There’s only one useful way to handle your detractors

Here’s a Reddit/Slashdot/whatever thread that never happened:

Internet crank on Reddit: “Hey, Steve Jobs, I guess that new iPad looks cool, but I think iPad is a stupid name, it makes me think of sanitary napkins.”

Steve: “Yeah, well, here’s why we called it that. (Long explanation justifying his choices)”

Crank #2: “Well, why didn’t you call it the iTablet? I think that would have been a good name. What does everyone else think?”

Crank #3: “What does it have to be iAnything? I’m tired of the i- prefix.”

Steve: “We thought about that, but … (More explanation about his choices)”

Crank #1: “And really, isn’t it just a bigger iPod Touch? I would never carry that around with me. And come on, you’re just trying to redo the Newton anyway LOL”

Steve: “My logic behind the iPad is (vision, business plan, blah blah blah)”

Can you even  imagine Steve Jobs in this sort of time-wasting and emotionally draining tit-for-tat in a thread on Slashdot? On reddit? In some blog’s comment section? Of course not. Justification of his plans would take away from the amazing things that he needed to achieve.

Naysayers are part of every project. How many people do you think pissed on Jimmy Wales’ little project to aggregate knowledge? Nobody’s going to spend their time writing encyclopedia entries! And yet there it is.  On a personal level, if I listened to everyone who thought I was wasting my time improving on find + grep you’d never have ack.

We all have to persevere in the face of adversity to ideas, but there’s more than that.  We need to ignore our detractors. Despite how silly and time-wasting it is to argue your motivations and reasons for undertaking a project, many of us feel compelled to argue with everyone who disagrees with us.  I suggest you not waste your time.

On the Internet, the attitude is “Why wasn’t I consulted?” Every anti-social child (measured by calendar or maturity) with a keyboard thinks it’s his responsibility to piss on everything he doesn’t like. They’ll be there always. You can no more make them go away than you would by arguing with the rain.

What are you hoping to achieve by arguing with someone who doesn’t like your project? Do you expect that he’ll come around to your way of thinking? It won’t happen through words.

Not only does arguing with your critics waste your precious time, but it tells them, and every other crank reading, that you’re willing to engage in debate about what you’re doing. Don’t encourage them! Let them find a more receptive target.

I’m not saying that factual misstatements need to be ignored.  If something is provably incorrect, go ahead and counter it with facts.  However, most of the time these message thread pissing wars get down to “I would not be doing what you are doing, and therefore you are wrong for doing so.”

The only thing that has a chance of silencing your critics is success at what you do. Arguing with the naysayers doesn’t get you any closer to that.


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8 Responses to “There’s only one useful way to handle your detractors”

  1. Mark Dominus Says:

    “The Author’s Big Mistake”:

    Fussell says that the biggest mistake an author can make is to respond to a bad review.

  2. Tony Adams Says:

    Great advice! thanks!

    2. Until I read this, I had ack and awk totally mixed up. And yay! there is a Debian package.

  3. Mark Dominus Says:

    Concidentally, I just happened to be reading Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The second sentence is “Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.”

  4. Joshua Hoblitt Says:

    There was a great example recently of why you don’t respond to your critics. RIM responded publicly to an anonymous published open letter: My take on this response was that everyone in the open letter was dead on and RIM management was scared. It would have been better for them to have ignored the letter.

  5. Justin Dugger Says:

    An interesting point, but I’m told that Jobs responded to quite a bit of e-mail from customers, the contents of which will be along the lines of a slightly more polite reddit. As one archive of examples I found by googling, observe which gathers those random short conversations into a single site.

    Hell, he’s so famous for this that it’s been parodied:

    It seems the crux here isn’t “your customer is always right” or “if I asked them what I wanted, they’d say faster horses”. Jobs didn’t write lengthy justifications, but neither did he ignore his detractors…

  6. Penguin Pete Says:

    Wow, this post is wisdom which I would forward to every open source project, were it in my time-frame. I especially get frustrated when a prominent open-source tool gets broken (I’m looking at Gimp, for instance) to appease the I-want-Photoshop-for-free trolls (everywhere). This doesn’t win new users over to the open-source project and alienates current users (Thanks for reshuffling the UI! I only wrote those 20 tutorials for practice, you know!).

    And ‘Reddit’ should change their name to ‘Hateit’. Anderson Cooper had a point: It’s the biggest hate-site on the Internet, and Conde-Nast were wise to throw it out. The sooner it goes away, the better.

  7. Tim Says:

    I understand your point, but there is a fundamental problem with this sort of advice (much like the “they laughed at Galileo” trope):

    You ain’t Steve Jobs.

    He may not have had a need to consider feedback or explain himself, but he was also a one-in-a-million visionary.

    Other projects (no names mentioned here) that make wildly unpopular decisions and refuse to consider outside criticism and input are doing themselves and users a disservice.

  8. You’re not a genius? Says who? | Andy Lester Says:

    […] my last blog post, I talked about how it was unnecessary and counterproductive to justify your projects to your […]

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