and asking for their feedback.
Bringing in fresh eyes can guard against the frustration of a project falling flat.
Start Strong to Finish Strong
Another great tactic for structuring fresh eyes and feedback into your workflow is to schedule “thrashing sessions” at the beginning of each project. Whenever a new project gets underway, invite people from the organization as a whole (not just your team) to an optional discussion about the intention and initial direction of the project. Thrash out the idea as a group, and get input from people in your organization.
When the meeting is about to wrap up, ask the attendees to think about whether or not they’d like to continue to be involved. Some will invariably drop off after the initial meeting, but a handful of collaborators will likely volunteer to contribute and/or review work as it is completed. This front-loads the workflow with collaboration, gives people an opportunity to contribute, and allows everyone to voice concerns, poke holes, and shape the direction of the work. By the time you reach the end of the project, revisions and changes will be minor, and the project lead can complete the final polishing with confidence that the project will finish strong.
We all need to be pushed, challenged, and supported to create our best work. And I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced the frustration of completing a project only to find that there was a hole in my logic, or a blind spot in my thinking that meant the hard work on my “completed project” was just beginning. By building in time for feedback, and actively seeking out fresh perspectives, I’m able to finish stronger, and create higher quality work. That’s worth the discomfort of asking for feedback.