Criticism Is Awesome

NOYep, you heard me right. Criticism is awesome. It may go against our very nature and need for acceptance, but “attaboys” don’t really get us anywhere. If anything, they give us a false sense of security and a tendency to relax and let things happen as they will.

Great things don’t happen as they will.

Have you read this article by game designer Raph Koster? I instantly recognized several themes, not just from my game playtesting days at Cranium, but also as a writer, entrepreneur, and mom.

Though you really should read the whole thing, I know you’re busy, so here are the crib notes:

1. You should always try to do better, and criticism is an essential tool to help with that.

Ryan Shirley and Szaba Flailing

2. All our “babies” seem perfect at first, whether it’s a script, a game, a marketing plan, or even our own real babies. But they’re not. Nothing is perfect.

“If you can’t see the flaws in your own work, you probably need to get some distance… Honestly, if you aren’t pushing the boundaries of what you can do, you’re probably not working hard enough. Working at the edge means a lot of screw-ups.”

3. Don’t get caught up in “ideals” that keep you from your real goals.

4. Most people will be able to recognize the problem, but not the root of it. It’s your job to listen and then dig deeper.

5. Highly specific feedback will seem highly condescending. But the fact is…

“Detail is impossible for someone who has not engaged fully with your work. The sign of a critic who does not care is brevity, not detail. Never dismiss serious thought.”

By McColin, Flickr CC
By McColin, Flickr CC

6. And along the same lines: Don’t complain about criticism.

Indifference is the enemy, not engagement (even if that engagement doesn’t get the results you want). If someone takes the time to let you know what they thought, that’s already one in a thousand. They cared.”

7. This is a BIGGIE: No one can sabotage your goals like a “yes” man. Koster even goes so far as to say, they’re not just useless. They’re dangerous.

“They are worse than useless because you want to believe them… Nobody is ever done learning, and people who tell you have arrived will give you a sense of complacency. You should never be complacent about [what’s important to you].”

8. If you ask someone for feedback, they’ll likely find something wrong (even if it’s minor) because otherwise, they’ll feel they’ve failed at the job you’ve given them. Ask for feedback judiciously.

Szaba Space Helmet

9. Just because it’s good for what it is, doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone.

“This is a sad truth: There is no correlation between quality and popularity.”

10. And here’s the hardest one (in my opinion), whether for business, writing, or parenting: You are not your work.

“Every little ship we launch is just our imperfect crafting of the moment. And we move on. We create again and again. Each can only ever express a fragment, a tiny fraction of ourselves… Your next work, that’s who you are. Not the work that exists, but the work that does not yet.”

So, if you make a mistake today, that’s okay. Tomorrow you might make another one. Or you may do something brilliant. But if a partner, friend, or colleague gives you a bit of criticism, thank them.

Appreciate that they cared, be humble enough to know you’re a work in progress, and follow your gut, especially when it’s challenging you.

3 thoughts on “Criticism Is Awesome

    1. You’re very welcome, Elin! Happy to inspire you, while saving you a little time. I fully admit that embracing criticism is not my natural inclination. I often write about that which I need to be reminded. It just so happens, other people do, too. 🙂

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