Thinking in Technicolor and the Art of Receiving Feedback

I recently discussed nurturing an exponential mindset and why that is important. To further help you adopt that expanded way of thinking, I’ve identified a couple of critical pre-cursors to that process, which I’d like to share here.

For a very long time, I took pride in my ability to very quickly categorize problems into binary categories and make decisions. When I explained my decision making, I would preface it with “I know that the world is not black and white, but it helps me make quick and decisive decisions” and move on.

Then one of my mentors challenged this view of the world.

Upon hearing me make a (strong) argument for a position I held, he uttered the phrase “dichotomous thinking.” Admittedly I had to look it up—dichotomous thinking is also known as black or white thinking. It’s a trait you will commonly observe in entrepreneurs.

While there are definite dangers with this way of thinking—you can get stuck in a wrong view and be judgmental of people, experiences, and things—there are some tremendous benefits, as it shortens your time to decide, and for those who have honed the skill, it achieves excellence frequently.

The trick is to hone the skill.

My mentor reminded me again and again that when faced with the choice between two views which are seemingly at odds, rather than making a quick decision, go slow and figure out how you can have as much as possible of both.

Sure enough, I have found that there is almost always a path in the middle, one which got me to a much better outcome than either of the extremes. Look for the path which allows you to get the most out of all possibilities instead of settling for the choice that is in front of you.

Pascal Finette with others.

Another incredibly valuable skill to hone is the art of receiving feedback. Just because you’ve taken your time to include all angles of a situation, it doesn’t mean your decisions or ideas can’t be improved. I learned this a while ago when an executive coach and friend of mine shared some invaluable insight with me (dare I say she gave me “feedback?”).

It goes like this:

  1. When someone gives you feedback remember it is just someone’s opinion. It is not truth (especially not what some would call “Capital-T Truth”), but merely the other person’s point of view.
  2. You don’t have to accept it. Feedback is a gift. As with any gift, it is on you to take it (or not). Sometimes it is an unwanted or uncalled-for gift—you are at liberty to ignore it.
  3. There is (nearly) always 2% truth in everything. I’ve found over and over that even in the harshest and uncalled-for comment, there is often a kernel of truth. Being able to see this and learn from it might make the difference between good and great.

I can’t count the occasions when these three simple ideas made all the difference—from either being crushed by bad feedback or entirely writing it off as someone’s angry ramblings. They help mitigate a good chunk of our inherent biases, keep us open to hearing what matters, and keep us continuously learning.

Thinking in technicolor and receiving feedback gracefully is not easy. Personally, it took me a while to incorporate both into my daily work. The most critical factor is your willingness and ability to regularly review your decisions and learn from them. Be willing to be wrong. And when you are, admit it, and change course.

Review your decisions daily by checking in with yourself and your team to question if you were right or not. Perform post mortems to dig into the reasons why something worked or didn’t. Do this diligently, capture the results, and constantly review your insights.

Over time you will get better and better in your ability to make good decisions—which will make you a better (and more successful) leader.