My last post looked at How Not to Give Feedback on Creative Work, with an example of breathtaking clumsiness from the Emperor in Amadeus. To recap, this is how the Emperor made a pig’s ear of critiquing Mozart’s opera Il Seraglio:
- He offered a second-hand opinion
- He pretended to be an expert when he wasn’t
- He failed to provide any meaningful criteria for judgment
- He was tactless
- He was patronising
Let’s see what we can learn by reversing the Emperor’s mistakes.
1. Give your own opinion
The only person on this planet who sees things your way is you. Even if you are a novice surrounded by experts, there is still the possibility that you will have spotted something ‘obvious’ that no-one else has noticed. Don’t try to second-guess others’ opinions or be something you’re not.
If you’re not sure how your view will be received you could start with “This may sound silly but…” – it’s amazing how many times I’ve said that and found people nodding and agreeing.
2. Make your own role clear
If you are an expert in the medium, you are in a position to give a different kind of feedback than if you are not. Not necessarily better, just different. You will only irritate a professional if you try to intrude on their territory. But even if you are â€˜onlyâ€™ the manager, you are perfectly entitled to give feedback based on your knowledge of the client, the audience, the market and so on – as long as you make it clear in what capacity you are speaking.
I mentioned in my previous post that I know very little about graphic design, but am happy to give a ‘layman’s view’ of how a piece of design strikes me. If I’m asked to give my opinion on a poem however, it’s a completely different matter. This is a task I approach with relish and a completely different perspective – one of the reasons I enjoy writing poetry reviews. But this doesn’t guarantee that in any given situation my views on poetry will be more helpful than my views on design.
3. Be explicit about your criteria
Your criteria may be subjective, but at least you are providing a reference point for your judgment. Others are then free to challenge your judgment on its own terms or propose alternative criteria.
In his book Purple Cow Seth Godin tells the story of the adult focus groups who hated South Park because they found it offensive. In terms of their criterion (offensiveness) they were absolutely right – but fortunately the broadcasters realised that offensiveness was a key part of the programme’s appeal to its target audience – teenage boys.
Valid criteria can include: your own knowledge as a practitioner; the audience’s response; the client’s response; the brief; the market; the competition; money; time; practical issues.
4. Be honest, but not brutally honest
Thereâ€™s no point fudging the issue if you really donâ€™t like a piece of work or think it doesnâ€™t meet the brief. But you donâ€™t need to be brutally honest, especially if you will be working with them again and want them to do better next time.
Unless you’re a sadist, of course.
5. Support the person even if you can’t approve the work
Creativity is risky, so no-one can churn out a masterpiece every time. Wordsworth wrote reams of turgid poetry, Dylan and Bowie have made plenty of duff albums – but we forgive them because of the good stuff.
Remember, creative people identify very strongly with their work, so they are liable to take criticism personally. One of the most valuable things you can do for them is to give them your support and encouragement at a time of â€˜failureâ€™ – they will (usually) remember and try to repay your faith.
Well, there it is. I’ll write another post shortly on how to receive feedback on creative work.
Over to you…
What tips would you add to this list?