What Feedback Counts?

imagesI feel like I’m opening up another can of worms in this subject of being open to feedback. For some reason, I am continually finding things that are normally seen as simple in the blogosphere are really quite problematic.

Case in point: Today I was having a tea with Joe Wilson, a colleague from MaRS days. He was talking about the feedback entrepreneurs get about their business and when should they listen to the feedback and when shouldn’t they? It’s one thing to be open to feedback but as I questioned yesterday, who should you listen to and then today I’ll ask the question: What Feedback Counts?

So you have someone whose opinion you respect but should you listen to the feedback? What is good feedback and what is bad feedback? What should you take in and what should you ignore?

Many years ago when we were starting Synamics we got a piece of advice from Bob Ferchat, the CEO of Nortel that we should learn to swim in our own bay before going out in the big lake. What he meant was learn to make it in Canada before going to export markets. Worse piece of advice I ever got as it impeded our growth for years. We were open to feedback and we were listening to the right person but should his feedback have counted? In retrospect I would have to say no.

Unfortunately I don’t have an answer for what feedback counts and I’m not sure I ever will. All I’ve learned in the past few years is that it’s not all about the logic. You need to listen to your gut as well as your mind. If they both say listen then do. If either says don’t listen then don’t.


  1. Dang it! And we all know how Nortel turned out!

    Certainly the late Mr. Ferchat must have made a lot of sound choices to chair the seat of power at Nortel, but the final decisions (in fairness to Bob – a decade removed from Nortel) dismantled one of North America’s strongest communications companies.

    Hindsight is 20/20, and it isn’t until afterwards you realize how loudly your gut/mind was screaming at you to stop. We ignore the red lights because “perseverance pays off.”

    I guess that the strength to assert belief in your own decision is only earned after following poor advice from others. This will inevitably give you an opportunity to pass on rotten advice to the next young leader seeking mentorship, and all remains right in the world.

    This is great stuff, Charles. This highlights the thought process that responsible leaders must endure. Your ‘Type A’ leaders don’t have that problem – as their decision, feedback driven or not, is always going to be right. The one thing a leader must always have is followers – behind the leader pushing forward – and they will push when they have been granted the opportunity to influence the leader’s choice – good decision or bad.

    In the case of Nortel, my heart goes out to the tenured employees who probably didn’t make out like bandits when the company was turned over to it’s creditors. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened in the post-bailout era. The lesson learned here is that the “followers” must also make sound decisions – and followers (of large corporations) will soon wise up to the power that they have to keep or refuse their assigned leaders. Perhaps an idea that may influence those in “The King’s Chair” to ensure their decisions are a result of carefully considered feedback?

    I think I’m getting away from the idea a bit, but no-one else responded to this blog post. Ya gotta have some feedback when you’re blogging about feedback. Have a great week y’all!

    • One ironic image that shall remain in my mind is of the protest held by Nortel retirees when it became apparent that their pensions were going to be severely chopped. Leading the protests was none other than Bob Ferchat. He did a great job with Nortel but those that followed him missed that what propelled Nortel to fame was the same that doomed them, rapid technological change.


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