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    Entries in creativity (23)


    You call it 'feedback', they hear it as 'criticism'

    Let's start with some level setting and definitions:

    Feedback (noun) - reaction to a process or activity, or the information obtained from such a reaction

    Criticism (noun) - an ​opinion given about something or someone, esp. a ​negative ​opinion, or the ​activity of making such ​judgments

    Feedback, especially when you fold in the more technical elements or applications of the term, (like feedback from a machine or from some kind of industrial or mechanical process), more or less connotes neutrality, impartiality, and crucially, accuracy. Sure, sometimes feedback slants negative, but it should be accurately negative, if such a term exists. Because when negative feedback gets interpreted by the recipient of said feedback as being unfairly or inappropriately negative, then it ceases to really be feedback at all, and becomes criticism.

    And while most folks seem to appreciate and respect honest, accurate feedback, not nearly as many are down with taking accepting criticism, or for that matter, critics.  In fact, many really creative, innovative, and talented folks, the ones everyone is trying to recruit and retain, have little time for critics.

    One example:

    The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius faced plenty of criticism in his career. Sibelius's response to criticism was dismissive: "Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic." 

    If you have decided to throw in with the current trend and ditch the annual performance review process (that flawed as it is, has likely served its purpose over the years), you are going to have to get better at assessing how people are interpreting the 'feedback' you and your managers are now laying down on the reg.

    One of the main reasons that the traditional performance review process has failed many organizations is that it only provides any kind of feedback to employees on an annual basis. Even if the feedback was kind of terrible, at least the employees only had to endure once a year. So sure, by making the process more regular, more frequent, and less formal solves most of that 'recency' problem.

    But more and more regularly scheduled feedback does not by itself make anyone or any manager actually better at giving said feedback. And if more feedback simply adds up to or is interpreted as more criticism, then 'modern' performance management won't be much more effective than traditional performance management has been. 

    Make sure you are not setting up managers (and yourself) for failure simply by taking an ineffective process, changing its name,  and asking people to do it more frequently. 


    Show and tell

    The 'Steve Jobs was an amazingly creative thinker and leader' anecdotes will seemingly not be stopping anytime soon, and that is probably just fine. One of the latest, and that particularly caught my attention was related in this recent piece on Business Insider, Here's the Simple Yet Brilliant Challenge Steve Jobs Posed to Employees During Product Meetings.

    Here is an excerpt from the BI piece:

    Ken Rosen, a managing partner at consulting agency Performance Works, which worked with Jobs at Apple and at NeXT, shared one way Jobs was able to get the NeXT team thinking about design from different angles. 

    The challenge was simple: each person would bring a product he or she respected into their team meeting.

    "It could be anything, [even] a paperclip," Ken Rosen, who worked in marketing at NeXT, tells Business Insider. "People brought in very different products, from electronics to a paper notebook to a jump rope."

    Jobs wasn't interested in criticizing or judging the employee based on what product he or she brought in. Rather, the assignment was about broadening the way the team thought about product design.

    [Jobs] just really wanted to develop an organization where people knew what good products were," he says. "He wanted to develop a vocabulary and a kind of nuanced sense of judgement about what a good product really was."

    I think this story is cool for at least two reasons. One, it shows a willingness and a predisposition to look for ideas, inspiration, and even answers to NeXT's particular product and design challenges from just about anywhere. Notice Jobs did not instruct his team to bring in examples of their favorite competing computers or even broadly similar products in the electronics family. He asked them to bring in any products that resonated with them.

    Good ideas can come from everywhere, anywhere really.

    The other reason this story is cool is that it probably helped Jobs understand better the point of view and the design sensibilities of the members of the NeXT team. It is one thing for a team member to sit in a meeting and offer comments on a design sketch or a prototype, but it is quite another for that same person to carry in an object or a product and explain to the group what it is about that object that they find compelling. The exercise wasn't really about rating or evaluating any of the particular objects that the team brought in, but rather to think and see what good product design really was.

    Fun story for sure. Probably something worth trying sometime in your shop as well. And of course after reading I had to think about what product or object I would bring in for workplace show and tell...

    Hmm. I do love my little Acer Chomebook, (used to write this piece). I also might consider my Adidas Superstars, (classic sneakers for the uninitiated).

    Good question.

    What would you bring in for show and tell?



    From the Wikipedia page on Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957)

    Perhaps one reason Sibelius has attracted both the praise and the ire of critics is that in each of hisJean Sibelius is not hearing any of your crap. seven symphonies he approached the basic problems of form, tonality, and architecture in unique, individual ways. On the one hand, his symphonic (and tonal) creativity was novel, but others thought that music should be taking a different route. Sibelius's response to criticism was dismissive: "Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic."

