December 4, 2023

Shrugs, confused looks and golf claps


Some people have so many ideas, they don’t know which one to focus on.

And while there are numerous tools for solving this problem, one that’s overlooked is biofeedback.

To gain an accurate account of your idea’s potential, you watch for physical reactions, not subjective opinions. Noticing what people’s body does rather than what their mouth says.

When you observe people’s physiology changing when they’re first exposed to your idea, with a gesture like a gasp, laugh, eyebrow raise, a fist banging on the table, or some other unconscious nonverbal indicator of interest, that’s a strong tell. It doesn’t guarantee your idea will be successful, but it’s not nothing.

Many of my ideas over the years have been met with shrugs, confused looks, golf claps and the worst of all, no reaction at all. It’s a spike to the heart when it happens, because obviously, inside my head all of my idea are ingenious.

But biofeedback doesn’t lie. And we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t pay attention to it.

An environment where this feedback literally plays out is while busking at the park. I perform music there every week at the same time in the same spot. And out of the two hundred or so songs in my repertoire, it’s fascinating to notice which ones immediately elicit head nods, finger snaps, hand claps, dance moves, singalongs, toe taps, dog barks, and of course, dollars in my tip jar.

After all, these are original songs. It’s not like anyone besides my wife actually recognizes any of my music.

And so, these reactions happen in real time from total strangers with a blank slate. It’s good data that informs my creative process, both the composition and live performance of the songs.

What are people’s reactions to your work? Do you know what kind of biofeedback would you an accurate account of your idea’s potential?

Scott Adams, the cubicle worker who became a world famous cartoonist, hypnotist, author, entrepreneur and political pundit, expertly studies biofeedback. In his bestselling memoir he writes:

You might be tempted to think sometimes an idea without any enthusiastic fans can gain that quality over time. I’m sure it’s happened, but I can’t think of an example in my life. It’s generally true that if nobody is excited about your product in the beginning, they never will be. But if the work inspires some excitement and some action from customers, get ready to chew through some walls. You might have something worth fighting for.

This insight reminds me of the time my software developer first showed me the search functionality of our app. My jaw dropped and made an audible gasp of glee and delight. He laughed and say, wow, now that’s the kind of reaction we’re looking for from users.

Sure enough, when we started releasing short product video teasers to show how the software worked, people reacted similarly. Their physical reactions, rather than their subjective opinions, told me that we were onto something.

There was still a ton of work to do, but at least we had the initial positive feedback to build on.

Do your ideas make people’s body communicate the message of, no shit, bullshit, or holy shit?