‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.
So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.’ – Theodore Roosevelt
If you want to succeed you need to be willing to share your work publicly. By getting your ideas and content out there you’re actively seeking out feedback with which you can tweak and improve your project so that it is of more value to an audience. Likewise, when it comes to actually launching your venture it’s vital that it reaches as many people as possible.
However, sharing your project doesn’t just invite praise and constructive ideas on how to improve it; it will also encourage criticism that may be difficult to hear. This is normal and it can be painful but don’t ever let it stop you moving forward. There are many reasons why someone might respond negatively to your work, but just remember that a critic doesn’t always speak for the masses… and any forecasts they make on the value of your project could easily turn out to be very wrong indeed.
Here are three instances of damning criticism that show just wrong negative criticism can be:
Clifford Stoll vs. the Internet
Few predictions in history have been more misjudged than Clifford Stoll’s damning diatribe against the potential success of the Internet. Writing for Newsweek magazine in 1995, Clifford argued that the Internet ‘isn’t, and never will be, Nirvana’, blasting its relevance to education, shopping, live music, and media:
‘The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper’.
We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts… Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you how wrong Clifford turned out to be. In fact, Clifford’s critique turned out to be so misjudged that it’s since become something of a cult classic. Fortunately, Clifford sees the funny side. In 2010, he wrote of his blunder: ‘Of my many mistakes, flubs, and howlers, few have been as public as my 1995 howler. Wrong? Yep.’
Led Zeppelin vs. the Press
Led Zeppelin is one of the most iconic rock groups of all time. But no one knew that when they started out. In fact it is said that the band name was chosen after Keith Moon and John Entwistle of The Who predicted their musical future would go down like a “lead balloon”.
And the critics weren’t any more flattering on the release of their debut album. Led Zeppelin I received a string of negative reviews, with Rolling Stone writing that Led Zeppelin offered ‘little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better three months ago.’ Within two months, that particular album went on to reach Billboard’s top ten, and stayed in the chart for 73 weeks. The album had cost £1,782 to record and ended up grossing over £3.5 million. Not bad for a group whose frontman was described as being ‘as foppish as Rob Stewart, but nowhere near as exciting.’
Fred Astaire vs. Studio Exec
While many people do their best to ignore non-constructive criticism, Fred Astaire used his as a motivator to push himself further. At an early screen test in 1933, a studio executive handed the all-round entertainer a note, saying ‘Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.’
However, this remark didn’t put Fred off. Later that year, he made his Hollywood debut, and went on to have a career that spanned 76 years and saw him ranked as the fifth greatest male star of Classic Hollywood cinema in AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Stars. Fred had that note that he received all those years ago framed and placed above his fireplace.
Don’t fear the critics
We worry too much about critics when starting out. The chances are that you won’t receive any nasty reviews in the beginning. Negative criticism tends to only happen once you’ve made a mark, so when it comes congratulate yourself: you’ve arrived! Listen to the feedback if there is some value in it but don’t let it stop you in your tracks.
My new book Screw Work Break Free explains how to get helpful feedback, how to respond to criticism in a positive way, and how to brush off the haters. Download a free chapter now: