The Math of Trolls

Have you ever been held back from creating something because you were worried someone may not like it? I know I have.

Here’s a tip for overcoming that fear. I call it the math of trolls, it’s based on the idea that someone is 100% guaranteed to not like what you create. Consider the criticism of the following well-known authors and musicians. Regardless of how well received a song, album, or book is by their intended audience, it always receives negative feedback.

Some examples include:

Walden, the literary American classic by Henry David Thoreau exploring nature and its simplicity, harmony, and beauty, currently has 124 one-star reviews on Amazon. Including this particularly harsh feedback:

  • “What a blowhard.”

  • “What a yawn!”

  • “Tough read, it was extremely boring.”

  • “I was not impressed.”

  • “…the book is crap.”

  • “I was bored to death.”

  • “Hated it.”

  • “Boring.”

The Beatles receive equally harsh feedback for their classic album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, named the number one album of all time by the Rolling Stone.

  • “I just don't get why anybody likes this album!”

  • “Most of the songs are worthless, stupid, and dull.”

  • “Incredibly mundane.”

  • “Not only is it a bad album, it is also a boring one.”

  • “CRAP!!!!!!!”

Thriller, the top-grossing album of all-time by Michal Jackson receives the following feedback:

  • “This album is overrated.”

  • “With the exception of ‘Billie Jean’ the album is a dud.”

  • “Nothing special.”

Le d Zeppelin sold over 23 million copies of Led Zeppelin IV, and receives these remarks:

  • “I can't believe people think this is good music.”

  • “One of the worst bands of the 70's.”

  • “This album represents the musicians attempting a level of art they weren't capable of reaching, and the results are spectacularly crass and mindless.”

Dr. Dre’s debut album, The Chronic, which is widely regarded as one of the most well-produced hip-hop albums of all time received the following critiques:

  • “This album sucks!”

  • “One of the worst albums & rappers ever.”

  • “The worst CD that I have ever heard in my life.”

I understand the lyrics of The Chronic could easily offend listeners, and that may be why listeners feel adamant about sharing their negative feeling towards it. But that doesn’t explain the negative reaction to this YouTube version of Patti Griffin’s song Heavenly Day (it’s basically an ode to relaxing and lyrically one of the least offensive songs I could find). Thirty viewers have publicly thumbed it down. I understand some people may not like this style of music (and they are certainly entitled to an opinion) but it seems like a stretch to publicly want to show distaste for it.

My point is, and this is something I reinforce daily with clients: Prior to beginning the creative process for your project (regardless if it’s a song, book, app, painting, starting a restaurant, building a business, or anything else) establish who it’s for and declare it’s not for everyone. Understand before you start working there is a 100% chance someone will not appreciate it. No matter how brilliant or prolific, your work will be criticized and disliked.

Initially, this seems scary or at least concerning and can paralyze the creative process. But what if you use it to do the opposite?

Could you use it:

  • As fuel to do your most creative work by ensuring you don’t dull it down to satisfy the masses?

  • To ensure you focus on creating something special that will particularly resonate with your target audience?

  • To ease the blow when your first critical feedback is received? (After all, you expected it. It was part of the plan. You saw it coming.)

Everyone’s not going to like what you make. Make it anyway.  

Matt Eatt