Asking for a slap in the face

In 2006, Paul Arden, former creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi and responsible for classic ads for British Airways, Silk Cut and, err, Thatcher, wrote a quirky, fun little book of epigrams about life, work and careers called Whatever you think, think the opposite. I pick it up occasionally when I need a laugh or need a clever quote. Sometimes it gives good advice.

It has good advice about feedback and advice. If you tell me I’ve done something you like, I’ll be pleased. My ego will be buffed up a little and I’ll go away with a spring in my step. This will work even if you’re turning me down. Like the email from the village gala committee telling me that, no, I couldn’t sell them any beer for the upcoming family ceilidh.

You are part of the problem! Because your beer sold so well on Gala Day, we were left with crate loads! So the Ceilidh is our last chance to get rid before it goes out of date! On this occasion, we’ll decline your kind offer because no bugger will buy the standard stuff when yours is on offer!

I couldn’t help but be pleased about that.

So, praise is nice but it doesn’t make you better. No, to get better you need criticism. Not just any old criticism, of course, but constructive feedback that you can learn from. Telling me my beer’s shit doesn’t help because it doesn’t give any clue as to why. I can’t fix it.

Which brings me to Sunday. Greig’s Beer Burps reviewed my Cairns Belgian Pale. It was a good, if mixed, review. He wasn’t raving about it but his observations were fair comment that I can reflect on and do something about. But one line really stood out for me:

I’ve tried a couple of the Brew Shed beers now and on the whole I’ve been quite impressed apart from one of their brews.

Apart from one of their brews? Which one? He kindly stops short of naming and shaming the disappointing brew. Enter Paul Arden. My favourite of his little epigrams is the one advising that you ask for a slap in the face.

The key line is at the the end – the truth hurts but in the long run it’s better than a pat on the back. So in the pursuit of better beer, I asked Greig for a slap in the face, which he kindly did.

It was your Porter which I didn’t think was up to much tho, I felt it was a bit thin and lacked body. There was a slight aftertaste too which didn’t sit well.

This is useful feedback. I can look at my recipe and compare with others – what’s missing that would add body, without changing the taste. I can think it about when the current batch is ready, sitting it alongside some others that I like and some that I haven’t yet tried and seeing how it compares.

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Asking for a slap in the face