    You are either a creator or a critic.

    Choose wisely my friends.

    Have a great weekend!


    The three questions to ask when you're thinking of creating something

    These notes, taken by Blake Masters from Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel's Computer Science class on startups, are completely worth reading - whether you work in a startup, are thinking of joining a startup, are thinking of creating your own startup, or just thinking.

    Of the many interesting nuggets and insights in the notes, (the difference and difficulty of taking a brand new idea from 0 to 1, versus taking an idea from 1 to n - with n being infinity and the different stages of technological progress and advancement), I wanted to call out from Masters' notes Peter Thiel's three questions you need to ask when evaluating your idea.Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema No. 348, 1958

    Here is Thiel's take:

    The path from 0 to 1 might start with asking and answering three questions.

    First, what is valuable? Second, what can I do? And third, what is nobody else doing?

    The questions themselves are straightforward. Question one illustrates the difference between business and academia; in academia, the number one sin is plagiarism, not triviality. So much of the innovation is esoteric and not at all useful. No one cares about a firm’s eccentric, non-valuable output. The second question ensures that you can actually execute on a problem; if not, talk is just that. Finally, and often overlooked, is the importance of being novel. Forget that and we’re just copying.

     The intellectual rephrasing of these questions is: What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

    The business version is: What valuable company is nobody building?

    Earlier in the week I posted about the proliferation of tablet devices that are primarily designed for and used to consume content, rather than create content and the implications of this growth for career management. In a world where people want to consume and consume and consume, I argued, that to have real lasting and sustainable value and advantage that you want to be a creator, not just a consumer. I still believe that, and I also believe it can be really hard for lots of folks to actually create things - blog posts, presentations, podcasts, videos - whatever.

    And after reading the notes from Thiel's talk, I think these same three questions about startup formation and practicality of an idea can even be applied to more mundane, or day-to-day scenarios like content creation.

    What is valuable?

    What can I do?

    What is nobody else doing?

    Try thinking really hard about those question and you have a start at least or a guide to moving from consumer to creator. And the good thing is for most of us the 'right' answers to those questions can be drawn from a much narrower context than Thiel was probably thinking about (the entire world). 

    You can probably get by with just finding what is valuable, achievable, and novel in your own company, or city, or industry, or even your group of friends for that matter. 

    You can be a content creator, and I think, you and definitely your kids, need to become creators too.


    I've got some suggestions for your screenplay

    Not really, and unless you are up to something on the side, you probably don't even have a screenplay (or a short story or a book for that matter). But what you might have, still, is that problem of folks in the HR and even IT game have been lamenting just about forever - no 'real' business people take you all that seriously.

    For whatever reason the people in the organization that get to decide the 'what' of what people do are more important and 'strategic' than the people that (largely) are responsible for finding and hiring those people in the first place (HR), and identifying, procuring, deploying, and maintaining all the technologies that the people rely on every day (IT). That is probably true in most organizations and it's also true that it's unlikely to change unless HR and IT start to think a little differently about the problem.

    I was thinking about this over the weekend when I read this piece in the New York Times, Solving the Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data, about a new method or process where Hollywood film scripts are evaluated, and suggestions for improvement given, based on data-driven analysis. How does the process work? From the NYT piece:

    Netflix tells customers what to rent based on algorithms that analyze previous selections, Pandora does the same with music, and studios have started using Facebook “likes” and online trailer views to mold advertising and even films.

    Now, the slicing and dicing is seeping into one of the last corners of Hollywood where creativity and old-fashioned instinct still hold sway: the screenplay

    A chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese — “the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood,” in the words of one studio customer — has started to aggressively pitch a service he calls script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. What do you like? What should be changed?

    Pretty interesting and still in this age of data trumping everything kind of unusual. Although even as I recently wrote about here, data and algorithms and machine learning approaches encroaching on formerly 'creative' endeavors are starting to pop up more and more.

    Applying intelligence, Big Data, and more powerful technologies for improving movie screenplays does more than just fix up the dramatic scene in Act III, it allows a guy like Vinny Bruzzese, who as far as we can tell had no 'real' movie experience, to become an influential participant in the movie-making process.

    His data, team of analysts, and statistically-backed conclusions and suggestions, now put him more and more 'at the table' (sorry), where formerly only writers and movie producers used to meet. It doesn't really matter that he didn't go to film school or he didn't spend the 80s directing episodes of Full House, his data-driven solutions make him a Hollywood player.

    Influence in business seems to be becoming more about who can gather, assess, and make data actionable, than who has the 'right' degree or experience. And the background of the people who can do that might be a lot different than who normally used to have that kind of influence.