If you aren’t familiar with the term sounding board here’s the dictionary definition:
2. a person or group whose reactions to suggested ideas are used as a test of their validity or likely success before they are made public: I considered him mainly as a sounding board for my impressions.• a channel through which ideas are disseminated.
Ever since my very first startup, providing sound reinforcement services for local bands, my wife has served as my principle sounding board. What I’ve learned over the years is that having a sounding board is very important to founders for several reasons:
- Running your ideas by your sounding board forces you to work on articulating those ideas clearly and concisely.
- If you have a non-technical partner like my wife, you will be forced to put your startup ideas into a format that any intelligent, but non-technical, person can understand – a good thing!
- My father always used to say You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to someone else. I’ve found that to be true!
- Sounding boards are a facet of mentoring and mentors do act as sounding boards, but a sounding board is a much more lightweight role, as experience and knowledge of the startup world aren’t required.
- My wife is a great editor so often I would run documents like an executive summary of my startup business plan by her – sounding boards don’t always rely on sound!
- You do have to be careful in choosing a sounding board, as family and friends can easily tell you want they think you want to hear, which is worse than not helpful, as it can let you go off in the wrong direction. Skepticism is a baseline requirement for sounding boards.
- Acting as a sounding board for others can help you hone in on what you need as a sounding board for your own ideas.
- Too many sounding boards can end up creating confusion, like the old saw Too many cooks spoil the soup.
- Don’t wear out your welcome. Use your sounding board sparingly, if you need deep and frequent feedback seek a mentor.
- At the end of the day you own the decision or the work you’ve asked your sounding board to weigh in on. Under no circumstances should you criticize your sounding board for the feedback they gave you.
- Finally, I’ve used this quote before, but it applies directly to sounding boards: Perspective is worth 80 IQ points, according to computer scientist Alan Kay.
If you have mentors that’s great, a sounding board can be another source of feedback for you. But if you don’t have a mentor, a sounding board becomes more important and may be a first step for you on your way to engaging in a mentoring relationship.
According to the dictionary defintion sounding board is another term for soundboard, which I found amusing as when I worked in the sound reinforcement business that’s what we called our mixing desk. But feedback – of the screeching audio variety – was most definitely not that we wanted from our soundboard!