I like to think I’m right about most things- we all do. No one enters a discussion or a debate thinking they don’t have the right answer. No one plans an event or program with the intention of having a piece of it go awry or not wanting to live up to expectations. Never are the inadequacies on purpose. No one intentionally sabotages their own work in hopes their colleagues will point out their flaws. In short, we all do the things we do, and hold the opinions we have because we think we are on the right side of each issue and activity. But of course, perfection is the goal and rarely, if ever, the outcome.

Yet, to be confronted with criticism hurts. Even when it’s requested, there is a level of acceptance that needs to be gradually built towards. And as the critic, no matter how well-intentioned the suggestion, even the slightest critique, contains a degree of ‘what was done was below standard’. Layered on top of the criticism comes unintended embarrassment for the recipient and thus, at times, the critic is reluctant. This is especially true when it comes to volunteer-driven organizations, where those being critiqued are giving freely of their time with no other benefit then for a successful event or program- so why make these volunteers feel bad?

The question becomes, how do you make something better without criticism? The answer is surprisingly simple: you don’t. There is no way to make something better without recognizing where the flaws and the gaps are. As much as it may seem hurtful to point out improvements, it’s the only way to make things truly better. Without it, the events or programs never improve and become repetitive or stale. Even worse, the events or programs never reach the level of success that they could with just a few minor tweaks.

That’s why accepting criticism is one of the most valuable skills any leader can have. There are numerous stories of successful business people who overcame failures to find success was only a few minor tweaks away (or in some cases, a few major tweaks away). Steve Jobs was fired by Apple after he started the company, only to start another company called NeXT which Apple then acquired and Jobs then ascended the ranks of the leadership team with his breakthrough innovations. Milton Hershey created three candy companies that all failed before creating Hershey’s. Walt Disney got fired from a newspaper for ‘not having enough creativity.’ No doubt all of those failings hurt the innovators, but at some point they needed to be honest and say, ‘where did this fail’, and ‘let’s identify what I can do better’. They didn’t change on their own either. They asked those around them what they saw from their perspective of why it failed. They asked for new processes, made changes to existing protocols or even adapted their own behavior to ensure their next project would have a better chance at success. It wasn’t easy, it never is, but in the end the process was worthwhile.

Here in Midcoast Maine we are a part of some of that work, but on a much smaller scale. I don’t think the changes to our programs or events will make us the next Apple, or Hershey’s or Disney, but the principle for finding success is the same. One instance is the Fall Hiring & Sub Fair which happened last week at Cook’s Corner Mall. We had 50 businesses, and 5 schools on hand to meet with potential employees and perspective substitute teachers, ed. techs and bus drivers. We had nearly 200 attendees in the four hours of the event, which is a pretty strong turnout considering unemployment is at low levels not seen in over 10-15 years. Most employers got at least 1-2 strong candidates for open positions they had, and a few of the bigger businesses with multiple positions open found 5-10 strong candidates. Overall, for the first time doing this event in autumn, it would be graded as a success.

Yet, I know not everything was done perfectly. Was the layout effective for the businesses on hand? Were the maps correct? Did we advertise enough? Was four hours too long, or too short? How was parking? Do we need more food? After each event there are dozens of questions that can be asked. For the Hiring & Sub Fair we created a survey for both the attendees and booth spaces. We also made an effort to circulate to each booth at the end of the fair and specifically ask for them to include ways we could improve the event and assured them there would be no hurt feelings- we just want to get it right.

Here is where you come in. Your opinions as the general public matter more than you could know to event organizers. This is my plea- if you attend a local event, and have some suggestions on ways to make it better, the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber wants to hear from you. We understand that you don’t know which organization runs each event and that’s okay. We do know who runs each event, and if you submit your suggestions to us, we will be sure to get them to the right people.

The best way you can do that is by email that way we can pass along your suggestions in your own words without any chance of misinterpreting exactly what you meant ([email protected]). However, if you don’t like to e-mail, you can always call us to share your suggestions and we will take the best notes we can. The point is, we want to make things better, and that only happens by your constructive criticisms that point out where we can find one more degree of success. I hope you will take us up on this offer.

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