When I was an art student, part of the drill in studio classes was to have a class critique where we’d put our work up on the wall and have an instructor-led discussion of the merits (or lack thereof) of all that the class had created during the week. Sometimes it got a little rough, and most of my fellow students hated these sessions. But I looked forward to them because I usually got at least one thing that helped move me forward.
As a long-time solo designer, I have not had many opportunities for peer feedback, and I have recently realized that I still need that kind of input to progress. I’ve been thinking about criticism in general: why we dread it, why we need it to get better, how to ask for it so we get truly useful input, how to listen to it to get its highest value, and how to throw our egos under the bus so we can be open to it.
A few years ago I went through one of those periodic professional shake-ups that happen to all of us from time to time, and it precipitated a process of self-examination. This has turned out to be of great benefit: it inspired me to undertake a clear-eyed assessment of my work and my business, which was as illuminating as it was uncomfortable. It also made me realize that I need to put myself through this process periodically without waiting for a kick in the pants from the universe.
From this self-examination, new choices and new directions have emerged. In the course of these changes, I have received quite a bit of helpful criticism, both solicited and unsolicited. It has reinforced to me that thoughtfully considered feedback requires a lot of effort and energy on the part of the contributor and is a huge gift, to be appreciated rather than feared or shunned. I am grateful to all my teachers.
Asking hard questions about your work, your worth or your effectiveness takes some tolerance for pain. But it can be the means of propelling yourself to do better. These are not new ideas, but they are easy to overlook in the day-to-day rush of small events. Throwing your ego under the bus from time to time keeps the momentum moving toward excellence.
Have you done it lately? If so, let us know how it went and what you learned.
Listen to BTW: [audio:http://iliseb.audioacrobat.com/download/61317c64-b54c-80cb-a758-51c39afa465e.mp3]
There’s a great post on the Parse blog by John Forrest, Jr., about the benefit of constructive criticism. We’re thinking of offering a session on the topic at the next Creative Freelancer Conference. Please let us know in the Comments section if that would be of interest to you.