Use Feedback To Spark, Not Destroy

I was 11 years old and getting the scolding of my life. My dad let me have it because he busted me selling illegal fireworks at school, which obviously was problematic from a parent’s perspective.

My entrepreneurial efforts got me in a world of trouble. The resulting punishment included being forced to call the parents of all my customers (fellow classmates), introduce myself, and let them know I sold their kid illegal fireworks. Needless to say, this did not help my popularity.

Remembering back, I was lectured for what seemed like hours on how horrible my behavior was. How I broke the law, endangered students, embarrassed the family and other travesties. My profitable business was shut down, and at the time I felt like I’d never want to take a crazy risk again.

Now with my own kids, however, I may take a different approach if the circumstances were to repeat. While I wouldn’t condone an illegal or dangerous enterprise, I would be more encouraging of the positives that transpired.

I’d recognize that a market opportunity was identified, suppliers were secured, margins were calculated with strong unit economics ($1 per pack of firecrackers with only a 25 cents cost of goods sold), customers wooed, and distribution channels built. A business was launched, entrepreneurial initiative was taken, and profits were produced.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t get discouraged by my embarrassment or subsequent grounding. I ended up launching several businesses and embracing entrepreneurship as my career. But think about all the people that were discouraged from following their dreams — from a parent, teacher, or some other authority figure — that internalized the criticism and never tried again.

We are quick to scold those around us for behavior that deviates from the norm. While we certainly need to maintain law and order, we shouldn’t view divergent behavior as all good or all bad. We have highly developed detection systems to spot the negative, but by seeking the good in things we can drive more positive change in the world.

For every Broadway performer, entrepreneur, or pro athlete, there are probably 100 others who could have enjoyed the same success had they not been discouraged along the way.

Supporting those around us with positive feedback and encouraging them to pursue their biggest dreams may yield a few failures, but more importantly, it will help produce far more successes. This same principle applies to our own internal dialog, when we give ourselves a pat-on-the-back instead of cutting criticism.

Don’t scold, celebrate. Don’t demoralize, empower. Become the source of encouragement — to others and yourself — and you’ll end up helping your business, community and family.

Serve as the spark. Just try to stay clear of bottle rockets and Roman candles.