How to Give Feedback Without Shooting Ideas Down

Russ Schoen -

Imagine you are teaching a child to ride a bicycle. You make sure his helmet, elbow and knee pads are on correctly. You help him onto the bike and give him a gentle push and he peddles away for the first time.

15 seconds later, the bike starts to wobble and the child falls off the bike. You catch up to him and he is looking up to you, waiting for you to give him some feedback.

Would you say?

“I can’t believe you fell off. You’ll never learn to ride a bike!”

Of course you wouldn’t.

You’d probably focus on what worked and give a suggestion for improvement. Maybe, you’d say something like, “Way to go. You rode the bike for 15 seconds. Try again and this time focus on holding the handle bars straighter.”

Now, why is this second approach much more useful to a child? Because it encourages him to do what’s working and to improve what is not.

And here’s the thing. The same principle holds for yourself and for those you work with. If you want more creative output, give feedback in a way that supports and nurtures what is working and encourages to change what isn’t.

And one of the best all around tools to do that is PPCO.

What is PPCO?

PPCo is a thinking tool that is effective at giving people or yourself feedback in a way that supports creative thinking. It is a simple structure that is easy to use. Each letter in the tool has a meaning:

The first P stands for Plusses: What is good about the idea?

The second P stands for Potentials: If the idea succeeds, what other benefits might result?

The C stands for Concerns: Phrase your concerns as open ended questions that begin with the phrase How to.

The O stands for Overcoming Concerns: Brainstorm ideas for answering your concern.

When you want to give someone feedback (including yourself) on a new idea or project, use PPCO.

An Example of a PPCO

Let’s say you run a local sandwich shop and you are looking to grow your business. One of your employees comes up with a detailed recommendation to attract college students to the shop.

Using a PPCO, you would first share:

Plusses: What is good about the idea?

So looking at the recommendation, really focus on the positive aspects.

College market is huge, there are multiple colleges within 10 miles of the shop, this is a great way to spread word of mouth marketing.

Potentials: If the idea succeeds, what other benefits might result?

It might lead to… increased profits, new store locations, more vacation time.

Concerns: Phrased as open ended questions that starts with how to.

How to make a really compelling offer to a college student?

Overcome your concerns: Brainstorm ideas to answer your concern.

How to make a really compelling offer to a college student?

Do a buy one, get one offer. Offer free delivery. Offer a mid-semester and final exam special. Offer student groups, big discounts to cater their events.

Now imagine, the person who came to you with this idea. By giving them feedback in this manner, you have encouraged them and empowered them to continue sharing their ideas. And this is just one benefit of a PPCO.

Why PPCO Is so Useful to Boost Creative Output?

PPCO is a tool that when used well creates a safe environment for people to share new ideas and try new things. Instead of projects or ideas that aren’t perfect being “punished”, the emphasis is on learning and focusing on what working and tweaking what doesn’t.

And it is quick to use. You can use PPCO in 15 minutes or less.

Now, you may be thinking that something like, this PPCO tool is way too easy, how can it really make a difference.

Put PPCO to the Test in the Next 15 Minutes

From having personally used this tool with everyone from teenagers to Fortune 500 executives, to teachers, I can tell you that it creates a lot of value and positive energy. But don’t take my word for it.

I want you to take it out for a spin and here’s how.

The next time you have an idea to solve a challenge or someone (your child, spouse, a co-worker) brings a new idea to you or you need to give someone feedback, use PPCO.

  1. First share the plusses: What is good about the idea/project?
  2. Then share the potentials: If this idea or project was successful, what future benefits might result?
  3. Think of any concerns: share them as how to questions
  4. Overcome concerns: come up with ways to answer the concerns.

Go ahead and try the tool now!

Just like a child who falls off a bike needs a little encouragement to get back on and try again, one secret of creative leadership is so do most adults.

Use the PPCO tool and watch yourself and others peddle their way to success.

Photo of kid riding bike

The PPCO was originated in the early 1980’s by Diane Foucar-Szocki, Bill Shephard, and Roger Firestein.