Anyone who ideates or makes things wants the end result to be great. Along the way, feedback is often tolerated as an inevitable and necessary part of the process. But, often it’s dreaded, or worse, avoided altogether.
What if the secret to really great work is actually in the feedback itself? And not just any feedback — but honest, critical, and constructive feedback.In the spirit a building an empathic bridge between those that give and those that receive feedback I share with you some thoughts and epiphanies on being both on the giving and the receiving end of good, bad, and ugly feedback.
Being on the receiving end of feedback is hard. Asking someone for honest feedback takes bravery and trust. Ironically, giving honest feedback takes bravery and trust as well. When a creator shows up with work for feedback, they show up with their whole self, their expertise and soul on the table, since all of those things were employed in the making of the work. So when feedback about the work is dispensed, some of that feedback bounces off of the work and hits the ego, giving confidence a kick in the butt. And although that might feel like what’s happening, the feedback is almost always intended to land squarely on the work without any personal spillage.
Seeking and embracing feedback could be the very thing that gives the best creatives their competitive edge.
Labor of love
Consider this; inherently, as soon as something is created or authored, the person who created it feels an attachment to it. The more time someone spends working on something, the more they lose perspective. With each backspace to rework a word, or each micro edit to a vector point or pixel, a creator falls a little deeper in love with the focus of their labor.
This is both a good and a bad thing.
It’s a good thing that creators are attached to their work because that love creates a sense of responsibility to the work and a desire to do great work. Those things are mutually exclusive.
Yet, it’s also bad because it can create a mental barrier to hearing feedback.
To those that create and make things, consider mentally reframing the interaction of receiving feedback. Try to adopt the mindset of a scientist. If a creator can look at their work as an experiment, it can open up mental pathways to seek and embrace feedback. A scientific approach to testing out the best options to truly understand what’s working and what’s not working.
Q: But what if the person giving feedback doesn’t know what they are talking about?
Regardless of whether or not feedback is coming from a person of shared expertise, listen to the feedback. Don’t just go through the motions. Listen to what they mean. Listen to what they might be struggling with through their potentially poorly chosen words or nit picking. And then consider that they might be right. They are not as close to the work as you are. This gives them an important objectivity. Listen, especially if you disagree. They aren’t challenging you personally or downplaying your expertise. Even if the feedback feels or is subjective, they are simply responding to what they are seeing and perceiving. And… they might be right.
What if they’re right?
Consider this; if they are right and you ignore their feedback out of principle because you don’t think they are qualified to give feedback, you just missed out on an opportunity to make the work better.
What if they’re wrong?
If they are wrong and you simply execute because your peer or client or boss or mom suggested so, you missed an opportunity to protect the integrity of the work, and worse—you could end up feeling like you were being told what to do. No one likes being a puppet. Don’t be a puppet. Debate the work; they don’t know why you made the decisions you did. Educate them. Remember: the relationship you have with your work is unlike the relationship anyone else will have with it. Eventually, it will need to survive on its own in the wild. Nothing truly innovative was ever created without debate or a good match of “what if-ing?”
The third option
So what happens if you don’t know where the feedback lands on the spectrum of right or wrong? Try to address it. In my experience, after begrudgingly trying the suggestions, I will either realize that they were right after all, or a better solution will come out of spending more time and effort on the work. By being genuinely open to feedback, you are making sure the work is as great as it has the potential to be. Don’t leave creative potential on the table.
Feedback is not a tennis match with one person on either side of the net, resulting in an inevitable winner and a loser. Instead, look at the evaluation of work as a group of collaborative scientists in a lab testing the durability of an idea that needs to survive in the real world.
Great work survives. It survives or is made better by peer review; good work becomes great through critique and debate. So even if the feedback scenario is “opinion” versus “expertise” So what?! So what if someone gives you feedback on your work that you don’t agree with? As a creator, you have an opportunity to evaluate the feedback and debate it. Think about it, by taking in this new information (by being a scientist), the work will either be better because more love, debate, and effort went into creating it or the work will hold up to the scrutiny.
Have you heard the cliche “a great idea is 10% inspiration and 90% alignment.” The alignment part of creative work is subjecting it to feedback, selling the work, explaining the idea, representing it, defending it, refining it, modifying if, proofing it, perfecting it and debating it.
The greatest work doesn’t come out fully formed. It evolves through debate, collaboration, and feedback.
To those of you that are evaluating work, consider this, you are not an executioner or the judge. You are an important collaborator of great work and great ideas.
Coming up with ideas is hard, really hard. Some people say that ideas are fragile, this is not true. Great ideas are not fragile. Great ideas are tough; they can take the heat. Ideas come under fire from the moment of conception. In a creator’s mind, ideas are critiqued, scrutinized and worked over until the creator feels they are worthy of existing. And that’s just the first round in the MMA of idea making. Great ideas can take punches.
The creators of great ideas have likely spent years learning, understanding and practicing their craft. They make millions of little micro decisions about every move their mouse makes. Respect that. Honor the expertise, craft, and soul that went into bringing it to life.
If you’re lucky enough to give a fresh newbie feedback, be kind, but be especially honest. You have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact. Be a good coach, not a bad cop.
Subjective vs Strategic
Share feedback from a place of respectful collaboration, in the spirit of scientific discovery and human proofing. Recognize that there is a difference between strategic feedback and subjective feedback. Both are fair game in collaboration, just be cautious not to confuse one for the other.
Getting to great work that works takes necessary honesty and mutual respect. In the business of creativity, it’s not any one person’s job to have the hero idea, it’s everyone’s collective job to get to the hero idea.
Creators, honor the role of feedback. It’s critical to great work. Remember: It doesn’t matter if it’s subjective, they may be sensing something that you can’t see and it’s possible that they may be right.
To those that critique, respect the role of the creator. They know their craft. Remember: They have spent years practicing and honing their talents. The best creators will labor over the pixels, points, cuts and periods in a quest for perfection. Consternation with feedback isn’t obstinance; it’s fear of failure.
After all, we are just practicing. No one has it all figured out all of the time. We are practitioners of our craft; we practice advertising, we practice marketing, we practice design, the same way a lawyer practices law. We are conducting experiments, and there are potentially hundreds of possible solutions. If we can adopt the mindset of a scientist in making and evaluating work the process, will be both more rewarding and the results more awarded.