We need to talk about the work

Batman was very grateful

This year, the London offices has been piloting Crit Day, a day a month where three teams get put through their paces, out in the open, with everyone invited to join in and help push the work. We’ve had the 5 teams subject themselves to 2-hours each of interrogation, discussion and debate.

It might seem a huge investment in time, but in reality, we’re too busy not to do this. Anything that makes the work better saves time and ultimately helps us get where we’re trying to get to much faster.

But we don’t need Crit Days in order to critique.

A culture of critiquing work is essential to any creative community. It’s the most targeted form of stimulus. It shakes us out of established patterns of thought. It forces us out of our necessarily constrained perspectives. By bringing in new ideas, it enables us to respond differently, and hopefully, better.

In practice, critiques can be problematic. It’s easy for tyrants to pull rank and impose their own ways. It can become a place to show off how smart you are. A place to score points. A place to bring down the “opposition”. A place to play safe and escape with minimal damage. Understandably, this can lead to a swing in the other direction, where in pursuit of happiness, we avoid debate or criticism of any kind. It’s like it either has to be a full-blown fight, or a passive, behind the scenes whisper. Neither does anyone any good.

We can’t afford to be that kind of place. Luckily, we aren’t.

Our determination to give our teams full authority over their work means we don’t have central “quality control” or arbiter of standards. The critique of the work falls to all of us. We have incredible experience and expertise we can depend on, as well as diversity and breadth we can call on to keep us fresh.

So whether formally through ideas like Crit Day, or just as part of your everyday practice, some prompts:

Take responsibility for all the work in the office. Be curious about what people are working on. Find an hour a week to walk around, chat to folks, dig a bit deeper into the work you’re not a part of. You’ve got a perspective whether you think so or not. At it’s most basic, our work is for people, and you are one of those. By adding your voice, what you’re doing is increasing the surface area of ideas for the team, and that’s always going to be a good thing.

Offer your critique in the right spirit. That doesn’t mean holding back — on the contrary — it means making sure it’s not agenda-laden, but solely aimed at helping the team go further, while being humble that they too are after the best work. Be as direct as possible; no use talking to someone else about it when the team sits in the same office with you. You’ll be surprised how grateful people are for your interest and input.

Finally, seek and take critiques in the best possible spirit. That doesn’t mean taking everything onboard — you’ll know best what’s relevant — but it does mean being open to anything that pushes the work further and gives it a chance to be the best of your life.

Because in this gig, nothing matters more — not career ladders, not hitting numbers, not gaining fame and recognition — than doing the best work of our lives.

I hope you have a great time doing just that this week.

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