Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday 21 December 2011
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your twice-monthly (or thereabouts) newsletter on creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
As always, if you have news about creativity, imagination, ideas, or innovation please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your comments and feedback are also always welcome.
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found at the end of this newsletter.
INTERACT WITH JEFFREY
I am on the social networks and would love to connect with you there.
Join me on my professional page on Facebook – I am trying to get some conversations about creativity and innovation going on this page and would love for you to join us. My ego would also appreciate your liking the page!
You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
And you can follow me on Twitter. I’m @creativejeffrey.
THE 200th ISSUE OF REPORT 103
Wow! This is the 200th issue of Report 103. That translates to some 600 articles written over nearly eight years. And it has been a wonderful experience. I have learned a great deal, met some wonderful people, made friends and have driven business to my company thanks to this newsletter that now boasts some 7,000 subscribers.
It has been a brilliant eight years, but I am in the process of changing my professional activities and that will be reflected in Report 103. Most notably, you will see more articles about personal creativity and innovation as well as articles about applied creativity – in other words, how to use creative thinking techniques in order to solve specific problems or achieve specific goals. At the same time, there will be less focus on business creativity and innovation, though I will continue to cover these topics.
I also plan to spend more time on doing creative things myself, rather than focusing on helping others be more creative and innovative. But don’t worry, I will still be running workshops, speaking and writing this newsletter for the time being. So if you want to exploit my knowledge and skills, I remain available (see Hire Jeffrey below or here)
By the way, the name “Report 103” has a meaning. Do you know what it is? Need a clue? Look at the line immediately below the title!
Criticism is the bane of creativity. It can destroy the motivation of creative thinkers and yet it is handed out far too often by managers, teachers, parents and spouses, some of whom mean well. But others do not. Certainly, you know that the number one rule of traditional brainstorming has always been to withhold judgement (but see “Go On, Let Brainstormers Criticise” in the 23 March 2011 issue of Report 103), which is another way of saying do not criticise ideas lest you destroy the mood of the session and inhibit participants from letting their creativity flow.
But, let us be realistic. Some ideas deserve criticism and creative people need to know the strengths and weaknesses of their ideas in order to develop more relevant ideas for a group or themselves. Moreover, by dealing with weaknesses, ideas with great potential can become practical to implement. Yet identifying those weaknesses is essentially criticism.
So, let us take a quick look at criticism, both from the perspective of the creative thinker and the perspective of the client, manager, team-mate, partner or whoever is considering the idea – we’ll use the term “client” here, but it could mean anyone who is on the receiving end of a suggestion or idea.
The Creative Thinker
Many people will tell you that they do not mind criticism and learn from it. Most of those people are lying. Moreover, the ones who proclaim loudest that they are immune to criticism tend to be the most sensitive.
However, exceptionally creative people tend to have to deal with a lot of criticism. We share a lot of ideas, many of which are silly. Others may not be silly, but are so unusual that less creative people have trouble appreciating their value. So, our ideas and even we are subject to regular criticism. As an example, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of books submitted the manuscript of the first book to numerous publishers, all of whom rejected it, before finally being accepted. If she had stopped after the first few rejections, or criticisms, the world would never have experienced her imaginary world and its characters.
My own reaction to criticism depends on how precious an idea is to me. If you criticise an idea that suddenly came to mind and has no value, I will be only slightly hurt and for only a moment before laughing it off. After all, this happens all the time.
However, if the idea is precious to me, if it is an idea I have invested time, energy and love into, and you criticise it, my reaction is likely to be something like this:
You ignorant fool! How dare you!?! Not only have you criticised my idea, but you have criticised me, my family and my ancestors. You have insulted the name of Baumgartner and can expect to pay dearly for this! Oh, and I disagree completely with your ridiculously misinformed opinion as well!
Fortunately, this feeling passes relatively quickly as I come to realise that I may be overreacting ever so slightly. And once I have calmed down, a shocking realisation often comes over me: “I can learn from that criticism.” Perhaps there was a flaw in my thinking that can be corrected to make my idea even better. Alternatively, I may believe that the criticiser is wrong. Nevertheless, knowing that one person has criticised a particular aspect of an idea warns me that others may also do so and I should be prepared for that.
For example, in writing The Way of the Innovation Master, I took a rather unusual arty approach to a business book. Rather than just write a long tutorial, scattered with case studies, to explain how to launch an innovation initiative, I combined three strands: a narrative about a manager seeking insight on how to create an innovation initiative by climbing a mountain, a dialogue between two older company presidents and a series of short tutorials. Most people who read the early drafts loved the unusual approach. But a few, including my proofreader, thought it was too creative and not businesslike enough. I made a decision to accept, but not act upon this criticism. However, I prepared myself to hear others make similar criticisms and developed an explanation for why I chose the approach that I did.
Criticism of Your Art
That said, accepting criticism of business ideas, project ideas and family ideas tends to be easier than accepting criticism for artistic projects such as paintings, sculptures, musical compositions, poetry and prose. After all, as an artist, you put something of yourself in anything you create. Thus when someone criticises your work, you inevitably feel they are criticising you as well.
