Effective feedback: Thirty Percent Vs Ninety Percent

When I was first getting started as an entrepreneur, co-founding a business with someone who I had relatively recently met, I’d consistently run into a challenge getting feedback.  I’d have built a prototype, have some ideas for what we could do with it, and take it to my cofounder to show it to her and ask her thoughts.  We’d almost inevitably get bogged down looking at and talking about details that had nothing to do with the prototype itself – this font isn’t right, why is this other part of the site interacting with it this way, etc.

This went on for quite a while, and was frustrating to both of us.  I’d just want some direction on the single item I was working on, and she wanted to clean up and polish all of the other things around it.  Alternatively, sometimes I’d have something that was just about ready to run and the conversation would veer into fundamental directional questions.  Until one day, we stumbled on the concept of thirty percent feedback vs ninety percent feedback, which I believe I first found on the 42 floors blog.

The basic idea is this – Whenever you’re asking for feedback, make clear if you’re closer to 30% finished or 90% finished.  The feedback you’ll get will be wildly different.

Thirty Percent Feedback

Thirty percent feedback is strategic, it is big picture… it answers the question ‘Am I heading the right direction?’  and because it is early enough that there is time to course correct, it has room for divergent thinking, opening up the problem domain and exploring radically different options.

Because it is early in the process, it glosses over fine details and polish, knowing those will be addressed later.  Thirty percent feedback is possibly the most difficult to ask for, because it involves putting yourself out there with work that you know is not ready, is not polished, but it is also often the most helpful feedback to get.  It can help you sidestep a lot of wasted effort, and give you truly powerful strategic insights.

Ninety Percent Feedback

Ninety percent feedback is more tactical, it is detail oriented, and it tries to catch every little issue so that nothing makes it out into production.  This is the time for closing things down, tweaking final copy, and making everything pixel perfect.

You Need Both

The place I think this is the most important is in dealing with stakeholders.  The most painful thing in the world is when you think you’re at 90% complete, you go to a stakeholder, and they’re giving you massive directional changes.  Suddenly you’re back at square one, and you’ve wasted a ton of time and energy polishing something that doesn’t end up getting used.  This is a natural consequence of skipping your 30 percent feedback checkin.

Almost as painful is going to someone for 30% feedback and having them get all caught up in the details, not able to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, and acting as if you’re delivering shoddy work.  Its not shoddy, its just only 30% finished!

So what I’ve learned to do is engage both – you engage all of your stakeholders early and often in the process, as soon as you have any sort of idea or direction, but you make clear the stage you’re at and what type of feedback you’re looking for.  That way, by the time you get to the 90% feedback not only do you have much more high quality work, but they’ve been coming along for the ride the whole time.


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Act Learn Plan – How to Think Like an Entrepreneur

We spend 12 to 16 years of our lives learning without any sense of what the reality when we finally get to acting will be like. We create an expectation that people will be able to plan their lives, and somehow know what they want to do before they have tried doing it.

This structure doesn’t work. Without the context of real things you have tried to do, there is no frame to hang all of the facts of learning.


Act first, as the basis for everything. As you push on the universe, it will push back, and from that pushing back you can then learn. From those learnings you can plan another action, but until you have encountered reality you cannot really plan for it. Does it hurt when the universe pushes back? Of course! But those are truly growing pains.

If you want to learn something, don’t study it, go out and try to do it. Think you want to become a web developer? Build a website. Not sure if you want to? Build a website. By the end you’ll have a pretty good idea if you want to become a web developer or not.


Now that you’ve spent some time pushing against the universe, you’ll be bruised.  You’ll have experienced failure.  You’ll have an intuitive sense for what is easy, what is hard, and where you need to learn.  Good.  Now learn!  Reflect!  Ask questions!  To say that acting is first does not mean that time spent learning is useless, now that you have the framework of experience to hang things on, your learning will be doubly valuable.


With the context of failure and the perspective of learning, now you have some chance of planning.  You may look at your experience and say, ‘That was great, I want more!’, or ‘That was terrible, I need to try something else’, but regardless you now will be able to base your planning on something real rather than the dream of what might be.

Your first time, you may still not be able to plan very far ahead.  You may be able to say “Yes, I want more of that, I need to look at what a career path looks like and get myself into the right job or courses”.  Or you may just be able to say “Not that!  Something new, what else calls me?”.  Whatever it is, plan as far as your vision can take you but don’t obsess, it is time to jump back into action.


Every time you go through this loop, your vision will extend a little further.  Your sight will start to go out beyond the next road and the long term goal will become a little clearer.

But please, lets stop this idea that college (or high school for that matter) students should be able to predict their future paths up to retirement.  And lets stop the idea that you need to plan out all of your next steps before you can take them.  You cannot steer a ship unless it is moving, you cannot predict your life without living it, and you won’t know what the universe is like until you try to put a dent in it and feel the pain of it pushing back.