How The Unavoidable Blinders Can Hurt Your Proposals (Or Other Important Efforts)

Let’s say you’ve been doing something, like putting together proposals, or writing, for a long time. How do you know your work is the best it could be?

What if you could check the quality of your work without your expertise coming into question?

Today, I want to tell you about a tactic that has improved my work product every time I’ve used it. But first, I want to tell you about a resume I spent a lot of time working on.

Natural Blinders You Can’t Take Off

Just the other day, I was putting together a resume for one of our proposals. It wasn’t just any resume. It was THE resume: the resume that would determine whether or not we got shortlisted.

This resume had to be spot on. If this resume wasn’t up to snuff, I was ready to call up our joint venture partner and pull the plug. It was that important.

It was also for someone who has worked for us since well before I arrived at the company. I had put together many resumes for this guy. I’ve known him for at least a decade. My principals have known him for twice that.

I spent something like two hours on this two-page resume. Once I was done, I sent it to one of my principals, a director at our firm, our joint-venture partner, and a valuable subconsultant. I asked them to weigh in on whether it was good enough to get us the job.

I was thinking it was pretty good. At least, I felt this was the best resume I could put together for this fellow, in this situation.

Both the principal and a director at my firm responded with, “Wow, this is great!”

The Disadvantage Of Knowledge

Let’s think about this situation. My principal, the director, and I all have a disadvantage: knowledge. We know the guy in the resume. We know a good deal about his capabilities and what he’s done. We’ve all read his resume before, many times.

Here’s the problem. You simply cannot make an independent and objective assessment of anything you have a great deal of intimate knowledge about. That could be your proposals, marketing materials, website, strategy, or whatever.

Knowledge is the natural blinder.

How To Avoid The Danger Of Knowledge

Unfortunately, you can’t unlearn what you know. You can’t wipe away the perceptions you established.

But you know who can…

…someone without any intimate knowledge…

…someone with no already established perceptions.

A fresh set of eyes, a fresh perspective, is invaluable.

I wasn’t surprised when our joint venture partner had a ton of constructive criticisms about the resume. They have the advantage of fresh eyes. They didn’t know this guy and had never seen his resume before.

Did I agree with every comment? Absolutely not. Some, I felt, were just bad for the resume. But others were spot on. And, if their information was right, some of my data was just bad.

Being awesome, they volunteered to talk to my guy and take a stab at revising the resume. I made sure to explain what I didn’t want changed (and why), why I had made certain decisions, and the narrative I was trying to create.

Know When To Hold Them

I know what you are thinking. But Matt, I can’t just go showing our proprietary information to just anyone!

Let’s talk about this. I think people are insane about this concept. If you are Lockheed Martin proposing to build a top secret facility, by all means don’t let anyone see anything in your proposal.

If you are working on a proposal to design-build a new, massive bridge in New York City…for the love of God…do not show anyone anything.

If this document holds some inside information that only you know and could damage your business if anyone else saw it…yes, keep it close to your chest.

But, if you are proposing to design a library renovation in Danville, IL or build a school in Dover, DE why not get a fresh set of eyes from your admin, an internal “red team,” teaming partner, Aunt Nelly, or even someone like Bernie Siben?

A resume is not proprietary. Now more than ever, resumes are flying around like crazy. Your competitors’ HR departments likely have access to your staff’s resumes.

A letter or introduction is not proprietary. Most I’ve seen are generic and would only hurt your competitors if they had it.

In fact, please give your competitors your old, lame, and ineffective proposal content! You’d be lucky to have them copy it while you’re working with a fresh set of eyes to make new, mind-blowing proposal content.

The only things you could possibly argue are proprietary are your approach and price.

First, you don’t need a fresh set of eyes on your price. The only one who can put together your price is someone in your organization.

But always, always, triple check your price.

Then there is your approach. Again, most approaches I’ve seen, and I’ve seen them in every service line…in every market, are just generic and almost identical to every other approach.

It is laughable to think your approach to laying out conduits is somehow unique. With that said, I do think having a fresh set of eyes, whether that’s an admin or someone like Bernie, Q/A it is wise.

The Fresh Eye Approach

There is a natural bias when it comes to our own work. As a result, it’s hard for us to look at it independently and objectively. Whenever you can get a pair of “fresh eyes” to question your work, to try and poke holes in it…

…the result will be something better.

Now it’s your turn. Do you see a fresh pair of eyes as a necessary strategy or security risk?

Leave your thoughts over at this article’s comment section.


  1. Jana Brickey says

    Sometimes, my fresh set of eyes comes from a member of my consultant team. Use them as a resource, they understand the industry and can give great advice on where to fix something.

    For interview prep, I have brought in my husband for the fresh set of eyes. As a Director for his firm, he understands the owner perspective. Quite often, he can tell if you are going to be someone he would want to work with.

  2. Interesting. I never really thought of it like that. I KNOW how great my people are, but am I getting that through on the resume that’s going to someone who does NOT know them. Definitely something to think about next time I’m writing resumes/descriptions (in other words, TODAY). I’m not sure who outside of my firm I could get to review them. I just shared this discussion with our marketing group (Rogue Marketing Posse). I’ll be interested to see what they have to say. And other commenters here.

  3. Great thoughts, Matt, and so true. We develop, read, reread, and reuse the same materials without realizing the message we want to deliver is missed by the reader.

    C*Connect works with AEC clients to conduct proposal peer reviews to help develop client-focused proposals. That includes asking the question ‘why should they care’ — many, many times. In the case of a proprietary proposal, I’ve been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The investment in a solid outside perspective is worth it.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Fantastic! All good points. I have always believed in fresh eyes reviews but now I am motivated to use them more frequently and for every section of the submittals. Thanks.

  5. Melise Gerber says

    Matt, I can’t agree with you more. I have even had the experience where someone I work with said we shouldn’t share a list of project experience (including only project name, location and generic description) because that information was proprietary–even though that exact information was readily available on our website!

    And, I am currently patting myself on the back, thinking that I might be that “awesome” person you mentioned in your post–‘course I am no Bernie Siben, but still… 🙂

  6. Actually, Lockheed Martin hires consultants to do just this type of review. I did this for them a number of times. Fresh eyes are very helpful, especially when the focus has been intense and many of your own firm are too familiar. Great points!

  7. Melise Gerber says

    Ugh…I forgot to include the most important point I wanted to make… The place that I think this is most likely to occur is when you are including relevant project experience. It is so OBVIOUS to me that project A has all of the exact same elements as the project I am proposing on that I completely forget to explain to the reader how the two projects are related. Obvious mistake, and yet I catch myself doing it ALL the time.

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