Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Constructive Criticism

My boss just told me, "For a very intelligent person, you are really good at taking constructive criticism."

It seems obvious to me that I am very intelligent because I am good at learning from constructive criticism. Nobody is born knowing anything useful. Almost by definition, being an intelligent person means that, at some point in the past, you were good at taking constructive criticism from somebody. 'Learning from constructive criticism' is basically the definition of 'education'.

I walked into this job with the attitude that my bosses and the other experienced people were my teachers, and I was a student. I treat them like I treated my professors in grad school, respecting and deferring to their superior skills and experience while being unafraid to add my own knowledge, ask questions, and make suggestions.

I consider it right and proper that my draft documents will come back to me with dozens of comments and edits. I am the apprentice, and they are the masters. My work will inevitably have problems until I learn the approach, techniques, and presentation that the organization requires.

Even when the people editing and commenting on my documents are not the masters of my profession, they will always know something that I do not, or have a perspective that I need to consider. I can only learn from them, or learn how to communicate with them, if I respect and react well to their criticism.

But it is not just my intelligence that is boosted by my attitude to criticism. It actually helps my creativity as well. In the process of creation, I do not simply copy what has been done before. I do what I know is right, not what I think they want. I do not self-censor. This freedom and creativity comes because I know that my work will be criticized and edited as necessary, and I do not fear this. I am not afraid of being told to change. It is far better to see someone else squash my creativity into a box than to unconsciously internalize a stifling set of boundaries and limitations.

The key to this process is to sever any connection between my ego and the first draft of my work. Being told that I need to make big changes to my work is no threat to me, and I do not react with any defensiveness or hostility. I know that at the end of the process, my work will be very good. It will contain much of my originality and creativity and skill, while being molded in ways that make its readers better understand and accept it.

1 comment:

Lou said...

Richard; This insightful attitude of yours of not fearing criticism and seeing it as another way of growing intellectually just highlights the difference between you & I. It's yet another reason why you are admired by me. Glad that others see this as a positive trait, and may it continue to serve you well. As always, I enjoy reading your posts. Dad