As an artist, you need to do two things. Firstly, you need to keep in mind that however personal a project is to you, the critic most likely has no intention to criticise you. Rather, she is intending only criticise what you have created. Secondly, you need to determine whether to ignore the criticism or take advice for future projects. For instance, if you aim to become a professional painter, then criticisms relevant to the commercial viability of your work may be worth considering.
The most severe critic most people have to deal with is themselves. Think about it. How often have you developed an idea, written a poem, drawn a picture or made a handicraft, only to feel in your own mind that it is substandard? This is perfectly normal, if undesirable. It is also something you need to get over if you wish to develop your thinking skills. It is one thing to have a creative mind. It is quite another to develop and share those ideas with others. After all, if you do not share your creativity, no one else will know about or benefit from it
It is also ironic that while we hate criticism from others, we wallow in our own criticism and sometimes accept it all too readily!
My advice to you is: do not accept your own criticism any more easily than you would accept another person’s criticism. Be bold. Share your ideas. The worst someone can do is criticise them – and if someone does that, she’s an idiot!
Although most people find it challenging to take criticism, they often find it remarkably easy to be critical of others. Ironically, in my experience the people who find it most difficult to accept criticism are the best at giving it!
Nevertheless, criticism is necessary. In business, there is no point in developing an idea into something more if it is clear the idea is deeply flawed. Likewise, if your child is writing a song to perform publicly, and that song is obviously a direct copy of a Michael Jackson hit, it would be best to inform the child before Mr. Jackson’s lawyers do.
How We Do It at the Imagination Club
However, there is a good way and a bad way to criticise ideas, concepts, projects and creative works. I believe the best way to criticise an idea or concept is to frame it as a suggestion for improvement rather than a flaw. Indeed, this is something we do at the Brussels Imagination club (http://www.imaginationclub.be), a group I co-manage with my friend Andy Whittle. The Imagination Club runs twice monthly experimental workshops that enable facilitators to try out new ideas as well as let would-be facilitators try out their skills.
Because every workshop is experimental, there is almost always room for improvement. Moreover, we feel that telling facilitators how to improve their workshops will help them sell and deliver similar workshops in the future.
So, at the end of each 90 minute workshop, we ask the audience three questions:
- What did you like about the workshop?
- What could the facilitator have done differently in order to make the workshop even better?
- What idea or knowledge will you take home with you and use in real life in the near future?
The second point is where we invite the audience to criticise. But only after they have complimented and, more importantly, we ask the audience how they would improve the workshop, not “What was wrong with the workshop?” or “What did you not like about the workshop?” Our approach forces audience members to frame their feedback in a positive way and provide the facilitator with useful suggestions rather than negative feedback.
Moreover, we sometimes see debates in which one person makes a suggestion for improvement and then someone else disagrees and explains why she thinks the facilitator’s approach was better. As you can imagine, the resulting debate is useful not only to the facilitator, but to others who may be facilitators, trainers or simply people who occasionally have to make presentations or deliver trainings. Indeed, during a survey, we learned that, in general, the audience actually appreciates the feedback as much, if not more, than the facilitator!
Making It Impersonal
It is easy to inadvertently insult someone when criticising her idea. People may say, “Don’t be stupid!” when they really mean: “the suggestion you have just made is stupid!”; or “You must be crazy!” when they really mean: “that idea was so outrageous, I don’t understand it yet.”
I would argue that you never want to call someone’s idea stupid, but to so would be barely tolerable. To call someone stupid, on the other hand, is intolerable and unkind. Indeed, it could be construed as bullying. Likewise, if an idea is crazy, go ahead and acknowledge that, but in a nice way: “that’s a crazy idea. Let me think about it”. But to call label someone as crazy because of a suggestion is not nice.
If you do need to be direct in criticism, and sometimes this may be necessary. be sure to criticise the idea or the work, but not the person.
If you want people to appreciate your criticism rather than dread it, follow our approach at the Imagination Club: start with a compliment, then offer a suggestion on how to improve the idea or project. And whatever you do, be sure that any criticism or suggestion is about the idea or project and not the person who is receiving your criticism.
GET CREATIVE WITH JEFFREY
In the first two months of 2012, I am facilitating idea generation and creative learning workshops in Portugal, Belgium, Spain and Germany. Indeed, my schedule for 2012 is filling up. But I believe something is missing: a workshop or speech with you and your team! If you have been a reader of Report 103 for any length of time, you are familiar with my wide range of knowledge and expertise on creativity and innovation.
But what you may not know is that I am a highly energetic, enthusiastic speaker, workshop facilitator and anticonventional thinking event leader. Whether you want to inspire your people with a speech, run an idea generation session that generates exceptionally creative ideas, talk to me first or visit here for more information.
THE UNLEASHED MIND: WHY CREATIVE PEOPLE ARE ECCENTRIC
An interesting article in Scientific American looks into why creative people
so often seem eccentric. The article covers a lot of ground and is well worth
THE WAY OF THE INNOVATION MASTER
If you enjoy Report 103, you’ll love my book The Way of the Innovation Master, which explains everything you need to know in order to launch an innovation initiative in your company. Not only is it a great read, but it makes for a wonderful Christmas present! Learn more and order yours in print or digital versions from http://www.creativejeffrey.com/books/ – or ask for it at your favourite bookshop.
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