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“That’s Not How It Works:” A Guide To Making Feedback Your Secret Weapon

Strategica Partners

“That’s Not How It Works:” A Guide To Leveraging Feedback

A Framework for Categorizing Feedback

When most people hear “That’s not how it works” from someone who’s highly confident or respected, it’s often the end of the discussion. But I’ve found through a decade of policy research and startup leadership that there are 3 categories of “That’s not how it works.” And it’s easier to categorize the right response than you think.

The 3 types of “That’s Not How it Works”

1. A sign to pivot

i.e. Theranos scientists’ feedback to CEO Elizabeth Holmes.

2. A sign that you’re onto something innovative

i.e. “ Squeamish “ receptions to ideas like Lyft or AirBnb, which made people uncomfortable by disrupting status quo.

3. A sign you’re talking to the wrong person

  1. Someone who thinks that the “right” way to work will never change, or has close-minded feedback that comes without an understanding of relevant context.
  2. i.e. Your parents saying that real work can only be done in an office.

When someone makes this declarative statement, they’re usually eager to continue sharing their opinion. Which is great, because this feedback can typically be categorized with only 2 follow-up questions.

  1. Why not? (Repeated as needed, often 2–3 times to distill the true intent.)
  2. How are you so sure?

Examples of “Why not” replies that would be a sign to pivot:

  • “The laws of gravity won’t allow it. Here’s why.”
  • “Compressing hydrogen to that degree is too flammable to transport. But what you could try is…”

Examples “Why not” replies that would be a sign you’re onto something innovative

  • Silence, or “it just doesn’t”
  • Logical fallacies
  • Sweeping assumptions based on the present state or a scenario in the present. i.e.”No one would ever buy a car on the internet…”

Examples of “Why not” replies that would be a sign you’re talking to the wrong person:

  • “I have 30 years of experience with Fortune 500 companies, and can tell you that’s not how it works.”
  • “Google tried that, and it didn’t work.”
  • There are too many variables here to transfer one company’s prior attempts to another’s current approach. Timing, consumer preferences, and execution nuances are obfuscated by a highly-general overview.


Taking feedback from the wrong people can derail product design and data analysis. But there’s something to learn from everyone, and how you choose to categorize their feedback and skepticism can usually improve a product, positioning, or go-to-market strategy. The logic tree below can help.

Confusion or skepticism can be incorporated into your decisions to deliver higher-value outputs.


“Feel” isn’t a popular word in business in the age of data-driven decisions — but a feeling of whether advice is relevant based on who it comes from and how it’s devised is crucial to optimal decisions.

Do you have thoughts or comments on how probing for the source of feedback can help in your personal or professional life? I’d love to hear it.

Originally published at

“That’s Not How It Works:” A Guide To Making Feedback Your Secret Weapon was originally published in Strategica Partners on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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