Innovation professionals are often curious about the world of the artist or designer. Where do creative ideas come from? How do they assess their work in progress?
Today let’s peek inside one of the most powerful processes of creativity and innovation: the critique.
Critiques play a central role in the development of artists and design professionals. These hands-on review sessions gather experts and peers to allow a review of recent work for assessment and guidance. As an art professor and later Dean at one of the country’s leading art schools, I’ve led a lot of critiques. I’ve also witnessed them in a work environment. While conducted in different settings, the process is remarkably similar — and powerful.
Critiques begin with the creator selecting one or more a pieces to share. For those new to the practice, it’s not unusual for hands to be shaking as they pin their work to the walls or set up their display on a tabletop or desk. Mouths become dry as they get ready to speak about their work.
The critique continues with a few moments of silence, as all participants focus on the work being shared and take in the creative expression. Ground rules are established. Participants are expected to fully see, not just look at, the work. Comments must be thoughtful — cheap shots or glib comments are outlawed. The critique moderator plays an important role by keeping comments focused on the work and not the individual. Then the creator is asked a few questions:
- What were you trying to achieve with this work?
- Who was your intended audience?
- Do you believe you were successful?
The conversation is free-wheeling after that, filled with both kudos and suggestions for improvement. Critiques are not intended to dwell on failures or be harshly critical — although many youthful tears are often shed. Rather, the goal is to open up one’s creative output to responses, and to undertake an honest assessment of what has been accomplished, what needs refinement, and which avenues to pursue next.
Most of all, a critique demonstrate that creativity is a professional process, always ongoing. Perfect results are rarely found — and that’s OK. What’s more important is to recognize what is working, and what is not. The dialog leads to clarity of next steps and future possibilities.
If generating innovative results is your life’s focus, the critique process can be an important guide. Understand that opening your work to others for comment may bring temporary discomfort but often leads to better outcomes. Asking — and answering — the three key critique questions brings clarity to what you’ve achieved and what to explore.
My challenge for you: In the coming week, explore how a critique mindset could benefit your work. And if you have critique sessions in your workplace, please zip me an email. I’d like to hear about them.
Make something happen,