25 Aug

Unsolicited Advice

The rock skipped five times across the water before sinking into a small wave. Not bad, considering the water was rough. As Barrett searched for another rock to beat his new record, we discussed a new idea: what if we gave people all our advice and opinions they never asked for?

I was with four of my closest friends in the mountains of North Carolina for our first ever mastermind retreat. The crew was Barrett Brooks, James Clear, Caleb Wojcik, Matthew Marshall, and myself. We’d just wrapped up a weekend of intense work and business strategy with a hike along the river.

Photo by James Clear

The conversation turned to a friends business and what we thought he really should do. For a second I almost felt guilty for the comment. It was like gossiping about someone who wasn’t there. But actually, our comments and feedback we’re helpful. If I were him, I’d want to know.

Then someone—I’m not even sure who—said the idea that would result in the most valuable time of the weekend:

“What if we talked about each other this way—but when they are present?”

That’s it! We all got excited.

We all think of things each other should be doing, but don’t say it out of politeness. It’s considered rude to walk up to someone and give them your opinion on everything in their life.

Even with friends in a mastermind group you discuss the problems they bring to the table. “What are you struggling with and how can we help?”

Later that evening we laid the ground rules for our newly invented mastermind session:

  1. Each session would focus on one person for 15 minutes.
  2. The subject sits there in the room and takes notes.
  3. They are not allowed to speak or interject at anytime. They may only take notes.
  4. Everyone else talks about them as if they weren’t there.

Since this is within a group of close friends who understand each others businesses the advice is usually on-point.

Photos by Caleb Wojcik

Shut up and listen

During my session it was so hard to keep my mouth shut. Someone would bring up that they think I should have followed through on X or made a different decision about Y. I desperately wanted to interject with all the reasons I made that decision.

That’s when we realized something critical: we judge ourselves based on our intentions. I meant to do that, but it didn’t work out because I wasn’t able to get enough traction.

But everyone else can’t do that. Outsiders can only judge based on actions and outcomes. The external things.

So we can reason away our own shortcomings based on intentions and feelings, but in this session you get to hear exactly what your peers thought you should have done. Even if you had the best of intentions, you still fell short of what you could have accomplished.

So, I sat there with my mouth shut and typed.

My notes

Here are a few of my notes:

“Nathan was most interesting when he was teaching design”

“Yeah, why did he move away from teaching design?”

Another comment was “Nathan’s internet fame rose so quickly. He came out of nowhere. And then everything stalled out.”

“Turning the corner for design to marketing represented a decrease in interest. People want to learn design from a great designer.”

To which I wrote: ConvertKit can be a way to keep designing. Teach about designing ConvertKit. (That would also help sell ConvertKit). ConvertKit gives me design things to write about. 

Then someone brought up the word “precocious”. Chris Guillebeau had used it to describe me in a recent blog post. Here’s the dictionary definition: “having developed certain abilities or proclivities at an earlier age than usual.”

That turned the topic to me getting burnt out. Pushing too hard on too many different things without seeing results. I don’t remember who brought this up, but I wrote down:

Precocious: early innings of a long game. Make sure to build something sustainable. Make it less taxing. 

After a few other brief comments on ConvertKit, my session was over and I could finally open my mouth. I instantly wanted to defend why I moved away from primarily teaching design…but really, they were right. That is where I made my name and built my audience.

My marketing ideas and writing have had a huge impact, but just looking back at financial success from each launch, teaching design is the better business.

With the success of ConvertKit I’ve moved in a different direction entirely, but through this session I learned exactly what my peers thought I should be doing and their opinions on my business in the last year.

Give it a try

The details of everyone else’s sessions are not for me to share, but each person said their 15 minutes of unsolicited feedback was the most valuable time of the weekend for them. And it wasn’t all critical. I think all of us left feeling respected and valued by our peers, but with a clear list of what to work on.

I just heard from my good friend Grant Baldwin that his mastermind group tried “the ‘talk about the person in front of them’ deal“. He went on to say it was the highlight of their weekend retreat.

I think it’s time you started asking for unsolicited advice (from the right people).

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24 Responses to “Unsolicited Advice”

  1. Good post man! It was definitely a huge value for us :)


  2. This seems like a really innovative way to help your friends and peers. Not everyone out there would be comfortable with sort of unflinching honesty, but I think it’s really admirable that your mastermind group was able to do this. It sounds like a really valuable exercise in eliminating the filter, and cutting to some honest insights.


    • Nathan Barry says:

      I think to have a good mastermind group you need to be this honest. But it all starts with one person asking for it. You have to solicit the advice—the key is to not limit it to one topic or question.


