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This article was published on May 14, 2020

Why entrepreneurs need annoying sideline critics

In defense of the sideline critic

Why entrepreneurs need annoying sideline critics

Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

It must be wonderful to be a sideline critic. You can easily find the defects in other people’s work or products, point them out in an annoying way, and instantly feel unique and smart. As long as you don’t have to go through the messy process of delivering on your feedback and actually fixing things, you can freely enjoy the moment and bask in your smugness.

Sadly though, sideline critics don’t get a lot of credit for their work as nobody likes to be confronted by a back-seat driver. I don’t need to tell you how deeply frustrating it is when you’ve spent blood, sweat, and tears on a project, only to have someone casually criticizing a tiny detail. And it’s even worse when they’re right. 

While it’s normal to want to duct-tape their mouths closed or superglue their tongues to the roofs of their mouths, I’m afraid I’ve got tough news: you need to listen to them. 

[Read: Falling out of a boat reminded me how to be a good CEO]

They might appear parasitic — not doing any of the work but oh so eager to tell you what’s wrong — but understanding their mindset is important and their feedback might be useful (even though you want to burn the keyboard it was written on).

After all, we entrepreneurs can take the criticism… as long as it is constructive and well-meant. We all want the same thing: to succeed. So surely we would like to hear any pesky detail (that we obviously would’ve spotted on our own, if we had the time), no matter how painful it is when it’s rubbed in our weary faces. 

Yes, we will sit there politely, giving you the time of day, while we grind our teeth, hear the blood rush through our ears, and slowly breathe out volcano-hot air through our noses — because we do what it takes.

The thing is, when you’re in the thick of it, you’re the driver. You’re forced to be in the moment, viewing, analyzing, and reacting to everything that’s happening in real-time. While you’re juggling all that, you’re also reviewing, re-analyzing, and storing everything that occurred just before. And you’re anticipating, predicting, and preparing for what is about to happen next. 

The ugly truth is that the backseat-driver can sometimes see more than you. They have the advantage of being able to just focus on how things appear right now, without any responsibilities. 

He or she is unencumbered with any of the actual work, the reflection, prediction, or anticipation. And that, no matter how frustratingly despicable it may feel, is a good thing. 

So if a sideline critic respects your hard work and offers constructive feedback, then overcome your frustration and listen. If not — and it is clear that all they want to do is inflate their own fragile ego by nitpicking at every tiny irrelevant detail — then simply tell them to stick their critique where the sun don’t shine.

Can’t get enough of Boris? Check out his older stories here, and sign up for TNW’s newsletters here.

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