Do you seek criticism or praise?

"I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better."
– Elon Musk

I recently saw an interview with Tesla Motors CEO and founder Elon Musk, in which he was asked for his best advice for entrepreneurs. One of Musk's comments was this: seek criticism.

At first glance this might seem like an odd approach to running your business. After all, isn't the point of business to be winning praise—from customers, media, or anyone else—not courting criticism? But this is perhaps the genius of the Musk approach. As Musk himself said 'a well thought out critique is [as] valuable as gold.'

The benefit of soaking up all this criticism is that it gives you a very clear idea on where to invest your efforts to make your products or services that much better. Enough critical feedback about the same issue, helps you to not only identify a common problem, but helps you to prioritise what improvements to focus on.

So yes, a good critique is gold, but finding that gold can often prove challenging. Ask a friend what they think of your product or service, and they'll likely point out everything that's great about it – they're your friend after all. Which is why you need to dig a little deeper. Pushing beyond the obvious is the only way to discover where you might be letting yourself—and therefore your sales—down.

If you want to avoid being showered with praise, especially overly nice, but practically unhelpful praise, then try to ask more specific, criticism seeking questions. Here are a few ideas for starters:

  • What would you change about [insert product or service name here] to make it better?
  • I had 5 complaints about my [insert product or service name here] this week – guess what they were about?
  • What's two reasons you'd never tell someone who seems like my kind of customer about [insert product or service name here]?
  • What's the worst thing about [insert product or service name here]?
  • Hopefully you're getting the idea. Talking to your friends, suppliers, staff, and of course customers about what you're doing badly will help to give you plenty of great ideas about how to make your products or services exceptional.

Ask yourself, are you receiving enough criticism, and if you are, what are you doing about it?