  3. Man, that would be super hard for me to keep my mouth shut too but I think there is a lot of value in being a “fly on the wall” when smart people are talking about your business. Gives you a new perspective that you can’t have on your own. Good stuff!


    • As a side note, Nathan, I was introduced to your stuff after you apparently switched to the marketing side of things which has been great, I subscribe to a lot of stuff, some I read and some I don’t depending on time, but anytime your emails hit my inbox I make the time to read them. Anyway, just my 2 cents.


      • Nathan Barry says:

        Yep, keeping your mouth shut is so hard. But getting the unfiltered perception from someone else is so valuable.

        Glad you like the marketing posts! I decided that I’ll start sending both design and marketing content to everyone. My favorite kind of people are the ones that care about both. :)


  4. Nice idea, and thanks for the post Nathan! It’s interesting to see “behind the curtain.” And I have to agree, your design teaching is great, and why I started reading :)


    • Nathan Barry says:

      I’ll still try to write design articles. I’ve been doing a lot more design on ConvertKit lately. :)


  5. Great post — would be interesting to also read about any alternate plans or directions based on the feedback. i.e. did the feedback turn into action?


  6. This is such a great idea! I guess when we ask advice or feedback its also on things we are ready to deal with, or want to deal with, sometimes getting advice on things we aren’t ready to deal with can be a much needed push forward.

    I also really like the concept of listening only, with no input, it doesn’t give you a chance to sway their opinions into what you want either.

    Nice one!!


  7. Nathan – I just shared your post with my mastermind and want to give this a try! Although I appreciate awesome UI and design, it’s from a user standpoint and would never have connected with you had you not written Authority. That book has been so helpful to me as I start to navigate a path of influence and self-publish my book. Although I’m not your ideal target person, I do teach and found your notes about what you learned invaluable. You’re a natural teacher (Teach What You Know) and perhaps it’s that you’re earlier in your game for some of these topics vs. design. I’m thankful you share these ‘behind the scenes’ posts. I find your transparency incredibly helpful.


  8. Really awesome twist on Masterminding… love it!


  9. Cool story Nathan,

    I would think the key to getting something useful out of this is that your group is:

    a) Knowledgeable about your work
    b) Has at least a bit of experience with marketing

    I think it’s a little easier said than done to find the right group for this. Although I suppose you could form a group and agree to research each other.


  10. My college professor/mentor used this trick in our fiction workshop, and I have to agree that it was perhaps the single most effective way to grow as a writer… to have to sit there and listen as people discussed without being able to talk and ask questions. Great post!


  11. Interesting read. Getting feedback like that is cool, but I’m sure I’ll struggle to not say something.

    When I started reading your content it was about the design, and kept reading the marketing. It’s a topic I’ve been working more ad more over the years. I have no preference. If the content is interesting people will stay.

    One thing you need to consider is that even if design is the better business, you need to also take in consideration what you like more at this particular moment. It may be that marketing gives you more ideas right now.


  12. I can never seem to get this sort of feedback on my work from anyone, even when I ask for it! Even in a top-notch art school I struggled to get the caliber of critique I was expecting. I would like to find a group of friends who aren’t too polite to hold their tongue when I’m present and are completely honest, but that has proven surprisingly difficult.


  13. I love the transparency in this post. Honestly, I’m about 50/50 on the design vs. marketing posts, I enjoy them both. However, the THING that has stuck out in my mind about Nathan Barry is that this guy doesn’t hold back, he puts himself into what he writes.

    Your mastermind group is a great example for others to follow too. First I was inspired by the idea of retreats to supplement the virtual meetings, and now this idea to talk as if they weren’t there…such a great exercise. Thanks for sharing!


  14. Love this, Nathan! I started a virtual mastermind last December and we’ve morphed into a similar format. However, definitely need to test this out face-to-face.

    Keep up the good work.


  15. Where did you find your mastermind group specifically? e.g. met them at events?

    For the most part I have just focused on my businesses and have never really sought out trying to start or join a group. I’m in one “group” now but really it’s just a friend and I that have somewhat similar revenue numbers and we ask one question at the meeting that’s geared towards making it to the next level.

    In any case, I vastly prefer blunt advice. No one benefits from smiling and nodding (unless you’re just searching for casual interaction)


  16. Good job, Nathan. I don’t know what the reasons were behind sticking with design for your writing/teaching focus, but I think you have a knack for both—Design & Marketing.

    All the best.


  17. Good stuff dude! I definitely want to try this out.

    So the real question is, what is the plan now that this happened? :)


  18. Great stuff. You have to have a thick skin to be able to take all that info in without saying anything. You also have to be in a great mastermind group and be able to take criticism.


  19. Hey, Nathan, so good to hear from you again, and I really enjoyed your valuable content in this post. Keep ’em coming.
    Deena


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