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feedback: the creativity killer June 25, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Management, The Two-Year-Old.
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I've heard this was originally printed in the Utne Reader, but I'm not sure.

I've heard this was originally printed in the Utne Reader, but I'm not sure.

I took a lot of flack last month for a post about a manager turning one of my projects into crap. I freely admit that I got too attached to that project, and that management’s prerogative — as I well know, after writing this blog for this long — is to ruin everything and then blame you for it.

On that topic, Six Revisions has an excellent post up about how feedback can ruin your creativity.

I would hesitate to tell a surgeon how she should initiate the first cut, or tell the airplane pilot that I think he should move to another altitude for faster travel. But heck if I haven’t had someone walk past my desk and offer unsolicited tips on how I could improve a design I am working on.

That’s amazing. Because it’s true. Hell, I’ve done it! But more often I’m the victim; more often I’m the one who someone says “hey, that’s great, but why not do this instead because I like it better.”

What I love about the article is SR’s three types of creativity-killing feedback:

Egocentric: This person believes that their opinion has more weight because their experience or rank means more than your experience and/or rank. They will take credit for ideas until something goes wrong, then it’s all you.

Uninformed: This person feels they know enough to make important decisions based on something like reading an article or working with a designer in the past. They know enough to be dangerous. Some might offer an opinion just because they were asked or only speak up to justify their value as a team member.

Influenced: This person has motivations that relate only to the world they live in. It might be a marketer who only is concerned with a brand guide being followed to the “t”. The user experience might be secondary or quickly drop completely off the list, as they get distracted with unimportant details.

Funny how all of these fall into the category of “types of ‘feedback’ a manager will give you”.

Egocentric: Wow. Perfect. Here’s an example: one of our internal sites was doing a lot of promotion and not a lot of internal company news, so I did a minor redesign to facilitate promotion. The Two-Year-Old decided she didn’t like it, and even though she asked me to solicit opinions, in the end we changed it to the way she wanted it because she’s the manager and I’m not.

Uninformed: Managers generally got to be managers by, at some point in their lives, doing the kind of work they hired you to do. Then they gradually gain more and more power until they supervise a vast number of people similar to the team they used to work with — a marketing manager, for example, who is in charge of marketing, web, PR, and graphics. Maybe she was a marketing person who ordered graphics, wrote some PR, and ran a blog; now she’s got just enough knowledge to say “at my old job, we did it this way, so let’s change parts 1, 3, and 7 to look like my old company’s website.”

Influenced: At the same time, managers are responsible for conforming to brand/corporate identity. They want things to look new, cool, and different, but only within the confines of what we are permitted to do by our corporate one-sheet. So once designers (like me) put together something exactly the way the manager wants, it’s the manager’s job to pull out everything that doesn’t fit the accepted model and leave the project looking like the same thing you always do.

SR also has twelve great tips about how to manage critical feedback and make use of it, and the commenters on the article have useful tips as well. Definitely worth reading. While you do that, I’m going to go change something that a manager told me doesn’t meet our brand identity even though she’s seen it done at two of our other offices that she worked at so it must be good enough to happen here.

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